In July 2019, Innoma is about to make the first sale of its first product, a nanotechnological input with antimicrobial properties that can enable innovations in the cosmetics, textile, paint, packaging and many other industries.
The origin of the startup dates back to 2015. At that time, Tiago Hilário Ferreira was a postdoctoral fellow who had accumulated more than 10 years of academic life in Minas Gerais state (Brazil), as well as an entrepreneurial experience of three years as a pizzeria owner. After studying Pharmacy, he had undertaken a master’s and a doctorate in materials science, during which he had researched the production and properties of nanometer-diameter cylinders composed of nitrogen and boron atoms, the boron nitride nanotubes. Finally, as a postdoctoral fellow he used this material to develop a system that could find tumors in the body and fight them efficiently.
In 2015, that postdoctoral work was selected within a program of Minas Gerais government to be presented at an exhibition aimed at communicating to society in general the relationship between science “made in Minas Gerais” and the life of citizens. “At this time, I began to understand the need to bring scientific knowledge closer to society,” says Tiago. “I could really identify with this and based on that first contact I started to look for initiatives in this direction.” A little over a year later, in early 2017, Tiago created Innoma with materials engineer Diego Santos de Oliveira, who was pursuing his master’s degree with research on nanomaterials for health applications.
The initial impulse to create the startup, says Tiago, was the possibility of participating in two programs supporting the emergence and development of startups. Innoma was selected by both programs in 2017 for initial training called pre-acceleration. Initially, the partners’ idea was to produce, on an industrial scale, boron nitride nanoparticles for scientific research and for use in cancer therapies.
However, at the end of the pre-acceleration, the partners realized that they should prioritize projects with greater commercial viability, and opted for silver nanoparticles. These high-efficiency antimicrobials, which can be incorporated into many products, currently have the largest market in the world among nanomaterials, according to data reported by Innoma.
To develop the most suitable technology for nanoactive production, the partners relied on the knowledge acquired during their academic training and entered into a partnership with an university to use physical chemistry laboratories. The generated product was an aqueous dispersion of silver nanoparticles that, according to Tiago, stands out for its great stability and high concentration of the active.
After protecting the chemical route through filed patents, the startup outsourced the industrial production of the product. Thus, Innoma, which until now has been working with its own capital and with an internal team consisting only of the two founding partners, guarantees low operating costs and high production capacity. “We have partnered with a major chemical industry that has all the required certificates and registrations, as well as operational and technological structures capable of meeting the most stringent quality standards,” explains Tiago.
Currently, while marketing its first product, Innoma is working on upcoming releases: copper, zinc and gold based products that promise to benefit diverse segments of the Brazilian industry.
See our interview with Tiago Hilário Ferreira, the executive director at Innoma.
B-MRS Newsletter: What were the most important factors that enabled the creation and development of the startup?
Tiago Hilário: The learning acquired during the pre-acceleration process was very important for the beginning of the business model. Validations with potential customers have driven our efforts. The initial operation with the lowest possible fixed cost enabled our company to remain active during this pre-billing period.
B-MRS Newsletter: What were the main difficulties the startup has faced thus far?
Tiago Hilário: When starting a business from scratch, the difficulties are on a daily basis, the famous “kill one lion a day”. To date, the product development process and market suitability have been the most complicated steps.
B-MRS Newsletter: What do you think is the main contribution of the startup to society?
Tiago Hilário: We work to supply high efficiency nanocompounds to the domestic market, making it possible to use these materials in new products that until then had no commercial viability.
By doing this, and in accordance with the Brazilian government guidelines, we expect to promote increased human performance, its processes and products, quality of life and social justice.
B-MRS Newsletter: What is your goal/dream for the startup?
Tiago Hilário: The goal is for Innoma to establish itself as a company later this year, so that the partners can dedicate fully to the startup. Our dream is to be a national reference in this market.
B-MRS Newsletter: Leave a message for our newsletter readers and social media followers who are considering creating a startup.
Tiago Hilário: I have three tips for those who want to create a startup:
–The process is slow. It usually takes longer than expected and you need to be prepared for it.
– Too much money as well as too little money gets in the way. With a lot of resources, partners tend to run over validations and make wrong investments. With too little, the project becomes unachievable.
– The team is the most important. We tend to believe that the idea is the main thing, but a strong and motivated team is the factor that makes the biggest difference in the success of a startup.