I met Dr.Bjorn and Dr.Julius in 2009, while they were trying to launch a subsidiary of Orf Genetics. Orf Genetics is a biotech startup out of Iceland, the company was established in 2001. ORF Genetics is an innovative company in the manufacturing of growth factors and other recombinant proteins in plants. The company’s ISOkine™ human-like growth factors are produced in the company’s proprietary Orfeus™ system in barley, bypassing the use of bacterial or animal cell systems. The company is offering its unique ISOkine™ growth factors for various medical research, cell culture media and diagnostics. The use of the unique Orfeus™ production method in barley seed, ensures that Orf Genetics products are biorisk-free, allowing their customers to enjoy easier regulatory clearance with animal-free, serum-free and endotoxin-free growth factors.
Dr.Bjorn moved from Canada after completing his PhD, he shared his experience yesterday in Startup Reykjavik. I was NOT surprised when Dr.Bjorn mentioned that he knew that he would never start a company being in Canada as his network of people were all academics and there was no entrepreneurial spirit, he said that the entrepreneurial spirit and ease of networking in Iceland is what made him move back to Iceland. However, the journey so far has been very tough with a lot of twists and turns, but it has been most gratifying experience. Orf Genetics is not your typical startup as it has been around for over 11 years, Dr.Bjorn, Dr.Einar and Dr.Julius met in 2001 and decided to form a company that would make human growth factors utilizing plants. There are various reasons for doing that and Dr.Bjorn with his PhD in plant molecular biology can explain very well, however, it is important to see that they had the vision that something like this can be created right here in Iceland and they did faster than most of the typical biotechnology startups. Their first commercial product is a skin care cream solution and it has been selling like hot cakes in the Icelandic as well as in the European market. There were some interesting highlights from Dr.Bjorn’s talk yesterday:
- As an entrepreneur, you need to switch between being focused on product development to sales and marketing very quickly and have to be fully committed to do it. This was the hardest thing for him to do given his background in Academics and being a scientist. Making the transition is very gratifying as he says the most important thing that is making the company successful is winning in the market place, it totally changes the dynamics of the team and there is a lot more optimism and energy. So lesson #1 focus on Winning in the Market place
- Second big lesson, find your niche and partner with others for everything else. You cannot do it all by yourself. He mentioned that the main reason why ORF was able to cut the time to market by 50% is because they outsourced some of the capital expensive activities to other players and they focused on what they did best. In addition, he mentioned you need financial partners as well don’t hold onto your idea as though it is your baby, you need to open your arms and invite investors into the company. Capital makes things possible, he mentioned that once his team was able to attract patient and smart investors into the company the whole company blossomed.
Bio Effect and EGF (Icelandic product) are selling very well, they have been growing at about 300% every year since 2009 and Dr.Bjorn believes that their product is about 3 years ahead of the competitors and hopefully they will be able to fend off other immitators because of the quality of the product and the value people derive from it. I can assure you that this product is incredible, all the women in my family love it. I have to admit I have tried it myself and it makes my skin feel pretty good. Check it out when you are flying Icelandair next or Swissair.