The success of companies like PEAT has ensured that interest in the Accelerator Program is higher than ever. The Accelerator has steadily been taking on more teams with each intake in the last couple of years to keep up with the demand from promising startups – indeed, the most recent intake alone saw an 82% increase in applications. Competition is fierce for places on the program, and no one knows this better than the startups from this Accelerator round.
An audience of around 60 people drawn from healthcare, life science and performance materials came to watch the Spring 2017 Accelerator participants pitch their projects at the Demo Day at the Merck Innovation Center in Darmstadt, Germany. Christian Leikert, Investment Manager at Creathor Ventures, also spoke to the audience and the startups. Frankfurt-based Creathor Ventures focuses on investing in early-stage life sciences, transportation and fin-tech businesses. Christian Leikert himself has 30 years of investment experience, encompassing nearly 200 investments, 20 of which reached an IPO, and was on hand to hear the pitches from our startups.
The first series of events will be launched in Nairobi, Kenya in partnership with Mettā, Nairobi. Economic reforms across several East African countries have helped the area to become the most financially inclusive and integrated region in Africa. The region’s increasing economic growth is reflected in the rising number of outstanding startups it is producing. Nairobi’s innovation scene has long been a major hub for the African continent, and thanks to these flourishing startups, is set to develop still further. The region’s varied entrepreneurial landscape lays the foundation for an infrastructure that triggers novel ideas in many industries. The Merck Accelerator is excited to keep build on its already established e-health community focusing around healthcare innovations across East Africa, and fostering partnerships with startups. Applications for Nairobi, are open since March 15. The best startups will be invited to a 3-days bootcamp at Mettā, Nairobi that will culminate with a pitch event to quickly explore and validate potential for co-creating and collaborating with existing innovation projects. The winning team stand to benefit from a cash prize of $ 3,000, a one-year membership at Mettā, Nairobi, and an all-expenses covered trip to the Innovation Center in Darmstadt, to pitch for a partnership with us.
Another Demo Day was held by the Merck Accelerator Africa: the third of its kind in Nairobi. The event brought together investors, entrepreneurs and stakeholders from Kenya’s healthcare sector as well as members of the public. Dr. Cathy Mwangi of M-health Kenya delivered a keynote speech centered on the ability of technology to play an integral role in solving healthcare problems. Hereby she encouraged the four start-ups Connect Health, Peach Health Technologies, RxAll and Secure Data Kit not to waiver from their goals and emphasized that the journey would not be easy but it is worth undertaking. The startups then did a public pitch and received valuable feedback from the audience. When asked about the Accelerator program, all startups – both in Germany and Kenya – praised the number and quality of the connections they had made. Ectica Technologies commented, “the program helped us to create a remarkable number of contacts both within Merck and outside. We entered a vast network that helped us to rapidly interact with potential customers, potential commercialization and R&D partners, but also with entrepreneurs sharing our challenges.” The startup received interest from units within Merck early on and worked with Merck to identify pilot projects where their hydrogel-based lab products could be used. From trade fairs to meetings with hospital consultants, the startups identified many opportunities for external pitching and networking as a key benefit of the Accelerator for their business. Inuru, for example, got the chance to exhibit their printed OLED products at Display Week in Los Angeles with the Performance Materials department in May, giving them crucial external networking opportunities, as well as a chance to test market validity in real-time. All startups also had the opportunity to attend an external pitching and networking event co-organized by the Merck Accelerator, the Joint Investors Day, where they gained valuable pitching experience and insights from fellow founders, investors and innovators. In Kenya, RxAll used their time to develop crucial connections to help them launch their digital drug procurement platform in the Kenyan market.
Product and strategy development was also a key outcome for our Accelerator participants. Connect Health went live with their appointment booking platform during the Accelerator, and ATR Elements leaves the Accelerator with two sample carrier models, one of which is ready for market and already in production. Peach Health Technologies piloted their patient data collection software with a hospital in Ghana during the Accelerator program, and are working to finetune their product, while TOMMI, a VR game for children in cancer care, finessed their demo and business plan after in depth consultation with key medical experts. Secure Development Kit spent their time in the Accelerator implementing and SMS tracking solution for Merck’s Paziquantel donation program with the Ministry of Health in Kenya. International expansion was also a key strategy goal for our startups. RxAll used their time in the Accelerator to evaluate expansion into Kenya, and Ectica Technologies used their time in the Accelerator to develop the global strategy of their company.
Also invited to pitch at the Demo Day in Darmstadt was Gamerck, an infertility support app, and Carepy, a medication tracking program, which did not take part full time in the Accelerator. Gamerck supports the physiological and psychological states of the women receiving fertility treatments. Carepy already have 2.500 active users on their app, including 150 pharmacists and 50 pharma customers.
Less than 9 months after coming together at the Merck Hackathon in Rome, the team at TOMMI are planning to found the company and seek financing to develop their game further. They are also planning to gain more insights from hospitals to help them improve the game. After their year-long pilot program comes to an end, Merck Health Hack Accra 2016 alumni Peach Health Technologies plans to start charging for their software, and are currently looking to bring other hospitals in Ghana on board. Ectica Technologies are working on a pilot project with Merck scientists in immuno-oncology, and continuing to develop their business. Secure Data Kit will aso continue their work with Merck, alongside exploring other opportunities identified during the program. Inuru is looking to secure a second investment round, as well as planning to scale up production and expand to 2.000 customers. In the coming weeks and months, ATR Elements are focusing on founding the company and launching the basic version of the ATR crystal onto the market for existing applications. They also want to develop a prototype for the high-throughput device and the development of the enhanced version up to marketability. As well as continuing their operations in Nigeria, RxAll is planning to launch in Kenya by the end of the year, and they are looking into expansion into Ghana. After enthusiastic feedback from their pilot project, the team at Connect Health plan to recruit and scale in Kenya, as well as consider opportunities for expansion into other countries in Africa. In his advice to the founder teams as they leave the Accelerator, Pierre Munzel of PEAT told them to stay focused and always keep pushing the business forward. But one thing was clear: for these startups, the Merck Accelerator is not the end; it’s just the beginning. And do not forget, if you are a startup in healthcare, life sciences or performance materials, there is still time to apply for the next intake of the program.