More mature ventures typically with sales in domestic markets that desire to initiate the internationalization process to the United States. In these cases, the IC² Institute team will work with the leaders of those companies to develop a commercialization plan and conduct business development activities towards the closing deals in the United States.
Shared efforts to improve U.S. market approach
In 2011 and 2012, the IC² Institute initiated the US Connect pilot program to help Portuguese start-ups make the transition to global markets, primarily by closing business deals in the United States. Along the way, US Connect connects ventures to resources, helps them refine their competitive advantage, and helps them develop the best approach to the U.S. market. US Connect focuses on ventures that have demonstrated success in their domestic market, but have yet to expand into global markets. It focuses on ventures with products, customers, revenue, and the capacity to expand to the United States.
Eleven companies were chosen for Stage One assessment and business development, and (based on outreach results and U.S. market potential) five* of these were selected for Stage Two business development efforts:
- Digital Minds
- Tecla Colorida*
- Tomorrow Options
As of November 2012, US Connect has led to seven ongoing sales discussions with specific proposals made to parties expressing serious interest in the products and services of US Connect companies. One company has been accepted into the respected Austin Technology Incubator. Other accomplishments include: one development partnership, one product pilot, multiple strategic partner prospects, and improved marketing and messaging of the company’s clients to U.S. prospects.
BIOALVO: US Connect Case Study
Company & Product
BIOALVO S.A. (Helena Margarida Moreira de Oliveira Vieira, CEO) develops marine ingredients for cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications. The marine bacteria, fungi, sponge, and corals of the Mid-Atlantic Rift off Portugal’s Azores islands and continental shelf constitute one of the world’s riches sources of bioactives. They include the only commercial collection in the world that contains natural extracts isolated from marine microorganisms collected at a depth of 3,000 meters, able to survive in the most extreme oceanic conditions including temperatures that range from 3° to 300°C. BIOALVO possesses exclusive access to 90,000 natural extracts derived from this diverse array of microorganisms. Screened through their innovative discovery platform, several potent applications have been identified, among them anti-wrinkle, anti-oxidative, anti-infectious, collagen production induction, anti- inflammatory, anti-UVA & UVC, anti-aggregation and anti-neuroinflammation.
The IC² Institute’s US Connect team worked with CEO Helena Vieira and her team targeting data that would leverage BIOALVO’s distinctive capabilities to gain U.S. market entry, establish a prominent foundation, and accelerate acquisition of new contracts. The team contacted industry leaders and mapped out the most prominent intersections of BIOALVO’s capabilities with industry needs.
Prospective clients consistently expressed initial interest. However (as is often the case with newer companies) overcoming prospects’ low risk threshold – especially during an economic downturn – was challenging, even for a company with BIOALVO’s promising resources and talented staff. Prospects commonly expressed the desire that BIOALVO bring them ingredients, developed from bioactive extracts with already-identified activities, clinically tested and scaled-up.
Without a product already in the market with which to draw objective proof that BIOALVO’s marine extracts can be developed into ingredients having the desired properties, BIOALVO needed another means of bridging their prospects’ uncertainty gap. The US Connect team and BIOALVO went to work finding empirical evidence from BIOALVO’s own research as well as the applicable research of others on Portuguese marine extracts that would establish efficacy of BIOALVO’s discovery platform and source of bioactives. A new, more robust presentation was created. Proctor & Gamble’s Director of Open Innovation reviewed the presentation, contributing buyers’ perspective, issues to address, and presentation impact. He arranged to have BIOALVO present to P&G’s Therapeutic Skin Care R&D group, who provided additional insights.
Pharmaceutical, cosmetic, skin care, and food industry companies were contacted, and meetings established with Merck’s Global Head of Therapeutic Skin Care R&D, the heads of skin care research at Avon, Revlon and Mary Kay, the R&D team of Kerry Group, a leader in food ingredients and flavors, as well as remote meetings with Proctor & Gamble’s Skin Care group, L’Oreal, and others.
One contract has been signed, two other contracts are under review with signing expected soon, and L’Oreal Europe has begun discussions with BIOALVO.
AlphaVektor, a U.S. pharmaceutical and specialty pro- duct development company recently acquired from Bioalvo the development and posterior use rights of extracts for pathologic treatment of a metabolic disease. AlphaVektor’s CEO, John Koleng, stated: “We were very impressed with the potential applications of BIOALVO’s novel extract library in various types of products and indications. We believe the combination of the material source combined with the unique chemistry afforded by the extracts will provide advanced products to address unmet market needs.”
