The mo:re start-up from Hamburg University of Technology recently won the GründerGeist competition – an opportunity for an interview with founder Lukas Gaats. mo:re is developing a compact and easy-to-use robot and software platform that sets new standards for what is possible during a medical research study. The aim is for every laboratory to have such a microlab in the future to make research on 3D cell models simple and affordable as an alternative to animal testing.
You presented your revolutionary technology, which could make animal testing superfluous, at GründerGeist. How did you come up with the idea for this micro-lab and what is mo:re’s long-term vision for medical research?
The idea of founding a start-up came to me during a research stay with Professor Dietmar Hutmacher at QUT in Australia. There we researched the basic principles of our product in a doctoral thesis, but after various user interviews we quickly recognised the commercial potential of automated cell culture.
In the long term, it’s about much more than replacing animal experiments: The mini-organs we grow are a key to personalised medicine. From a small tissue sample, we can grow hundreds of mini-organs that exactly replicate the patient’s clinical picture. Following analyses and tests on this tissue, tailored therapies can then be selected that reduce side effects and offer patients the best possible chance of recovery.
Were you surprised by the first prize? What response have you had to your innovative idea so far?
We are aware of the social relevance of our topic, which is why we went into the final with confidence despite strong competition. After the pitch and the subsequent discussion with the jury, I had a very good feeling.
The response from users has been excellent, as we have developed a very easy-to-use solution and our early adopters have recognised the problems involved in growing mini-organs and therefore see a benefit. Our product is often difficult to explain to investors and the public because we operate at the interface of biology, robotics and software.
You talk about the possibility of growing 400 mini-organs on a plate and automating the process with the help of robots: How far has this technology progressed and what specific applications do you see for the near future?
Our prototype is fully operational and has already produced mini livers and mini pancreases automatically. Now we need to integrate the “cooking recipes” for other organs into our platform and also increase the throughput, as there are already possibilities to grow far more than 400 mini-organs per plate.
Every innovation brings challenges. What are the biggest hurdles that mo:re has overcome so far and what do you expect in the next phases, particularly with regard to acceptance, scaling and integration of your technology into existing laboratories?
In addition to completing the prototype, I am very proud of the team that we have been able to put together – in addition to technical expertise, we have a strong sense of team spirit, which means that we have fun even in difficult phases.
The biggest hurdle at the moment is putting together our seed round to bring the product to market. We always find a high level of acceptance in the laboratories of our early adopters, as they are all already involved in the cultivation of mini-organs and therefore recognise the associated problems. We are now collecting a lot of data with them so that we can convince even sceptical users with clear facts about time savings or better significance of research results.
How did the Startup Dock or Startup Port support you in founding your company?
After my return from Australia, the Startup Port was the obvious place for me to go. While my co-founder David and I already had a lot of knowledge from our MBA at NiT, the Startup Port helped us with the realisation. Together with our start-up consultant Andrea Otto, we collected our first funding and applied for the EXIST start-up grant, where our business idea developed significantly.