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In this article, UIIN – Lehigh University Iacocca Scholar Lynn Brownell shares with the UIIN readers her impression of a June visit to two startups at Tec Labs – Centro de Inovação in Lisbon, Portugal and discusses the highlights of interviews with Tiago Oliveira, co-founder and software engineer at Vawlt Technologies, and Fadhil Musa, co-founder of Delox.
Tec Labs has been able to successfully create and support twenty-nine start-ups in businesses ranging from aerospace to the ocean. On our visit to Tec Labs to learn more about its entrepreneurial ecosystem, we were able to interview two startups that are still utilizing the facilities of Tec Labs: Vawlt and Delox.
Vawlt Technologies is a secure data storage startup company. Their main focuses now are consumerization, compliance, and cloud storage, but their product has changed throughout their journey with Tec Labs.
In 2015, Alysson Bessani, one of Vawlt’s co-founders, who is also an associate professor at the Faculty of Science at ULisboa and (more recently) coordinator of a Horizon2020 research project called DiSIEM, was involved in a FP7 project caled BiobankCloud with fellow co-founders Tiago Oliveira and Ricardo Mendes. That same year, Tec Labs was developing ScienceIN2Business, an acceleration program and innovative methodology that encourages and supports the development of research and ideas into businesses. After their project partners questioned why they did not turn their idea into a company, Oliveira and Mendes decided to enter the competition.
They placed second, received meaningful feedback, and created connections with investors. The feedback not only improved their current project, but also aligned with a new Horizon2020 project they were developing: SUPERCLOUD.
In 2016, the co-founders took the feedback from the previous year, strengthened their proposal, and entered the ScienceIN2Business competition once more. Though they again placed second in the competition, they strengthened their ties with Tec Labs and created invaluable connections with investors. Tec Labs team members conducted weekly meetings with Vawlt founders and mentors who were able to open doors for Vawlt and create contacts through their network. They also provided a work space and helped find investments. Additionally, Tec Labs’ Brunos Santos Amaro joined the Vawlt team as CEO.
Typically, high technology companies such as Vawlt have a difficult time finding funding. Most investors prefer to invest in application startups since their processes are much quicker and less risky. With the help of Tec Labs, though, Vawlt made a notable connection with Armilar Venture Partners, who recently invested 500,000 € into Vawlt Technologies.
Vawlt is currently located in a large-windowed office space within Tec Labs. In the next five years, Vawlt has goals of marrying user-friendly and high-security services as well as going global.
Delox began as a science project within FCUL and is now a spin-off of the more than seven years of research, focused on designing and developing a new generation of bio-decontamination devices. Right from the start, co-founder and researcher Fadhil Musa and co-founders and associate professors at FCUL Fernando Antunes and João Silva wanted to create a business from their research. They began by exploring commercial aspects of their research and spent some time with COHiTEC, an acceleration program focused on technology and managed by NOVA. The team eventually decided, like many other startups, to change their focus to something requiring less certifications and that would be quicker to develop.
Much of their time was spent “food scraping,” looking for funding. This search for funding led them to compete in a variety of competitions; winning prizes not only gave them more financial ability to improve their product, but also provided them with useful feedback. When Rita Tomé, a team member at Tec Labs, saw Fadhil giving a presentation about Delox, she encouraged him to participate in the 2017 ScienceIN2Business competition. Enticed by the small cash prize and the opportunity to further refine their product, Delox entered the competition and eventually won. Tec Labs events further strengthened the relationship with the pharmaceutical company (Hovione Capital) that eventually invested 100,000 € in Delox, together with €200,000 from a bank (Caixa Capital).
Delox is still two years from the market; they are still developing their prototype and working through the certification process. They are currently utilizing Office and Lab space at Tec Labs—which is a combination of spaces no other incubator in Lisbon offers—along with sharing some research equipment with fellow researchers within Tec Labs. Additionally, Delox lists their main address as their office space at the incubator DNA Cascais, which within the city of Lisbon, so that they can create and maintain relationships there. Fadhil Musa stated that the location of Tec Labs within the Faculty of Science campus is ideal due to the convenience for the Faculty of Science professors and researchers who work at Delox.
Tec Labs: The Guiding Light
The paths Vawlt and Delox took to bring their research to company level are unique, but one fact is true to both; Tec Labs provided the necessary resources for success. What Tec Labs doesn’t offer within its one-of-a-kind combination of facilities, knowledge, and mentors, its network of partners is able to fill in the gaps. Additionally, the team members who are the core of Tec Labs go above and beyond for every person within the walls the innovation center.