INNOVATE

Meet Two Mind-Bending Founders From Stockholm

When research finds its way out of KTH — Stockholm’s leading technology university — interesting things happen

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BY Peter Cohan - 05 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

KTH is known as the MIT of Sweden. A KTH professor and a Stockholm University alumnus are working on some amazing companies based on KTH research.

Mathias Uhlen's 10 Companies

The leader of this pack is Mathias Uhlen of KTH's Science for Life Laboratory. How so? He has started 10 companies over 20 years that employ over 500 people. As he explained in a September 24 interview, "I have co-founded 10 companies over a period of 20 years. The first one (Affibody Medical) in 1996 and the latest (ScandiBio Therapeutics) in 2017. I own equity in all of them and in all cases, the startup involves several co-founders."

Uhlen's companies focus on different parts of the health care industry. "Most of them are involved in developing pharmaceutical drugs (Alligator Bioscience, Abclon, Creative Peptides, Affibody Medical, ScandiBio Therapeutiics) other are selling instruments (Nordiag and Biotage), one is selling research reagents (Atlas Antibodies), one is creating IT portals (Antibodypedia) and one developing recombinant trees (SweTree Technologies)," he said.

He spends time with some of the companies and in others he is a shareholder. As he said," I am chairman of the board for three companies: Atlas antibodies, Antibodypedia and ScandiBio Therapeutics. I am member of the board for one additional company (Affibody Medical). In the rest, I am only shareholder."

He usually hires PhD researchers from his group and often picks CEOs through an external search process. In all, his companies have raised about $200 million through private capital and IPOs and employ about 500 people.

Sebastian Dessand: Adaptive Simulations

Sebastian Dessand is a lawyer fascinated with combining math and business. Now he's leading Adaptive Simulations, that lets people automate simulations and design optimization. As he explained in a September 21 interview, "I went to law school in Stockholm but complemented these studies with business administration, political science and mathematics. Just before I started the company with the other founders I was a management consultant specialized in B2B sales and market strategy. Prior to that I worked with B2B sales, was head of trading at a bank, and started two businesses."

Dessand cofounded Adaptive Simulations in 2014. "We started the company three years ago. I had just met the other co-founders. They were brilliant researchers, within applied math, at KTH. Once I heard about their scientific breakthrough I was in love. I have always dreamed of starting a business based on math. When they described how their adaptive algorithms could automate simulations and design optimization, I realized this would be a huge thing. Their scientific brilliance together with my business experience was a perfect match," he said.

In the last three years, the company has attracted considerable customer interest and has hire in anticipation of generating revenue. According to Dessand, "We are now 11 people in the team. We are still pre-revenue, but launching our product in a couple of months after three years of intense work. Even before launch, and without any sales and marketing initiatives we have received hundreds of inbound requests for our product. Out of the four founders, three are highly specialized researchers. One is a professor in numerical analysis and the two others a part of his research team. I complemented them with B2B-business skills."

To meet customer demand, the company has broadened its skills. As he said, "First thing we did was to recruit an experienced CTO, to secure the product development and bring our complex solution to the market. Beside that we needed more engineers and developers. Not only traditional full-stack developers, but also scientific coders with a combination of coding skills and math. This is a very rare combination of skills, which is hard to find. We also needed brilliant UX/UI and product manager. We used a combination of our own network, online CV-services and recruitment ads on LinkedIn. We want to hire people on the top percentiles of skills and abilities."

And the company may need to hire from Stanford if it can't find talent locally. "We do plan to hire more people within software development, scientific coding and of course sales and marketing. We are looking for people all over the world. Preferably if they can relocate to Stockholm, but we do have employees outside Sweden working from a distance. We are currently discussing with a potential candidate within scientific coding with a research background from Stanford. We want the best in respective area, regardless of where they have studied or where they are currently located," said Dessand.

Fortunately, Adaptive Simulations has been able to attract about $1.6 million in outside capital. As Dessand explained, "We were first financed by the Swedish Agency for Innovation and Growth. Then we received a small investment from KTH. We also received funding from the EU-Commission as a part of the Horizon2020-programme for disruptive innovations. Funding which is only granted to 3% of the applicants."

He continued, "When we started to raise the seed round we met a lot of different investors, mainly at startup events. But quite a few also contacted us. We met Karma Ventures through our incubator STING. Later we met with Creathor Venture at the Web Summit in Lisbon. The investment process took about six months with a rigorous due diligence process (tech, people, legal). But it was all worth it."

Dessand has gotten mentoring help from investors and others. As he said, "Our investors are extremely knowledgeable and experienced. The combination of these investors felt like a good match. Karma had the tech-founders of Skype involved and Creathor has an extensive network within the German Automotive industry. They have both been a great support when talking strategy and business.

He continued, "One of the board members of KTH was a former professor with a large
industrial network and experience from board work. This was an important mentor for me personally. I have had one business coach at STING and one at KTH Innovation. Apart from that we have had a number of contacts with people in the industry and within different functions. There are many with experience from Silicon Valley who have adopted the 'pay-it-forward'-mentality. Which is of course extremely valuable."