1DROP: there is life after Microcity

The start-up 1DROP is one of the first tenants of Microcity. It is revolutionising medical diagnosis. Meet its founder Luc Gervais.

The start-up 1DROP is one of the first tenants of Microcity. It is revolutionising medical diagnosis. Meet its founder Luc Gervais.

"Time is tissue," say cardiovascular surgeons, particularly when confronted with heart attacks.

A phrase that resonates with Luc Gervais as confirmation that his product can save lives. His device makes it possible to establish a diagnosis for cardiovascular diseases, in real time, from anywhere and with a single drop of blood. It is also the case for analyses of organ function and autoimmune or infectious diseases, such as Covid, HIV or Ebola.

"The problem is that we cannot work on everything at the same time, explains the biotechnology engineer. We focus on the applications that have the greatest potential in terms of the market, but also in terms of their impact on life.This is particularly the case with cardiovascular or infectious diseases."

A miniature laboratory

For autoimmune diseases, the 1DROP device even offers the possibility of testing oneself at home. The miniature laboratory is the size of a bottle of milk and can be taken anywhere. Thus, some patients suffering from Crohn's disease or rheumatoid arthritis could assess when a painful inflammatory spike will occur and act accordingly.

"We still need to obtain FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval and EC Declaration of Conformity, but our device is already available for research, in pharmaceutical companies as well as organisations such as NASA," says the Montreal-born biosensor specialist. Their product has already been tested in zero gravity in 2020, on board the International Space Station (ISS).

Ten years of work

For ten years now, 1DROP has been concentrating all its energy on exploring all the potential of a single drop of blood. Founded in 2011 in Luc Gervais' kitchen, the company set up in 2013 at Microcity, formerly known as Neode, being among the first startups there. A year later, the duo Luc Gervais and Jörg Ziegler won the BCN prize of 300,000 CHF. The medtech company now has 15 employees and has just moved to the Monruz district of Neuchâtel. It is currently recruiting.Its suppliers are SMEs in the region, such as P. Bercher SA in Cernier, which manufactures the biochip moulding for the 1DROP

The polyglot - he speaks five languages including Mandarin - has completely embrace Neuchâtel. After arriving in Zurich at the IBM R&D 14 years ago, Luc Gervais joined EPFL honorary professor Nico De Rooij in Neuchâtel for his PhD. The destination is ideal for this Canadian with a passion for mountains and nature.

THAT’s the resource

"The move to Microcity gave us access to premises where we could really develop 1DROP, he says. However, it is clear that we cannot arrive in a technology park and wait for things to happen. It's up to us to go and find investors, research projects, prizes and partners. Microcity helped us, gave us visibility, a reputation and contacts." A set of tools that the entrepreneur must then know how to use.

But above all, the friendly rivalry and exchanges between the startups themselves are the great strength of this model. "At Microcity, we were neighbours with Aktiia (ed: one of the iconic start-ups at Microcity, with its blood pressure measurement bracelet). Today, if I need a good lawyer quickly, for example, I phone them or the founder of Lunaphore (ed: a medical technology scale up in the field of cancer). I will get an efficient, frank and direct answer. THAT's the resource," says the CEO of 1DROP.

In addition, Luc Gervais highlights the interest of platforms such as Venturelab, Venture Kick, BioBusiness, IMD EMBA, Swiss Startup Group and the important of business trips. "It's like a crash course, a condensed learning experience, he says. In one week, we pitched 40 times in China and the same in the US. It teaches you how to present yourself and talk to investors. The links forged with other founders during these events are also precious." An exercise that makes sense as long as it doesn't take too long.

What happens next? The company will be ten years old. It is not yet profitable, but the income is there. "Above all, we realise every day the enormous potential of 1DROP, because we have daily requests from people interested in our device," says the man who has always dreamed of putting his scientific research into practice.

Three GoodTips

Be naive, then patient. Naive, the word comes from Luc Gervais. You probably have to be a bit naive to get started. He was 29 at the time. "I thought it would go faster. It takes time to start a business and you have to be resilient. Access to finance is not easy in Switzerland, although it has improved a lot in ten years. But it's still difficult to find someone who will take the risk of investing several million dollars in you. So in the beginning you need that naivety. "

Later on, the founder learns patience. "It takes a lot of work and paperwork to get200,000 CHF, he warns. It restricts us and slows down risk-taking. It takes even longer when you are not a spin-off with a technology that has already been partly developed. "

Accepting certain compromises. Being an entrepreneur means having a hard head, but perhaps is it even more important to be agile. "Compromise is not a weakness, it is a negotiation in which the benefits go to both parties, says the CEO of 1DROP. My biggest compromise was the one I made with my private life. I don't have the salary of the big companies, even if it is competitive today. And for two years I got nothing at all. It's the same with holidays. But it's acceptable for a while and when you see the progress. "

A foot in the United States. The Neuchâtel start up quickly established itself in Boston. Why? "TheAmericans are very ambitious. We had a lot of interest from them, but nothing came of it. As soon as we opened an office in Boston, it clicked and we signed withNASA, Johnson & Johnson and the National Institutes of Health. "

Tiphaine Bühler

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