In this episode, Legislate meets Luis Valente, Co-founder and CEO of iLoF. Luis share the story behind iLoF, how they are enabling a new era of personalised medicine and why you need to protect your IP with robust employment contracts.
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Charles: Would you like to please share a bit of background about yourself?
Luís: Thanks so much, Charles, for having me and for the great intro. So about me. I'm a trained engineer that just got bored of software. I was a computer scientist by trade and I realised that I wanted to do something different with my life and I wanted to be in a more impactful area. So eventually, I found my way into a tech transfer job where I got to interact with a lot of early-stage medical and health tech technology and one of them was actually iLoF. So iLoF was, back then, the result of a 5-year European project with a great IP and great results but still in academia. There were 3 amazing co-founders. We saw an opportunity to use that technology to help researchers, pharmas and biotech cut the time and the cost that it takes them to develop personalised therapeutics. So yes, in 2019 we created iLoF and it's been a thrill of a journey ever since.
Charles: What's been your favourite moment so far?
Luís: I think that's the cool part of working in the start-up. The cool part is that there's no day equal to the other. Every day is different and special in its own way. I feel like the day we were able to secure our pre-seed, which meant that we were able to bring other people other than co-founders into the stream was a very special day. Also the day where we got our first client, our first paid user to the platform paying us to use the product that we're building, this was also a very special day. And the day where we hired our first employee. So the day we got the money, the day we got the people and the day we got the client, I'd say this is certainly 3 very special days for iLoF.
Charles: You're through this journey and you've gone through those milestones. What do you wish you'd known before starting iLoF?
Luís: It's really hard for you to know what to do before you do it and being in a start-up journey is about making mistakes. Now, if magically, you would be able to teleport myself into the past and advise my past self, which is absolutely impossible. But if that were to happen, I think I would even emphasise even more to my past self the importance of the first few hires. I think we've got that very right but just importance and just how much of an impact that makes on the company, especially when you are a small team. I think I'll literally double down on and explain to my past self that it's okay to take time to hire. It's not that you're lagging behind. It's just that you're taking your time to choose the right people, which we eventually did, but I wasn't sure at the time. Regarding also raising and Charles, you raised a very good point, fundraising is really hard. It's not the glamorous journey that they show you in TV shows and movies. It's a lot of trial and error. So we raised the pre-seed in 2019. We raised an extension in 2020 from an American VC. This is when we got Microsoft in. And in late 2020 we raised a seed round and it took us almost nine months to raise it. So what I would have done differently? Most likely I would prepare better for how long it will take me to raise yes, and maybe choose my targets slightly more accurately.
Charles: What's the big vision for the company? Where do you see yourselves in the next 5 years?
Luís: Yes, so what we want to do and what we're out to do. The reason why iLoF was born is out of the recognition that unfortunately, although for the past centuries, the same treatment was being developed with everyone in mind. So there was no tailoring when it takes to medication. The same was expected to work for all. The reason why iLoF was created is that vision, unfortunately, it just doesn't work any longer for the majority of the targets and diseases and healthcare issues that are still to be tackled. So you really need to empower scientists, physicians, large and small organisations working in the sector to have the right tools to develop medications that have the patient in mind. They need to be patient-centric. They need to be convenient tools. They can't be barbaric. They can't be very inconvenient, otherwise no one will use them. So the vision is really for us to help. A couple of the biotechs and pharmas that we are working on currently get their personalised medications to the mark faster and really make an impact on the lives of 10 million patients worldwide leaving with complex and diseases and currently. so this is the goal for the next 5 years. Quite an ambitious goal but I think we have the right team to deliver.
Charles: What are the key contracts that you interact with the most?
Luís: There are various types. First of all, there are employment contracts, right? We hire, let go of people and just when you create a start-up, that's usually the least of your concerns. But unfortunately, sometimes it ends up being actually one of your biggest concerns and you spend a lot of time and a lot of money doing employment contracts and employment law documents. Of course, when you're raising money, there's a lot of legal stuff that you do around the by-laws, shareholders agreements, share certificates, just all the way from IP assignments to God knows, as just there is a lot of legal work. And to be honest, I feel like fundraising for the last 2 months is a lot of racing around. You basically become a lawyer and you deal with documents 24/7 financial documents, absolutely. And overall, when you deal with contractors and when you deal with partnerships, you always need to be careful on IP clauses and dealing with data, GDPR and all of that. I think, I thought as a CEO, I would have a lot of legal work to do but actually, it's much more than I was expecting and I think much more than what everyone expects. And that's actually one of the reasons why running a start-up is so hard. You end up dealing with a lot of unexpected that you didn't foresee.
Charles: What are, from your experience, the key areas that a founder needs to look out for?
Luís: First of all, it's very important, both for the employees and founders, to make sure that everything is in the right place, especially for venture-backed companies. You don't want your investor on your back just because for some reason you broke a law or you had to let an employee go and then he claimed a breach of contract or damages or something like that. So complying with the law is very important. And of course, the more you grow, the more things like, do you have a policy regarding what gifts your employees can or cannot accept? Do you have a guide where it's clear what kind of rules they need to follow? Either of culture or on a technical level? So basically, there are various things that, as CEO, you need to take attention on regarding employment contracts, and the majority of them you only foresee when something goes wrong.
Charles: I'm going to ask you the closing question we ask all our guests. If you were being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?
Luís: What would impress me? In a positive or a negative sense?
Charles: You can interpret the question as you wish.
Luís: Normally contracts are very complicated and very hard to digest. that kind of cover you on the legal way, but they're organised in a way that a human being can read it without getting a headache. This would have impressed me a lot. And I, unfortunately, don't see a lot of those contracts on a daily basis. So contracts that the human can read.
Charles: Great suggestion. Thank you very much for taking the time to be on the podcast and best of luck.
Luís: Charles, thank you so much, and all the best.