The top 5 tips on launching a research based start-up

Simon Ittig, co-founder and CEO of T3 Pharma holding his winning pitch at the Falling Walls Conference on 8 November 2018 in Berlin. Copyright: Florian Gaertner/ photothek/ Falling Walls

Cleaner air, greener cities or fighting cancer – at the beginning of every successful start-up lies a great idea. Advice on how to manoeuvre from that idea to a successful business plan and beyond, is endless. The one thing, however, that insiders and founders seem to agree on as the most important asset in the long struggle to becoming profitable is: preparation. We met up with Simon Ittig of T3 Pharma, winner of Falling Walls Venture 2018, to find out how to keep your cool in competitions and make the most of your pitch in any networking situation. Interview: Julia Rodriguez.

Falling Walls: Hi Simon! It’s great to have you with us today. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your company T3 Pharma?

Simon Ittig: I’m the co-founder and CEO at T3 Pharma, which is a spin-off of the university of Basel and we focus on engineering live bacteria for cancer therapy. So we have a start-up that started based on basic research at university and now we’re heading towards a clinical trial. It was a fascinating and challenging journey to advance our product from basic research to the point where we are now …

Falling Walls: Your company, as it is now, was founded in 2015. Looking back, what are your top five tips to someone who wants to launch a research-based start-up today.

Listen to advice, but decide on your own.

Simon Ittig: For me number one is: focus on the call which usually is the technology and the science. Because, if this is very well done, it will make all other business aspects a lot smoother. Second, I would say – specially for academics – talk about your endeavour. We realised sometimes you get support from a very unexpected side. If you don’t talk about what you do, the people that would like to support you, will not know that they can support you. Third, take it seriously, but not yourself. What we do is something very serious. It needs all your effort and all your stringency, but as a personal thing, I would say you have to stay somewhat relaxed and try to stay very optimistic and motivated. Fourth, you must be – and stay – hungry. This means, you need some kind of outlook. You need to keep on moving ahead and never be satisfied. […] Fifth, listen to advice, but decide on your own. It’s the mix of being humble and knowing very well that other people do have more experience. There’s a lot to be learned, but you still need some self-confidence that you’re probably the one that’s interested the most and that knows the most about the project. So you should aim at taking the decisions.

Planning on launching a research-based start-up? “You must be – and stay – hungry”, says Simon Ittig, pictured at a workshop during the Falling Walls Conference on 9 November 2018. Copyright: Florian Gaertner/ photothek/ Falling Walls

Falling Walls:
Looking at Falling Walls Venture, what was the best thing personally that you took from the competition?

Simon Ittig: The overall best thing is the people you meet. This can be very directly or indirectly by media exposure, for example. Falling Walls Venture is special, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s also a possibility to to go out and present what you have been doing all the last months and years and to get feedback on it. […] It’s like a day of celebration. I enjoyed it a lot and the company benefits from being connected to more people, too.

Falling Walls: Having won the title of “Falling Walls start-up of the year 2018” we’d love to hear what your advice is for anyone who finds themselves in a contest or pitching situation this year?

The best  thing is to stay authentic.

Simon Ittig: For the pitch we really took the time to look at the previous winners that are online. So we tried to kind of grab an essence of what seems to have been well perceived. So we really tried to adapt to that. In terms of networking, for me the best thing is to stay authentic and then these things happen naturally. I would say at Falling Walls that was working very well in our case. Let’s say I was clearly enjoying the event, I was enjoying the interaction with the people and open to interact with them.

Falling Walls: So altogether: do your homework and enjoy!

Simon Ittig: I think for the pitch you need to be very well prepared. The stage, the whole atmosphere … it’s all very special and it’s different from what you usually experience in your start-up life. So, to be able to enjoy it, you need to be very well prepared in order to not feel too much stress and allow yourself to be relaxed, stay focused and enjoy the day.

Falling Walls: Preparation is everything. Finally, if you had to describe Falling Walls Venture in one sentence to someone, what would that be?

Simon Ittig: A Very open-minded, science-driven and ambitious endeavour to connect science and society.



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