2018 was a prosperous year for EPFL startups, which raised a total of CHF 217 million in fresh capital. Nexthink alone announced a successful CHF 85 million fundraising round last week, while nine other startups each brought in over CHF 8 million during the year. This remarkable showing reflects EPFL’s vibrant entrepreneurial culture as well as the many different forms of assistance that the school has introduced over the years.
EPFL startups raised a total of CHF 217 million in 2018 - not far from the record of CHF 260 million set in 2016, a year marked by MindMaze’s CHF 100 million intake. These figures are up sharply from just eight years ago, when EPFL startups raised some CHF 50 million. "This rapid growth testifies to the entrepreneurial spirit that is very much alive on our campus, as well as the ambition and drive of EPFL-bred entrepreneurs," says Hervé Lebret, Head of EPFL’s Start-ups Unit. Today, technology developed at EPFL labs is being readily transferred to industry and eventually on to consumers. The upshot is a growing number of successful EPFL spin-offs. Much of this is due to the various forms of assistance available to fledgling businesses at EPFL, through initiatives first rolled out some 25 years ago.
Ten companies each raised over CHF 8 million
The ten largest fundraising rounds carried out this year by EPFL spin-offs - companies established to market technology developed at an EPFL lab or by an EPFL researcher - exceeded CHF 8 million. Nexthink alone raised CHF 85 million to support its development of artificial intelligence-based software to enhance employees’ digital experience. That makes it one of the top three unlisted EPFL startups in terms of attracting fresh capital.
The next three biggest fundraising rounds this year were carried out by Cellestia Biotech, Abionic, and Kandou Bus. Cellestia Biotech announced this week that it has raised 20 million. This spin-off is developing molecules to treat certain types of cancer linked to genetic lesions which activate a cellular signaling pathway called Notch. Abionic, founded in 2010 to market technology developed at EPFL’s microengineering clean room, brought in CHF 20 million. The proceeds will be used to validate and launch its microfluid-based diagnostic tests for sepsis and allergies. Kandou Bus raised CHF 15 million for the second time, and will use the funds to step up the production and roll-out of its high-speed chip-to-chip links that enhance the efficiency of electronic devices. Six other EPFL startups raised CHF 8-10 million among which: Pristem, Bestmile, Akselos, Inpher.io and Amazentis.
The investors behind the CHF 217 million come from Switzerland, elsewhere in Europe (Index Ventures, Partech, Airbus, Shell and Innogy) and the US (Bessemer, Walden and JPMorgan). This international scope "shows that our entrepreneurs are starting to be known worldwide for their energy and professional approach," says Lebret. But behind this fundraising success lies years of hard work - along with a hefty dose of entrepreneurial talent - to transform the founders’ ingenious ideas into groundbreaking technology. Raising capital to finance the various stages of business creation is no mean feat.
Innogrant recipients have attracted a total of CHF 325 million
To help its researchers get their businesses off the ground, EPFL has built up an entire innovation ecosystem over the past 15 years. This ecosystem includes state-of-the-art facilities at Le Garage, La Forge and Campus Biotech Geneva, for example, as well as close collaborations with the labs and a variety of grants such as Innogrants, XGrants and YGrants. A record 25 spin-offs were created on the EPFL campus in 2018.
Over 80 EPFL spin-offs - or some 40% of the total - launched over the past ten years received an Innogrant, which is a grant awarded to PhD students and professors to enable them to hire an employee. Innogrant recipients have raised a total of CHF 325 million in capital, and nine of them have been bought out by a multinational.
XGrants help students launch their startups
Financial support is also available to EPFL students eager to launch their businesses before they have their degree in hand. Last year the school introduced XGrants, which provide up to CHF 10,000 each to ambitious Bachelor’s and Master’s students. The school has already received 55 applications and awarded 30 XGrants.