Innovation Interview: Vatorex, taking care of bees to improve our lives
According to recent publications, the number of bees has dramatically decreased in the last years. The varroa mite is one of the main threats faced by bees.
Protecting bees is an essential priority if we want to take care of our planet. For that reason, Vatorex is leading an essential role thanks to their cost-efficient and eco-friendly solution to fight against varroa mite and preserving bees lives.
We have met Grant Morgan, Senior Marketing Manager at Vatorex, to know more about this interesting and sustainable project.
Vatorex’s mission is to help beekeepers to fight the Varroa mite, the biggest threat to honeybees nowadays. But why did you put the bee in the centre and how did you begin this project?
It is through helping the honey bees that we can make the most positive impact. We are on a journey to create innovative and ecological solutions for the beekeeping community, to enable healthier bees and a sustainable planet. It has to start with the bees, as the bees need our help.
The initial idea for Vatorex came in 2015. On a flight to Shanghai for business, Willi Brunner was skim reading the inflight magazine, when an article about the decline of bee populations grabbed his attention. The piece described the developing research into varroa mite biology, and the use of heat as a potential way to control this pest. Being an experienced beekeeper, Willi was aware of the detrimental effects the varroa mite was having on bees around the world. He also understood the negative impact of miticides, which beekeepers have been forced to use since the 1970s. Intrigued by this scientific research, Willi thought about its practical application. He conceived of a system that could be easily installed into every beehive, that would effectively control this global plague and reduce the need for harmful miticides.
Our CEO, Pascal Brunner, was studying his Masters at ETH at the time. Once the concept had been successfully tested, he joined the project. This was really when it grew from an idea to something more. Since then, our technology platform has matured beyond the varroa solution, but it always remains true to the mission of enabling healthier bees, for a more sustainable planet.
We are on a journey to create innovative and ecological solutions for the beekeeping community, to enable healthier bees and a sustainable planet. It has to start with the bees, as the bees need our help.
Thanks to your words, we are sure your team is composed of high experts about bees. But, sometimes, it is difficult to find such professional specialists. In your case, three people established Vatorex: Pascal Brunner, Will Brunner and Renato Cortesi. What are the main aspects that you have to consider when you are looking for co-founders?
Relevant experience is paramount, either in the industry or field of innovation. These assets will save you a lot of time by understanding the opportunities and avoiding the pitfalls. But even more important is commitment. A lot of start-ups die in the crib, not because the concept is weak, or doesn’t have marketable applications, but because the founding team loses belief in what they are doing. You also need a herculean work ethic. To give you an example, our CEO Pascal loves Christmas day because he can get a lot done without having to reply to so many emails.
During your first year, you were a Venture Kick winner, an award with the aim to give support to the most innovative Swiss start-ups. What is the role that this program has played in the development of your project?
Venture Kick recognised the significance of our vision very early on, and have continued to support Vatorex throughout our growth. They are a relevant institution in the Swiss Start-up ecosystem, so being a recipient of the Venture Kick award still means a lot today.
The prize was incredibly useful as it allowed us to make important developments at such a critical stage of the project, but the vote of confidence also opened a lot of doors for us.
The Global Innovation Index 2020 has pointed out Switzerland as the world’s most innovative country one year again. In your opinion, what are the key factors that have contributed to this achievement? What do you think about the innovation ecosystem of Switzerland?
Innovation is one of the driving forces of the Swiss economy. The country is not particularly rich with natural resources, and so innovation has traditionally played a key role in economic growth. This culture has bred an incredibly well-supported ecosystem of government and corporate initiatives, educational institutions and entrepreneurs. The collaboration and support of all the players make this such a progressive landscape for innovation.
Most people speak at least 2 to 3 languages. This is not a coincidence, but rather another example of the Swiss collaborative spirit.
We know that you are going further developing high tech solutions for the beekeeping industry. Can you tell us more about the main R&D projects that your company has developed? What will its impact be in terms of efficiency? And regarding the environment?
It is a really exciting time for our product development team, as the technology around bee health monitoring and identification is evolving very quickly. With beekeepers often losing 30 to 40% of their colonies each season, there is a lot of work to be done in honeybee health.
As our products are modular, the objective is that the beekeeper will receive information from various sources, leading to more accurate diagnostics. They can then use this information in their beekeeping. This will result in healthier bees, higher production, better pollination and a more biodiverse environment. We are also continuously evolving our flagship varroa solution to make it even more robust and user friendly.
Your EU funding experience started in 2018 when you got the SME Instrument Phase I grant, which supported your Feasibility Study, and it lasts until the last year when you have been funded with 1.6 million euros from the EIC Accelerator Pilot programme. What role is the European Commission playing in achieving your objectives?
The European Commission is a strategic partner. They recognised not only that Vatorex is important for the environment, but it is also a serious commercial endeavour. The funding process is very structured and contains well-defined project outlines and outcomes. It is up to our team to make sure we live up to the deal and respect the project road map. This makes us accountable and provides momentum.
Why did you choose the blended finance option that this programme offers? We know that you are going through the first steps, but could you tell us how your experience has been in this regard for the moment?
While the European Commission’s grant support helps us finalize product development towards shelf-ready devices, additional blended finance will help us grow beyond that and expand our international market reach. We are currently in Due Diligence with the European Investment Bank, and the process has so far been straight forward.
Now, let’s talk about another essential milestone for all of those who apply for European funding. What was your experience at the Brussels’ pitch? Have you pitched to private investors before?
The Brussels’ pitch was quite unique this time around. We had actually pitched at Brussels previously, and each time the appraisers gave us really good advice about how to strengthen our proposal and where to focus. The process was energetic and very consultative. However, the last pitch was remote, so we had to make sure the energy could still be felt remotely.
On several occasions, we have pitched to private investors, even appearing on Switzerland’s own ‘Die Höhle der Löwen’- a shark tank style show, which was fantastic as all of the judges wanted to invest.
For us, having the opportunity to be involved in such a sweet project has been a big pleasure. How has Evolution helped you with your funding strategy? How was our collaboration?
The consultation services from Evolution have been very helpful throughout the project. The biggest advantage lies in working with experienced people, in the framing of the project scope and structuring the proposal. Also, the interpretation of feedback from the EIC-jury is an area where Evolution has provided valuable insight. Your team supported us in the preparation for the Brussel’s pitches and it truly paid off.
There’s just one question left: which will be your next steps?
We are a very innovation-driven team, so product developments are always at the forefront. For sure, 2021 will be a big year in terms of new launches. We are also involved in a scientific study that is going to be revolutionary, but perhaps I have already said too much. Best to keep an eye on this space. 😉
Thank you, Grant, for your time and your fascinating words. We wish you the best of luck protecting our bees and, also, we are looking forward to knowing more about that promising scientific study you have mentioned!