Avon Products Inc., the world’s largest direct seller of cosmetics and skin care, agreed to BIOALVO’s proposal and is in the process of approving their contract. Avon will obtain access to certain extracts from BIOALVO’s PharmaBug Library for development of topical applications that achieve particular cosmetic effects. Avon has agreed to share the results of its research with BIOALVO and will have certain rights to acquire exclusivity of successful extracts and subsequently rights to commercialize certain extracts. Avon has more than $11 billion in annual revenue produced by more than 6 million active independent Avon Sales Representatives in more than 100 countries. More products carry the Avon name than any other brand in the world.
Another global leader in cosmetics has agreed to BIOALVO’s proposal and is reviewing a contract for the development of new cosmetic and skin care products. The company initially desires to evaluate samples that show potential for topical applications, from BIOALVO’s PharmaBug collection sourced from the deep sea of the Extended Portuguese Shelf.
We were overwhelmed by the competencies, dedication and scope which the US Connect staff showed to us. Not as mere spectator, but deeply involved, demonstrating tremendous availability to help… US Connect contributed decisively to the definition of BIOALVO’s internationalization strategy into the U.S. market by helping us craft final presentation materials, training me and my team into the necessary skills to approach the American market and providing mentoring to me through the toughest moments on this path. US Connect went one step further, by continuously searching for potential new clients for BIOALVO’s technology and libraries, preparing the necessary introductions, being present in all initial discussions and providing BIOALVO a sort of quality stamp with US Connect association. (Helena Veira, CEO BIOALVO)
BIOALVO founder and CEO Helena Vieira with UTEN managers Greg Pogue and Jim Vance (2012)
FeedZai: US Connect Case Study
Company & Product
FeedZai (Nuno Sebastião, CEO) creates software solutions for business and operational processes that require sub-second analytics over big data. FeedZai’s Pulse is a business intelligence appliance that enables real-time processing and analytics of large scale high throughput data loads. Its strength is its real-time processing and analytics of selected key performance indicators on any number of monitored items, while continuously comparing them against historical, baseline, targeted performance, and external data. This enables Pulse to provide unusually accurate and immediate identification of trends, uncover and manage business anomalies, control costs and risks, and predict future values with enhanced precision. These capabilities are especially helpful catching fraudulent financial transactions prior to authorizing even the first fraudulent purchase, forecasting energy production and consumption, and enabling online shopping recommendation engines to finally offer purchase suggestions accurately tailored for each individual shopper as they shop.
The US Connect team contacted electric utility companies, renewables power producers, grid operators, IT solution providers, and companies in business intelligence, payment authentication, and customer experience analytics.
The world is deluged with IT applications, each proclaiming to provide superior intelligence, control, speed and ease. FeedZai’s claims of its event processing engine Pulse were complex, immense and pervasive: an IT department’s “perfect storm” for casting skepticism and quick dismissal. Except that in this case, FeedZai’s claims were real. FeedZai needed a communication that could present Pulse’s potential in a way that could be readily grasped, which would impart confidence in the product’s ability to solve pressing business needs.
The IC² Institute’s US Connect team worked with FeedZai CEO Nuno Sebastião and his team to: 1) communicate Pulse’s robust capabilities and benefits to non-technical personnel; and 2) build prospects’ confidence for Pulse to meet their organization’s needs.
Case studies were chosen as the communication vehicle. They would develop one case profile for each of the three targeted industries determined to have the greatest “pain” that Pulse could alleviate. Empirical data was collected from interviews with Pulse’s pilot customers and compared to their historical performance as well as published industry data of similar companies. Industry experts were interviewed to determine direct and indirect financial losses attributable to not having the intelligence and control Pulse provides. Non-industry individuals added fresh eyes in shaping each case study so non-technical decision makers would understand and appreciate the impact of Pulse. The case studies now provided technical experts an effective means of conveying Pulse’s potential impact on business operations, profitability, and future growth to internal decision makers.
