Y Science 2019 – a journey from life science research to business at Slush

For the third year now, HiLIFE partnered with Slush to create Y Science, a side event focused on commercialization of life science research. The goal of this event was not only to showcase excellence in life science and its ability to provide concrete tools to society, but also to encourage scientists to embrace a different way of thinking about impact.

If you live in Helsinki you have definitely heard of Slush, the biggest startup gathering in the Nordics. The Finnish legacy and excellence in computer science, design, hardware and an overall love for Tech makes Slush the unique melting pot for inventors that it is today.

Slush has an energy that makes you feel the next big thing might be present in the room, and this year life sciences were definitely represented both on Slush stages and in several side events like Y Science and #NordicMade.

The rise of Biotech

Biotech is becoming a field where hardware, computer science and the life sciences are simultaneously merging. With the entrepreneurial spirit, excellent talent, and strong programming and hardware infrastructure, Finland has all the prerequisites for generating excellent Biotech companies. Through Y Science, we experienced a surge in interest from investors and serial entrepreneurs towards biotech. This was evident from the hundreds of visitors to our 3-hour side event, as well as the fact that a life science company made it to the top 3 in the Slush Top 100 Pitch Competition

We see a new narrative surfacing on the Biotech scene. One in which Biotech is seen as fast paced, a key driver for sustainability, and with unlimited potential. Investors, entrepreneurs and citizens in general are starting to prioritize the impact and purpose of companies in the highest regard when considering their career moves. People want to see startups succeed, especially those which address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and thereby equality for people and the planet.

Biotech startups are beginning to tick all these boxes and the world is noticing – rightfully so.

The acceleration of the underlying levers of Biotech’s application and scale (such as reading, writing & editing DNA) makes us able to design biological systems, with the features we desire i.e. circularit–y, sustainability and wellbeing. These advances are also generating phenomenal amounts of hope that Biotech startups will answer many of the challenges we face with very concrete applications.

Y Science highlights

Y Science gathered together researchers, investors, entrepreneurs, students, and other players involved in commercialization of life science research. This year the program was built to really mimic the transition from academic findings to the development of a commercial product, culminating with the testimony of successful entrepreneurs and investors sharing their personal experience on commercialization of life science discoveries.

High quality research is the basis for successful science-based businesses, so the first part of the program spanned from biomedicine (including mitochondrial diseases, neuroscience, and ageing) to bioimaging and food sustainability, touching upon some really exciting fields within life sciences. Thomas McWilliams, Kirsi Mikkonen and Eero Castrén joined us on stage to showcase the excellent research coming from University of Helsinki.

The pitching competition transitioned us from the academic world to the business one, where Hans Schikan took us on a rollercoaster ride through the ups and downs of his Biotech company Prosensa. Other entrepreneurs like Stine Mølgaard Sørensen shared their personal experience on what it takes to found a Biotech startup (in her case Radiobotics), mentioning both the rewards but also all the obstacles people face when starting a company in this field.

Thanks to our networking area and the access to Slush matchmaking tool, many Y Science attendees managed to develop new connections during the event. Rodrigo Mallo Leiva, one of the judges of the pitching competition, said that Y Science “is a great place to connect with the science-focused startup community from Europe”, while other attendees defined the event as exciting, inspiring and even mind-broadening.

Our Life Science Pitching competition

The core of Y Science was its Life Science Pitching (LSP) competition, truly embodying the transition from academic discovery to concrete actions to society. The competition opened in September and, by the beginning of October, an international jury selected eight companies who were given the chance to pitch their ideas on stage and win €30k.

The selected finalists worked on very different projects, spanning from health and life sciences but also reaching across to sustainable farming. Moreover, the competition had a really international reach: only three of the eight selected finalists are based in Finland, and we even had a Canadian startup pitching on stage. Here they are:

  • Anison: Developing a natural product for the targeted elimination of warts.
  • Chain Antimicrobial: An antimicrobial peptide coating for catheters and other medical devices, enabling lifesaving prevention of highly problematic bacterial infections in hospital environments.
  • Cohesys: Revolutionizing facial surgery with nano-adhesive and biodegradable surgical tape instead of screws and plates in a very fragile and brittle area, reducing the procedural time and many of the complications associated with the current standard of care.
  • Medicortex: Helping advance treatments of head traumas by developing a quick and easy test measuring a novel biomarker.
  • Nanoglue: Helping burn victims have a much greater chance at successfully getting a skin transplant with an antimicrobial bio-glue.
  • Nordetect: Improving farming though a lab-on-a-chip platform, providing information to optimize the use of fertilizer and reduce the risk of lower yields.
  • Proxi Biotech: Developing next generation vaccines targeting bacterial infections.
  • TwelveBio: Developing a platform for precision diagnostics through a novel CRISPR technology.

The winner of the competition and €30k was Medicortex, but all LSP finalists are a wonderful testament to what we believe the future has in store: a world built on Biotech to achieve sustainability and better lives for all. With strong science and tech-prowess, more and more Biotech is predicted to be brought to life by big Finnish ambitions and talent. Slush and Y Science offered a window into the future – and the future will be Biotech. 

Y Science 2019 was organized by the Helsinki Institute of Life Science (HiLIFE, University of Helsinki) to bring together the curious scientific community and the business world. HiLIFE partnered with REBBLS, KasKas Media, BioInnovation Institute and University of Oulu to organize the Life Science Pitching competition.

About the authors:

Alexander Moldt Nielsen has a passion for scoping new technologies, business models and innovative systems to improve our future world. His adventure-seeking spirit leads him down a labyrinth of exciting paths, which twist and weave through the rich tapestry of Biotech today. Alexander is a member of the CORE REBBLS team and the Executive Board.

Chiara Facciotto is doing her PhD at the University of Helsinki, using data analysis to investigate mechanisms of drug resistance in cancer. In parallel to her PhD, she developed a real passion for science communication and became actively involved with several scicomm projects, such as curating TEDxHelsinkiUniversity and co-founding The Science Basement. In the last year, she was also hired by HiLIFE as event coordinator for Y Science.