Powering Innovation: Highlights from the Bionanopolys Sessions at the EBAN Congress 2023


The EBAN Congress 2023 hosted three sessions powered by Bionanopolys, focusing on investment readiness, public and private initiatives supporting research to become innovative, and the collaboration between research centres, corporates, and open innovation. The sessions featured renowned experts, panel discussions, and inspiring pitches from innovative companies. 

Session 1: Annukka Mickelsson: “Investment Readiness” (Powered by Bionanopolys)

Annukka Mickelsson emphasised the crucial role of timing in the startup landscape, shedding light on the stark contrast between the limited number of startup ideas in Finland and the vast pool of graduating doctorates. She highlighted that while doctorates may possess brilliant ideas, these ideas often require extensive development before they are market-ready, which could take up to 20 years. Mickelsson stressed that those with exceptional ideas should not wait too long to enter the market, as competitors may emerge during the waiting period.

In the early stages of a startup, Mickelsson highlighted the significance of the “3 F’s”: Family, Friends, and Fools. Friends and family may invest in a startup due to personal relationships or to support the entrepreneur, while “fools” represent the believers who are willing to take a chance on innovative ideas. Angels are first believers as well.

She outlined the criteria angel investors consider when evaluating potential investments. They typically avoid investing in “slideware” startups that have impressive presentations but lack substance behind them. Furthermore, angel investors may be reluctant to invest in family businesses or companies with scattered ownership, as well as ventures with excessively high valuations. The angels are there for only 3-7 years, not for the company’s whole life. 

Mickelsson provided practical advice for entrepreneurs dealing with angel investors. She stressed that when you are in the angel stage, you don’t have customers and channels to point out and don’t have cash flow. You must show that you understand the market you are addressing to value your company; additionally, the team is the most tangible asset startups have. 

“You should prove that a team is capable of transforming the idea stage.” 

She also pointed out that entrepreneurs must communicate the offering clearly—whether it is equity, convertible loans, or other forms of investment; also, communicate the funding level and how it affects the balance sheet – “keep a clean balance sheet”. 

Annukka concluded the session by encouraging entrepreneurs to think creatively about how investors could support the company beyond providing capital, such as serving as board members or advisors.

 “Once you have decided, don’t change it between people in one round.”

Session 2: Public and Private Initiatives Supporting Research to Become Innovation (Powered by Bionanopolys)

It was discussed during the panel the dynamics between research and innovation and the factors that facilitate their successful integration. The panellists present were Peter Cowley from Cambridge Angels, Vivian Sophou from EIT Manufacturing, Hector Torres from ITENE, Toka Eri from the Technology Transfer Office at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Katerina Pramatari from Uni.Fund, and Livia Marcantonio from EBN. 

The panel began by contemplating a statement by Roberto Saracco:

 “Research is a lever that provided with money will generate knowledge, whilst innovation is a lever that provided with knowledge will generate money.” 

The panellists acknowledged that innovation requires financial resources and a capable team to have a real impact. 

“Innovation produces real impact; money is just a means; research is just science.”

Throughout the discussion, the panellists shed light on the challenges of bridging the gap between research and innovation; and offered insights into how their respective organisations can help overcome these obstacles. One crucial point raised was the need for academic leaders in commercialisation within Tech Transfer Offices. Researchers often lack entrepreneurial drive and would benefit from training and support from salespersons and mentors to effectively translate their research into marketable innovations.

Collaboration was emphasised as a key factor in driving innovation. The panellists stressed the importance of breaking down silos between research and innovation and promoting interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly in challenging sectors such as Agri and FoodTech and regulatory compliance. Organisations like EBN and EIT Manufacturing were praised for fostering stakeholder connections, facilitating collaboration, and providing comprehensive training through programs like the EU|BIC certification for business support organisations.

Integrating industry professionals in academia was another crucial aspect of successful innovation. “By aligning research with industry demands and leveraging practical expertise, academia can better contribute to developing innovative solutions. ” The panellists highlighted the importance of engaging industry professionals in academia and emphasised the role of programs initiated by entities like EIT in facilitating this collaboration.