Meetings were set with Adobe, CallSpace, Cardinal Commerce, ERCOT (Texas’ electric grid operator), IBM Industry Solutions Group, Intel Capital, NirvanaSystems, Omniture, Patton Boggs, St. David’s Neuro Texas Institute, TeaLeaf, Vestas Wind Turbines, Austin Technology Incubator, and several groups at Dell including Dell’s Financial Services, Security & Systems Management, Chief Technology Office, Next Generation Computing Solutions, Business Intelligence and Customer Relationship Management. Pulse information was also reviewed by Accenture, Hewlett Packard’s CIO, PayPal, Symantec and XremePower. Most presentations were made to the organization’s CIO, VP, or senior manager responsible for this area.
US Connect is working with FeedZai and Cardinal Commerce to complete a contract for a Phase 2 installation of Pulse to begin early 2013. Cardinal Commerce is a global leader in enabling authenticated payments and secure transactions for many of the world’s largest retailers, financial institutions and service providers. Although not a large company, successful implementation with them will open formidable opportunities with Cardinal’s chief clients: the financial, retail, and payment services institutions that stand to gain the most from Pulse’s real-time fraud prevention. Cardinal’s Vice President of Enterprise Services stated he’s a big champion of Pulse.
Mr. Eric Drummond, a partner at Patton Boggs’ Energy & Clean Technology, arranged for Mr. Sebastião to be a guest presenter at the Global New Energy Summit held this past April. Mr. Sebastião was introduced to several key energy and venture capital leaders in Colorado, Texas and Washington D.C. Mr. Drummond also arranged to showcase FeedZai and Nuno at the Cleantech Fellows Institute (CFI) Conference in October. CFI is partnering with VCs and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
IBM Industry Solutions Group would like to develop a joint pilot utilizing Pulse, with any major utility company. IBM must first complete the other components of their utilities solution platform before they can proceed with FeedZai.
The US Connect team for the last months supporting FeedZai in its commercialization effort into the U.S., has been supportive of FeedZai and, in particular, has devoted time and diligence to accompany us to the number of meetings arranged for FeedZai with companies such as Dell, IBM, or Adobe. For this we are very grateful. (Nuno Sebastião, CEO FeedZai)
Marco Bravo, UTEN Project Director, and Robert Peterson, UTEN Principal Investigator, attending a business meeting they helped secure at IBM for the founders of the Portuguese startup FeedZai (2012).
Sonicability & GimmeDaBlues: US Connect Case Study
GimmeDaBlues, by Sonicability, is an application for iOS devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad) that allows its users to generate Blues in real time and in several known styles for a quartet of trumpet, piano, double bass, and drums.
The user plays the quartet with different degrees of control over the four instruments. Some instruments have a more or less autonomous behavior while others are totally dependent on the user actions. The bass and drums have a pretty autonomous behavior that slightly changes according to how the user is “playing” the piano and trumpet. Touching the screen of the user interface plays the piano and trumpet, which provide and idiomatic accompaniment and solo in the chosen Blues style.
The user can control the articulation and melodic profile of the solo instrument by moving the fingers over the trumpet, and control the articulation of the accompaniment as well as register and chord distribution by tapping over the piano. All user actions translate into musical behaviors that are idiomatic since the instruments played by the user (piano and trumpet) know about the Blues style: whatever the user plays sounds nice and idiomatic. GimmeDaBlues thus implements an intelligent layer between the user actions and its musical consequences. This establishes a new paradigm in music applications for smartphones, as users can play and interact at a high musical level without formal musical knowledge.
GimmeDaBlues user interface
This application can be used in at least three ways: as a musical application in which a user can play Blues in a Jazz quartet; as a “comping” tool in which the user can accompany and interact with a soloist; and as a study tool for Jazz students who need to practice the Blues form in several styles, keys and tempi.
Other features of the performance, such as key, tempo, instruments (piano and Hammond organ, three different types of trumpets) can be defined in the setup page of the application. The performances with GimmeDaBlues can be recorded in the form of a MIDI file that can be later on uploaded to a MIDI sequencer or notation program in order to be further edited.
GimmeDaBlues was conceived and prototyped under the scope of the UT-Austin Portugal program by Rui Dias, Carlos Guedes, George Sioros, Telmo Marques and Gilberto Bernardes. It was programmed for iOS by Amaury Hazan, and the GUI design is by Clara Morão.
GimmeDaBlues has recently been promoted at the SIGGRAPH conference in Asia. US Connect has helped Sonicability to incorporate in the United States and is currently assisting pursuit of Apple Store distribution for this musical app.
