Magenta BioLabs

MaGENta BioLabs: origin and horizon

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough we must do” (Wolfwang von Goethe)

In my first blog I'm writting the long, difficult, but amazing road that I´ve taken with 3 people (Sofi, Pablo and Marcelo) that I met in 2015 with which I am undertaking a biotech project, which more than a startup, is an ideal of how we want biotechnology to be developed in our little and often ignored piece of land called Costa Rica.

Everything started in Startup Weekend-Costa Rica during march 2015. I became interested in the business idea that Sofi and Marcelo proposed to control agricultural pests and I joined them as Pablo did and the other four members of that project. It was 72 hours of intense work and in which I discovered my passion for entrepreneurship. We achieved the second place. But when finished the event, it came THE important decision: are we going to continue with this?

Startup Weekend was a dynamic activity that we liked a lot. That 72-hour brushstroke about the business world and the possibility of exploiting our knowledge and creativity to solve real problems, ended up fascinating us. Unfortunately, from eight members, we became only 5.

However, a new opportunity arose to become public known and also to learn. The Costa Rica Institute of Technology (our alma mater), through the Faculty of Business Administration, opened the call for the Business Ideas Fair. We enrolled in the category of Eco-Friendly Technologies and in May 2015 we were there, in a small stand explaining the project to students, teachers, the jury, and people in general. We hoped to be in the top three projects, but it did not happen. Despite of that, we gained invaluable things such as feedback, interest of the people and lots of motivation.

The group declined again and we became the 4 members that still stands today. We wanted more and we enrolled in the Central American Business and Entrepreneurial Competition "Yo Emprendedor" that lasted until November, and in which we were among the 30 finalist projects, but that we did not win. During that time we also get involved with the market by visiting farmers and agriculture cooperatives and let them know about our project and its aim.

In December a strong blow came to the group: the project for the control of agricultural pests died. The technical strategy was not strong and advantageous enough to convince a target market heavily dominated by large pesticide producing companies. This moment was an important turning point and again we had to meditate: are we still going on? Is it worth it? Do we change of project? We did a brainstorming session from our own ideas and from people's suggestions about biotechnological projects and one of them got our attention: production of hyaluronic acid, a molecule of interest in the cosmetic and biomedical industry.

We are getting closer to what we are today.

We started researching about the molecule and saw the possibility of developing a process to produce it. We wanted to combine two methods: synthetic biology + upcycle of agro-industrial organic by-products. In that way we will be providing the genetic ability to a non-hazardous and not-pathongen bacteria to transform the nutrients present in the by-products directly into hyaluronic acid. We designed a strategy to develop an MVP (minimum viable product) and we needed US$3000. We did not get the funds. At the same time, we started a pre-incubation process, forming part of the first generation of Trópika Coworking in "Casa Trópika" (pilot project of what is now pre-incubation of the Costa Rica Institute of Technology Business Incubator).

Hustling for funds, we presented a Student Project Proposal (which provides US$1000) in our university and after several attempts, the Faculty of Biology supported us for the project to be developed in the Biotechnology Research Center. They approved it and sent to analysis by the Vice-Rectory of Research and Extension (a highly bureaucratic process, one of the great evils of Costa Rica). While awaiting resolution of this, BioTica shared IndieBio 's (now RebelBio) international call for the development / acceleration of biotech projects with seed capital of US$100k in Ireland for 3 months (May - June - July, 2016). We apply because if we were not accepted, at least they reviewed the projects and sent us feedback. But THE SURPRISE arrived: we were among the finalist projects and we were accepted into the program. This involved doing a lot of things in three weeks: not to continue with the semester and freeze courses, to give up our research internships, to set up a legal corporation, to open the Company's bank account to receive the money, to buy plane tickets, to plan our stay in Ireland, to give the news to our family and friends, strengthen the technical and market aspect, cancel the Student Project Proposal, reach an agreement with the university scholarships, etc, etc, etc. There was no time to celebrate, and from one moment to another we were in Ireland embarking on our greatest adventure and with which we have the responsibility to leave the doors open for future biotech projects and of course, to look and hustle for Magenta's success.

That is part of our history in broad strokes: that's how Magenta Biolabs was born (name random with a curious and accidental origin). And the million question: what are our ambitions, or rather, our horizon?:

We don´t wanna be just a company that upcycle by-products to transform them in high-value molecules and receive profit from it. We wanna go beyond and provide mentorship, physical space (an equipped laboratory) and even seed capital to biotech students projects, most of which go alone without the required support, so they can develop prototypes, validate them in the market and achieve investment and strategic partnerships. As I have already expressed, biotechnology is for great things, but only together we can achieve it and I quote Silver Ceballos, one of the most brilliant biotechnologists I know

To break with the biotechnological maquila model at the country level to demonstrate that we can start to create.

There is a long way to go, that is true, but the seed is already planted and depends on us and those that are to come, to break with the conservative schemes, hustle and follow our passions, set up companies, remove barriers and obstacles and let go all selfishness and begin to grow hand by hand. Many people do not believe in it because they see it as false or utopian, but I do believe in altruism as a means and not as an end.

The Irish entrepreneurial ecosystem is very interesting, ranging from economic, cultural, political and educational factors, and for which it is worth writing an article that I set out to do when I feel prepared to cover a subject of such magnitude and contrast it with Costa Rica in search of our continuous improvement (without the desire or intention of pretending to be an expert, because I am not, but in order to write a useful material for anyone who wants to analyze it and bring the good aspects to Costa Rica).

The second part of this story will arrive anytime. Let´s give time and progress the choice. Stay tuned :)

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Rafael Lobo


Rafael Lobo, our leader, he handles all the business strategy.

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