In 2017, Søren Thomsen of Oxford-based start-up BioMe Oxford was one of the team members of global winners of the IMAGINE IF! competition. This global accelerator provides a platform to translate scientific start-up ideas into reality.
How can IMAGINE IF! help creative and passion-driven start-ups to progress and grow? With applications for this year’s competition now open, we are eager to share some inspiration in the form of previous positive experiences. So what could be more fitting than to ask one of last year’s winners to tell us more about their journey? “I would definitely recommend applying; it is worthwhile for any company,” affirms Søren Thomsen, co-founder of BioMe Oxford.
Hi, Søren! What does BioMe Oxford do?
BioMe Oxford is developing an innovative technology to improve and simplify sampling of the gut microbiome. Diseases as diverse as cancer, infection, obesity and depression have been linked to the gut microbiome, but current methods don’t allow low-cost and accurate sampling. We are addressing this by developing an ingestible, pill-sized device – BioCapture Technology – that will capture an intestinal sample, and thereby potentially help with screening and diagnosis of microbiome-linked diseases.
How did the company start? At what stage were you before entering IMAGINE IF! last year?
We formed the company in 2015 while conducting independent research at the University of Oxford and at the time the team were all full-time scientists. In 2016, we received seed funding from the Oxford Seed Fund, as well as support from Innovate UK and the University of Sheffield, and initiated the process of securing intellectual property on our idea. By the time we entered IMAGINE IF!, we had developed an early-stage test rig assembly but not a functional prototype resembling the final product.
Was the competition helpful in taking the company forward? What was the cash prize (10,000 USD) used for?
The cash prize was used to fund the final stage of developing an alpha-prototype of the ingestible microbiome product: a ‘works-like-looks-like prototype’. IMAGINE IF! and the prize came at a great time and allowed us to bridge our funding period and start looking for more substantial investment.
We recently signed a term sheet with a potential investor, and a big part of that has been down to the prototype that the IMAGINE IF! cash prize enabled us to build – seeing is believing and this has really helped us jump the hurdles and reach the next stage.
Were other aspects of the competition useful? Do they continue to be useful today?
A big part of the process is networking and mentorship, which have both been really useful to us. We are still in contact with one of our mentors 8 months after the competition has finished. The pitch video we created was also hugely valuable to send out to interested parties and summarise what we are doing.
The single biggest impact was exposure and publicity. Before IMAGINE IF!, we were doing lots of cold-calling to potential investors, but since winning the competition many investors have directly contacted us and this has really kick-started our fundraising drive.
Do you have any advice to potential applicants this year? Would you recommend applying to IMAGINE IF!?
I would definitely recommend applying; it is worthwhile for any company. Just being in the competition allows you to polish your pitch and receive expert mentorship. You never know what might come from it.
So, if you’d like to find out more about IMAGINE IF! or know someone who should apply, visit our IMAGINE IF! page.
Written by James Smith and edited by Lindsey Brown.