I caught up with Ignacio Willats, Founder of Hackscience the lab automation startup which recently closed funding on SeedLegals.
What does Hackscience do?
IW: HackScience accelerates scientific research with affordable lab automation.
Biotechnology is changing the world from new breakthrough cancer therapies to new synthetic meats! To make all of this happen, researchers need to create huge volumes of cell cultures, but the industry currently faces a £4bn bottleneck meaning they simply can’t do this process fast enough. To solve this problem, we created Cell-Feed, the world’s first compact and affordable cell culture automation system, to help bring their research into the world faster.
What made you start your company – was it a personal passion, or a problem you identified, or a market opportunity?
IW: My co-founder Ali Afshar and I met at Imperial where he had been developing automated solutions for his own research. We took this idea and ran a lab automation hackathon. The event was a huge success so we decided to find out what else could be automated. Cell culture was a clear pain-point for scientists across both academia and industry so we started developing Cell-Feed. Since then it’s been clear that now is exactly the right time.
Cell culture methods haven’t changed since they started, but the needs of new industrial biotech have; manual cell cultures aren’t able to support the volume and quality needed in today’s work any longer.
What funding have you received so far?
IW: Grant funding and pre-seed investment from angel investors in the UK and US
How did you meet your investors?
IW: Most of our angel investors were from our personal networks. We also explored AngelList, and found one of our key investors that way – it was a perfect match!
Do you think your investors invested in the idea, the product, the founders, or the team?
IW: All of the above. The weightings of each variable varies between investors. I’d say at the very early stage, investors’ belief in the founders and the idea are very high up there.
Any advice for the perfect pitch deck?
IW: Be concise and coherent. Telling a compelling story is half the challenge, investors want to invest in something that will be carried by a huge market and that is an exciting journey to be part of. We are in an incredible position as synthetic biology is really taking off and we happen to be in the perfect position to help facilitate the next wave of industrial biotech.
What was the hardest thing about doing your funding round?
IW: Before SeedLegals, it was all the paperwork! Building a strong network takes time and can be hard to do if you’re raising for the first time. Invest in your network before you need to raise.
If there were three things you could tell a founder looking to do their round, what would they be?
- Make connections with investors before you need to raise. This gives them an opportunity to watch you grow and extrapolate a growth curve from their observations.
- Look for investors that can provide more than just money. They’re an extension of your team and can provide tremendous support in the form of advice and introductions.
- Be bold! The UK has incredible talent and amazing entrepreneurs. We should not shy away from portraying big visions!
How did you hear about SeedLegals, and how was your experience?
IW: Through a friend. We were delighted with the experience and continue to receive amazing support from the team. I would recommend SeedLegals to anyone starting out. Get on the platform in advance of your raise so you can hit the ground running!
What’s next on the horizon for Hackscience?
IW: We will be launching a number of commercial pilots in 2018 in the synthetic biology space. We are making some key hires in the product, engineering and science teams. We’ll also be raising our seed round in a few months and will of course be using SeedLegals!