Driving innovation and change at SmiLe

Medicon Village

With a total of 100 companies so far having been part of SmiLe's incubator program, the sizzling hub now aims at becoming the leading life science incubator in Europe. 

20 years ago, Ebba Fåhraeus entered the life science industry for the first time. With broad experience of sales, communication, marketing and strategy from both large and small companies, in 2015 she accepted the challenge to be part of the dynamic innovation climate of Lund as the CEO of what today is SmiLe. 

Today, she is driving innovation and change to enable a future of better health by nurturing a community of passionate life science innovators. And still with Pippi Longstocking's expression "I've never tried that before so I can definitely do it!" and the question "What is the worst thing that can happen?" as guiding principles.

– To work with dedicated scientists, entrepreneurs and colleagues in an environment characterized by innovation is like a dream come true. To have the chance to constantly deal with new ideas and to learn something new every day is both fun, inspiring and challenging.

A grand history

What started as Lund Bioincubator in 2007, became Lund Life Science Incubator a couple of years later. A move to the newly opened Medicon Village in March 2012 secured premises three times larger than at Ideon Science Park, as well as equipment, lab space and former senior Astra Zeneca specialists eager to start their own CRO’s. These specialists were experienced as scientists, but not as entrepreneurs so with 12-18 months of severance pay from Astra Zeneca, together with solid industry experience, SmiLe and Medicon Village provided the means for them to try their luck as entrepreneurs. This combination proved to be very successful for all three parties; entrepreneurs, SmiLe and Medicon Village.

The former Lund Life Science Incubator has today transformed into SmiLe, a sizzling hub helping entrepreneurs and start-up companies to develop and commercialize new ideas, offering advanced coaching programs, well-equipped labs with state-of-the art instruments, a large international network of industry partners and investors, and a community of world-class life science innovators.

Since Ebba joined, the incubator has grown from three to 22 employees, with a total of 100 companies so far having been part of SmiLe’s incubator program. The incubator program has proven a success to SmiLe, but also to Medicon Village, having profited from housing start-ups emerging into scale-ups, and then full-fledged life science companies.

– There is so much fantastic research going on at Swedish universities. As a non-profit business incubator for life science startups, we at SmiLe aim at highlighting the possibilities and providing the means to facilitate that important first step from researchers to successful entrepreneurs. We do not take equity in the companies we support, which enables us to build a neutral platform for launching health innovation into the world.

Entrepreneurial smorgasbord of opportunities

SmiLe offers entrepreneurs various programs, including an extensive incubator program of two to four years, with the purpose of speeding up start-up businesses. For innovators who do not yet have a well-defined business idea, there is SmiLe Bootcamp, the 10-week virtual business development programs, one tailored for early-stage BioTech companies and one for HealthTech, MedTech and eHealth companies. At the end of the programs the startups get a unique chance to pitch their business ideas to a jury of investors and industry experts during a virtual demo day event.

Another example of SmiLe’s broad offering is the e-campus program for PhD students and post-docs considering starting a life science business of their own, which was launched two years ago.

– We help out with everything our entrepreneurs might need to start a business. That includes defining a business idea, raising capital, finding industry networks relevant to them while also providing a very advanced lab and instrument infrastructure.

SmiLe helps companies with their ideas in the broad life science area, ranging from biotech and medtech to e-health and diagnostics. In a near future, expanding its operations and international reach, SmiLe expects to develop programs for biotechnology and food tech startups.

Challenges ahead

For SmiLe to continue prospering, Ebba and her team have identified a number of challenges that have to be addressed, 

To make SmiLe the leading life science incubator in Europe. SmiLe is already unique in Sweden when it comes to offering programs and resources tailored to different needs. Now the scope is to strengthen its European reputation by building on 14 years of experience, together with the innovation environment in Lund, including a major university and hospital, successful international companies and the game changing research facilities ESS and Max IV.

– Today, our 7 business coaches support around 30 companies in the incubator program. Having been named an excellent incubator by Vinnova, we have had the means to increase capacity by engaging even more coaches and starting new programs, but also to grow our community and widen co-operation with partners in Lund, Sweden and Europe. We've built a strong reputation as a successful incubator in Sweden. Now is the time to widen the horizon, building a stronger European presence capitalizing on our core values; impactful, professional, inclusive and friendly. 

To increase efforts to secure skilled personnel, as this is the biggest challenge of many SmiLe companies, even more so than money. As Medicon Village was formed ten years ago, there were many experienced former Astra Zeneca employees working in the science park who were able to share knowledge. However, as many of them are now retiring, they leave a competence gap that has to be filled.

To SmiLe members, access to the kind of expertise that CRO's like RedGlead, Redoxis, Truly Labs and SARomics Biostructures possess, is necessary to understand how to develop a business within the life science sector, as well as understand the needs of big pharma companies. Besides support from CRO's, at SmiLe a lot of issues are resolved on an informal basis by members teaming up at the coffee machine, SmiLe breakfasts or other networking events and engaging in each other’s challenges. 

– To secure skilled staff we must improve the attractiveness of our region, and then market it internationally. There are 40 nationalities working at SmiLe. A major challenge for us is to keep those already active here, but also to attract newcomers in order to broaden our perspective, competence and market knowledge.

To increase collaboration between healthcare providers and researchers. The more collaboration there is between these two sides of the life science coin, the greater the output to benefit patients. 

– Access to care and possibilities to verify concepts and products is essential for our entrepreneurs to reach their full potential. Lund and Malmö both have large and high-performing hospitals with great reputation, but we need to increase the exchange of experience in order to free more of the potential at hand.

With excellence in mind

It is evident that the level of both ambition and energy is high at SmiLe. The quest to deliver on patient demand for new solutions to current and future health challenges is driving innovation and change, with Ebba Fåhraeus as an impatient CEO pushing boundaries.

– I live by the mantra "It ain't over yet!”. I am trying to do my share of handling a world full of challenges that we as the ones with the power and ability to influence, now must take responsibility for. If I can have a say in it, I would like to have "Here rests a brave soul." written on my tombstone. That would be an appropriate epilogue to the way I have lived my life, trying to make a difference.