Lastly, the discussion addressed the need for new Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Tech Transfer Offices. The current focus on funding, patents, and spinoffs must be deemed insufficient. Instead, the panellists proposed adopting metrics similar to accelerators to more accurately measure the effectiveness of Tech Transfer Offices in driving innovation.

In addition to the panel discussion, the session provided a platform for nine companies to present their pitches. These companies included ALGAESYS SL, Allegene Pharmalabs Hellas LTD, ECORBIO, ENCAPSULAE, Futurechromes, S.L., MAGNOSTICS, GALLA MAISON, Nanomicron Ltd., and Rohstoffe Loudaya UG. Each company pitched unique offerings, ranging from environmentally sustainable waste treatment solutions to advanced nanotechnologies and medical innovations.

Session 3: Research Centers – Corporates – Open Innovation (Powered by Bionanopolys)

This session delved into the relationship between research centres, corporates, and open innovation and explored ways to bridge the gap between academia and industry. The panellists present were Costas Tramantzas, General Manager of Thessaloniki Innovation Zone; Nikos Efthymiadis, Chairman & CEO of Thessaloniki Innovation & Technology Center (Thess INTEC); Litsa Panayotopoulos, President of the Innovation, Education, Entrepreneurship Committee of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Dimitrios Tzovaras, Director of Central Directorate and Chairman of the Board of Directors of CERTH; Kiran Trehan, Pro-Vice Chancellor Partnerships and Engagement, Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of York; Spyros Arsenis, Head of Business Innovation Development Unit at NBG Business Seeds Greece; and the session was moderated by Panayiotis H. Ketikidis, President of the Board of Directors of Thessaloniki Innovation Zone (TIZ), Co-Founder of the Hellenic Business Angels Network (HeBAN), and EBAN Executive Board Member.

Several key takeaways emerged from the discussion. One prominent idea was the need for initiatives like boot camps to facilitate collaboration between research centres and industry. By organising boot camps and inviting industrial representatives, NBG Business Seeds successfully signed numerous pilots, demonstrating that industrials are receptive to innovation when they encounter it. The Greek government, in turn, aims to encourage researchers to view their work as a product and engage in meaningful dialogue with industry to facilitate knowledge transfer.

Another important aspect highlighted during the session was the significance of aligning educational curricula with the competencies required by businesses. Litsa emphasised the need for universities to prepare students with the necessary skills and encouraged additional studies that expose students to the practical aspects of business. 

The session also highlighted the importance of collaboration among researchers, entrepreneurs, and corporates. Open innovation centres like TessINTEC foster a collaborative mindset and drive innovation. TessINTEC, a non-profit initiative, has successfully gathered 100 companies that have signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) to collaborate. TessINTEC aims to transform the regional and national innovation landscape into a globally interconnected ecosystem by working closely with universities in Thessaloniki and engaging Israeli partners. The need for co-creation and integrated knowledge exchange, transcending traditional business and university boundaries, was also pointed out. 

Regarding government support, the session proposed a strategy wherein the government assists various ecosystem stakeholders rather than directly funding startups. Drawing inspiration from Israel’s approach, it was suggested that clear guidelines should be established to determine who can support different entities within the innovation ecosystem. This approach ensures that government resources are effectively utilised and targeted toward the most impactful support areas.

We would also like to express our gratitude for the Networking Cocktail that Bionanopolys powered. This evening was a perfect way to conclude the first Congress day, creating a vibrant atmosphere for networking and meaningful connections. We are truly thrilled by the success of this event and are grateful to Bionanopolys for their support in organising such a remarkable gathering.

In conclusion, the sessions powered by Bionanopolys at the EBAN Congress 2023 provided valuable insights into innovation, investment readiness, public and private initiatives supporting research, and collaboration between research centres, corporates, and open innovation. The panel discussions, led by industry experts, highlighted the challenges and opportunities in these domains and offered practical advice for entrepreneurs and stakeholders. For more insights, join us this October for #EAIS23!