Tecla Colorida: US Connect Case Study
Tecla Colorida (Ademar Aguiar, CEO) is based in Porto, Portugal. The platform known as Escolinhas is in 200 primary schools in Portugal. In addition, it is now in its first school in the U.S., being piloted in six classrooms in Means Elementary School in Harlingen, Texas. Marketed in the United States as Schoooools.com, the company’s platform for multimedia learning in grades 1 – 6 provides official school web spaces to support collaboration, communication, and sharing of school content and activities between students, parents, and teachers. In the classroom, students create multimedia documents that supplement current lesson plans. The Schoooools approach helps elementary students develop critical thinking, teamwork, and creativity, to prepare them to compete in the 21st Century economy. In addition to this pilot program, Schoooools.com CEO Ademar Aguiar has started strategic partnership discussions that will advance sales and support in the United States.
It is really difficult to introduce a new product, especially in the elementary school market. The energy to continue with this marathon comes from many sources, like opinions gathered after a long session with teachers. Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm. Let’s make rain! (Ademar Aguiar, CEO Tecla Colorida).
Means Elementary Scool, Harlingen, Texas. Schoooools.com CEO Ademar Aguiar (center) with teachers, principal Elizabeth Maldonado (back row, 3rd from left) and IC² Institute Program Manager Cliff Zintgraff (2011).
Technophage: US Connect Case Study
TechnoPhage S.A. is a biopharmaceutical company engaged in research and development based on recombinant single domain antibody fragments (sdAbs), for the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases. TechnoPhage has created TechnoAntibodies as an independent offering in the sdAbs space by exploiting the variable regions of either the heavy (VH) or light (VL) chains of rabbit-derived antibodies. The structure and extreme stability, solubility and tissue penetration properties of sdAbs enable them to engage therapeutic targets that are inaccessible to conventional antibodies. The overall strategy of TechnoPhage is to generate novel therapeutics in early phases of development and to subsequently enter into partnering deals for preclinical and/or clinical development. They have the necessary equipment and talent readily at hand to develop full product solutions. TA_101, an antibody fragment that inhibits tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-!) in systemic inflammation, is Technophage’s lead product. TA_101 is a recombinant single domain antibody fragment in a dimeric form that has 2 different binding domains that facilitate effective TNF-! inhibition. Inclusion of an albumin binding peptide (PEP) in the product extends the half-life to potentially allow once monthly self-administration. TA_101 has been produced in microbial systems to date.
TA_101 structure. VL-VL dimer linked by a peptide linker. The fact that two different binding domains are used facilitates effective TNF-α inhibition. Half-life extension obtained by PEP, an albumin binding domain.
US Connect supported the commercialization of TechnoAntibodies and TA_101 in particular through developing summary data sheets detailing the technology and lead product as well as Powerpoint overviews of the opportunity. Introductions were made to several top pharmaceutical companies including the Sanofi group, Amgen and Eli Lily. Technophage was invited to make a presentation to a multi-site team composed of Eli Lily and Imclone scientists. Great interest was expressed in the technology and lead, yet the bias in large pharma companies is to license products with clinical data that supports safety and efficacy. At the same time, this commercialization strategy fits with Technophage’s goal to build value in TA_101 through early clinical development and then capture higher return in licensing negotiations. Now, many leading biotech/pharma companies are aware of the technology and product which can be exploited for expedited discussions as new data comes available.
As Technophage sought to move TA_101 into clinical development, alternative production systems were sought to provide improved cost and scale advantage. US Connect introduced Technophage to a U.S.-based contract manufacturing organization that specializes in the biomanufacturing of recombinant drug products. This interaction led to a Type 3 US Connect deal where in-kind services were provided by the U.S. company which conserve significant cash for Technophage. Specifically, the U.S. company developed expression constructs, tested recombinant protein production and performed initial purification work to provide samples to Technophage free of charge. The quality of the produced materials is under review by Techophage and early discussions are underway between the two companies for potential collaborations to produce clinical-grade material to support human trials.
WS-Energia: US Connect Case Study
Company & Product
WS Energia, Inc. (João Wemans, Founder & Senior Developer) was founded in 2006 and is headquartered in Porto Salvo, Portugal. Improvement of photovoltaic (PV) systems was the basis of the company’s launch. They offer a range of solutions in solar trackers, inverters and photovoltaic modules. Their Horizon single-axis photovoltaic solar trackers have been in operation for more than four years in 150 sites.
