This is a sponsored interview, by the Merck Accelerator Program. In this interview, we talk to Munya Chivasa (https://www.linkedin.com/in/munya-chivasa-72a9a3b/), head of Merck Accelerator. This time the accelerator has a new application phase open until August 25th, 2019. Merck is looking for startups in the areas of Bio-Sensing and Interfaces, Liquid Biopsy, Clean Meat, or AI-enabled health solutions. You can apply here: https://www.merckgroup.com/en/research/innovation-center/accelerator/hq-program.html

One of the main things I see in the program for startups is the business alliance with Merck.

In the past, we talked to many of the startups of the accelerator program. You can find all the interviews here:

You could find anything from a supplier, a customer and to a project partner [in Merck]

During the interview Munya and Joe are talking about:

We support you in the development of “proof of concepts” and pilots

The Merck Accelerator is not a classic accelerator but a collaboration-maker: “You could find anything from a supplier, a customer or a project partner in Merck”, explains Munya – Head of the Merck Accelerator.
At Merck´s futuristic Innovation Center situated in the company’s headquarters in Darmstadt, the Merck Accelerator team supports startups from the very beginning: Enabling the right connections at Merck and developing a visionary partnership. Over the course of three months, together they explore the unexplored and welcome startups as part of their community of curious minds.
Which kind of startups are they looking for? They are interested in startups breaking new boundaries in the fields of Liquid Biopsy, Bio-Sensing & Interfaces, Clean Meat and other company core areas, such as Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials. The goal: to join forces in order to co-create solutions and make an impact in tackling the challenges of humanity.

We have opportunities for you to gain access to markets in China.

Watch the full interview and apply now for the next Merck Accelerator intake in 2020! Applications are open until the 25th of August 2019.
Application link for Joern: https://www.merckgroup.com/en/research/innovation-center/accelerator/hq-program.html

So some of the teams that get access to the program here, have the access to actually approach the market in China.

Transcript below

Announcer: Welcome to startuprad.io, your podcast and YouTube blog covering the German startup scene with news, interviews and live events.

Joe: Hello and welcome everybody. This is Joe from your startuprad.io, your podcast and YouTube blog from Germany. I am right now here at the very fancy Innovation Center of Merck in Darmstadt and I’m here for the simple reason, I finally got Munya to do another interview with me. Hey, welcome.

Munya: Thank you. Thank you for having me on.

Joe: Completely my pleasure. People may remember that you’ve been here on the interview before.

Munya: That’s right. I think we hosted you about two years ago in the old Innovation Center.

Joe: Time flies.

Munya: Almost two years ago. Yeah.

Joe: And we’ve been here to talk about the accelerator program of Merck.

Munya: That’s correct. So, my name is Munya. I’m running the accelerator program here at Merck. Our accelerator program is really a platform to allow entrepreneurs and startup companies to connect and collaborate with the organization.

Joe: And we are here for a reason. So basically, you not only did this once, twice or so but you actually have a very good track record on this.

Munya: Yeah, I would say so. I’m happy to hear someone else say it. We’ve been running for the last– since 2015. Our batches have gone from the first batch with three people– three startups to the most recent best that completed the program in April had about 10 teams. The teams that were going through the program in 2019 were really focused on generating collaboration opportunities with Merck, setting up projects, whereas if you look at our earlier batches, the team’s really connected with Merck but more on a support and mentorship approach and the table has flipped a bit more. The focus is now a bit more on the collaborations, the opportunities that there are to actually connect with the company itself and actually generate a strategic partnership. So more long term relationships then they go beyond the accelerator period.

Joe: And not surprising for our audience. We are going to advertise that you guys are actually taking in applications for the next batch.

Munya: Yes, perfect timing.

Joe: Yeah, surprise to that. It’s like for a long term partnership as you said, but what are you guys are actually looking for in terms of those startups?

