Each month, LA Report sits down with one of the rising stars of the European startup and entrepreneur community. This month, we catch up with Lorenzo Pradella of Greenbone; a medical startup founded in 2014. The company’s patented technology transforms bamboo into ultra-strong bone graft scaffolding to treat patients suffering from skeletal trauma, damage or disease.
LA Report: Why did you set up your company?
Creating a new company is challenging, but also very exciting. It is a personal investment in terms of commitment and responsibility. For me, there is personal satisfaction to be derived from the social responsibility aspect, because GreenBone has the opportunity to benefit many patients with severe diseases and no real hope to have a normal life again. At the end it is the extraordinary possibility to translate a vision into reality.
LA Report: When did you set up your business, and how long did it take?
GreenBone was set up in March 2014 as legal entity, but the real birthdate was the commitment of investors that materialised by the end of December 2014. Altogether, from the first idea for the company to the first tranche of investment, took about 1.5 years.
LA Report: Did you have a ‘lightbulb moment’ (ie. which led to you starting your business, or which triggered a change in the way you did things)?
For me, it was when I met Prof. Anna Tampieri and her team (Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics-CNR, Faenza Italy). I was impressed by their knowledge and the innovative idea in bone regeneration. It was a real game changer; incredible thinking about generating new bones from bamboo. We all come to the same point: go to patients.
LA Report: What education or training did you have?
I am a pharmacologist by training; spending 10 years in research and development in multinational companies. I moved to business in 1999; initially business development in US Corporation, and then as a General Manager of a pharma company Corporate Venture. In total, I have been in pharma and med-tech for over 25 years.
LA Report: Where did you source funding to set up your business?
At the beginning, mostly via personal relationships among friends and fellow entrepreneurs. Then the VC ZernikeMeta Venture became our lead investor. This then catalysed the aggregation of Italian Angels for Growth (the major Italian Angel Group) and some private Italian and foreign investors.
LA Report: Were there any EU, national, regional or local business support services, programmes or funding initiatives that helped you set up or grow?
ZernikeMeta Ventures invested through the Ingenium Emilia-Romagna fund, an important fund allocated by the Italian region Emilia-Romagna where GreenBone is based. Then we had support to increase GreenBone visibility and network by the Italian Trade Agency and the Ministry of Economical Development (MISE). In particular, MISE gave us the opportunity to participate at the Ideas From Europe 2015 Competition where GreenBone has been selected to the TEDxBinnenhof event in The Hague 2016.
LA Report: With hindsight, which would have been the single most valuable skill to have before setting up your business?
Being a conscious visionary. It is important to follow a dream but without losing contact with reality. At the end of the day, innovation only works if it can be translated into a viable product which offers a benefit to the end users (in our case, to patients) and has the potential to become commercially viable.
LA Report: Do you have a mentor?
Not a single person. I have been lucky enough to know a number of incredible individuals in management, technical knowledge and spirituality. I like talking with all of them to draw inspiration in different areas and to continue my learning curve in life.
LA Report: Who is your greatest role model or inspiration?
All those important players able to be the heart of a successful team. I am Italian and love basketball. The icon of my generation was Dino Meneghin; not a top scorer, but number one for his ability to motivate the team. For a startup like GreenBone, motivation is fundamental.
LA Report: What is the USP that distinguishes your product or service from its competitors?
GreenBone wants to completely regenerate large bones damaged by trauma, tumor, malformations, and degeneration. There is no other product like it in existence. Large bone remains a major challenge. We want to give people hope to have their normal life again.
LA Report: How does your company impact people’s lives for the better?
Quite often our patients have multiple surgeries, pain and a long recovery time and, in many cases, a low rate of success and no effective bone regeneration. There is still a high number of amputation. Children with leg length discrepancies are surgically cured by reducing the longer leg, not by making shorter one longer. Notwithstanding the very high health and social care implications. GreenBone wants to positively impact all these aspects: improve the quality of life and reduce healthcare costs for patients.
LA Report: How would you describe your progress so far? Are there any significant challenges you have had to overcome?
We made great progress from the beginning. A scaled-up manufacturing line suitable for commercial validation is now fully operational. Our team is now working to target the clinical development in patients with critical bone defects from trauma (a bone gap of between 3-5cm) from the first quarter in 2017. Our main challenge now is to have a successful second round of financing 5M EURO) by the end of 2016 to ensure we can start the international clinical development as planned.
LA Reports: How are you planning to grow your business?
GreenBone is currently developed to generate a portfolio product with different properties for different applications. An exit strategy – after getting CE mark and completion of clinical development on the first clinical target – is the goal for GreenBone for 2019. We want to see an IPO, M&A and high-value license deals which are able to properly remunerate the return expectations of GreenBone investors. Partnerships to contemplate GreenBone continuity will be also considered.
LA Report: If you were in charge of the government ministry for SMEs and start-ups, what would be the three most important changes you would make to help them grow?
First: launch funds with public-private capital and expertise making pivotal investments to help entrepreneurs emerging from the university.
Second: reduce labour cost for start-up employees, which would also improve high quality occupation.
Third: create a network of hospitals to provide clinical development for medical startups at lower expense.
LA Report: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is…?
There are so many I could mention, but for me the very best part is being able to work with great people while having the opportunity to positively impact the quality of life of many patients.
LA Report: What do you see as the key trends/disruptors for 2016 relevant to entrepreneurs?
Mark Zuckerberg and other extraordinary visionaries say that real-time communication using virtual reality will change how people interact and exchange information and expertise. Learning will be cooperative and knowledge more and more like a big cloud where everybody participates. 2016 is already the past. We have to prepare ourselves and companies like GreenBone for the near future.
LA Report: If you could go back to when you were about to start your company and give yourself a single message or piece of advice, what would it be?
Do it all again!