A good single-axis tracker can increase the energy yield of most PV panels 20%. As a tracker rotates on its axis, heavy structural members holding 40 or 80 PV panels must rotate on one another, producing significant friction and wear as well as stress on motors. WS Energia addresses this issue with a proprietary low-friction material that is largely responsible for their 80 panel tracker requiring just one motor versus two to four on many competitor systems. This single motor design 1) results in reduced foundation requirements and the associated energy-sapping shadowing effects, and 2) features pre-installed sensors and robotics. This translates to one of the most cost effective solutions available.
Research was undertaken to validate the competitiveness of WS’s tracker technology against current marketplace requirements, hurdles to market entry, demand, projections, and trends in solar trackers and the solar energy industry. Industry and regulatory experts, solar park developers, distributors, and competitors were interviewed. One of these was the founder and CTO of SunPower, whose knowledge of PV design and the industry is extensive. SunPower manufactures utility scale trackers and is one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. The US Connect team identified distribution channels, buyers, tracker decision entry point of purchase cycle, regulatory requirements, and outlined a strategy to leverage WS’s distinctive strengths toward capturing the target market. WS’s founder, João Wemans, provided the data needed to address the many questions posed by experts.
Future Demand for Solar Trackers: A common misconception is that as PV energy yields improve, the advantages of solar trackers will diminish. The Director for Solar Platforms & Tracking for SunEdison stated just the opposite: good single-axis trackers increase the energy yield of most PV panels 20%. A 20% increase of a 10% efficient panel effectively increases its yield to 12%, but increases the yield of a 20% efficient panel to 24%. The 4% additional yield was gained at the same cost as the 2% gain. As PV energy yields improve, solar trackers become one of the most cost effective means of achieving parity between solar and fossil fuel electric generation.
Price drives the energy industry. WS’s advantage over other trackers was not a significant technological breakthrough, however their low manufacturing costs proved to be very aggressive. Leaders in the industry confirmed WS’s price point was quite attractive and they would be interested in using them for upcoming projects, provided they meet U.S. regulations and could be relied upon to last at least the 20-year lifespan expected of PV panels. US Connect recommended an entry strategy that initially focused on partnering with solar farm developers and PV solution providers, as opposed to solar equipment distributors or PV equipment manufacturers. Solar equipment distributors add a percentage to the cost for their commission or fee. If WS’s price on a tracker was $.38/watt, the distributor’s price to a solar developer may be $.42. That $.04 difference calculates to an additional $4,000,000 expense for a 100MW farm. Solar farm developers, on the other hand, deal directly with utilities or businesses. They are primarily concerned with two things regarding trackers: will they perform as needed, and will the cost help them win the bid? The US Connect team supports this market approach to help WS establish a long term supplier relationship rather than a single-event sale.
The President & CEO of Ignite Solar in Houston, Texas designs and builds solar projects then sells the electricity to utility companies. Ignite is not partnered with anyone for a ground mount tracker. The CEO stated that WS’s solar tracker may meet the price point they need and was about to submit RFPs for five solar parks in California and Mexico’s largest solar farm. They were targeting a very aggressive tracker price of $.36/watt to provide the best possibility to win these bids and were willing to consider WS trackers.
SunEdison in Denver, Colorado, is a global leader in delivering solar power, with manufacturing plants and offices around the world. SunEdison’s Director for Solar Platforms & Tracking stated if WS trackers could be priced below $.40/watt, SunEdison would be interested in discussing use of them. Other companies US Connect contacted include Texas Solar Power Company, Suniva, Inc., Patriot Solar Group, SunPower Corporation, Southwest Solar Technologies, Inc., and Epiphany Solar Water Systems.
On review of US Connect recommendations, the WS Energia board decided to first seek a European industrial partner to help them manage their expansion to the U.S. market, via the US Connect approach.
WS Energia believes that the approach presented [US Connect] is the most suitable for U.S. entry, for all the strong reasons you state… next steps should be to send the tech teaser to prospective clients. (João Wemans, Founder and Senior Developer).
As of this report, WS was addressing regulatory hurdles, warranty terms and collection of evidence regarding longevity and reliability: all items revealed as especially important for U.S. market entry.