Munya: Yeah, of course. So we are– as many of you might know Merck, we are a company that’s really focused on performance materials, healthcare and Life Sciences. We also have so-called Innovation Fields where we concentrate most of our efforts on to build next-generation business for Merck. These Innovation Fields are in clean meet, bio sensing and interfacing as well as in liquid biopsy. So how you could minimally invasive or non-invasive diagnostics in some therapeutic area– in some diseases that are quite invasive at the moment. We’re looking for startups that are at collaboration ready stage that are really looking to work with Merck over the next few years to build new projects, new businesses and even support us in sort of running our own processes as well and connecting to the products that we have in the markets as well as in preparation in the pipeline.

Joe: And you talked about very extensively what are you looking for – but why should the startups apply?

Munya: Oh, sure. So this is one of those great opportunities that we see as a company that we’re opening up a bit more what we do in our innovation ecosystem as well as in our businesses as well. There are challenges that we’re facing, there are opportunities to collaborate together and one of the main things that I see a startup could benefit from is this business alliance with Merck. You could, in Merck, find everything from a supplier, a customer, to a product development partner. That’s one of the unique things about having a company like ours. So within our life science research, many of your life science companies might actually find a commercialization and distribution partner but at the same time, walk over to our healthcare team and find the kind of pilot customers in the research labs or in the clinical development space that could really sort of validate and prove some of the tools that you’re developing, the products you’re developing. Most of all, we’re also providing a bit of financing. We support you in developing the proof of concepts and pilots. We also connect you to the greater Merck ecosystem. It’s not just about connecting here in Darmstadt but we have opportunities for you to gain access to markets in China, for instance. One of the new things that happened since we last spoke is that we’ve opened up an accelerator program in Shanghai as well. So some of the teams that get access to the program here have the access to actually approach the market in China. You also get to work in this amazing building. So you have co-working not only in the form of having a place to sit, but you also have a maker space right behind us where you can do some prototyping. You can actually use some of the equipment that we have. You also have the advantage of working side to side with some of the Innovation Projects that are seen as lighthouse projects here in the company as well. You have a unique space in which you interact with Merck experts, Merck decision-makers as well as have access to the infrastructure that we offer. So I think there are plenty of opportunities and the idea is that maybe you get a view of what we’re looking for, what we’re working on through our website, understand a bit more what Merck is doing and you will probably see something in it for you.

Joe: And how would something, a real-life example look like? Do you have any successful examples from the past?

Munya: Well, sure. So maybe I could kick off with a company like Ectica. So Ectica (Ectica-Technolgies.com), were here in 2017. He was from Switzerland. They were based in Zurich out of ETH. They actually developed a very, very interesting 3d cell culture as a methodology that they actually have managed to pilot within one of our healthcare teams. Not only are they piloting the use of the product, they got one of their first customers in a certain disease space, who’ve actually been publishing papers that show validation points for the use of this type of 3d cell culture. But they’re also looking at Merck life science as a distribution partner. So one side, they are supplying us, we are a key customer and key development partner but on the other side, as they scale up, they see Merck as a pretty clear distribution partner for their products themselves because we have the reach within the life science community and the market they’re trying to access as well. So, that would be a very good opportunity to build up.

Joe: And everybody out there who is now thinking about applying for the Merck accelerator program, do you have maybe the single best tip or few good tips for a successful application? Okay, first refer to this interview here.

Munya: That is very true. Say “Munya sends you” and you get on top. Actually, in all seriousness, I think one of the things we’ve tried to make clear is a bit more information on the Innovation Fields that we’re working on. So if you want to go on a long term approach with Merck, try to understand some of the Innovation Fields we’re working on, try to understand some of the therapeutic areas we’re working on in biopharma as well as some of the product areas that we work in performance material. See how you can enhance these, see how you can make use of these in your day to day business. Just to elaborate, some of the opportunities that you see for collaboration together with Merck and you’re most likely to have a very good application.

Joe: Great. Thank you very much. It was just a pleasure having you and hope to come back soon.

Munya: Yeah, we’ll be happy to have you again. Thank you.

Joe: Great. Thank you.

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