Founder& CEO of Omnigen, Berry Kriesels
Get Started Alumnus ’15.
Our Get Started programme has helped over 270 first-time entrepreneurs move from idea to actual business in 10 weeks. This post is part of an ongoing series where we profile the many different kinds of entrepreneurs that have been part of the programme.
Anxious to get started yourself? Check out www.getstarted.nl and apply before April 16th!
Curious about your heritage and hidden family members? Or anxious to know the impact of all those beers on your health? Then wait no longer! Omnigen developed a method to analyse tons of valuable information – all gathered from your DNA.
What started out as a student project, quickly developed to an innovative research-based startup, now employing six people. Berry is ready to spill the beans: “Currently we are focused on three distinct targets: athletes, education, and health & fun genomics”. Fun genomics? Please tell me more! “We give specific and personalized advice based on the genetic analysis. For example for athletes we can indicate potential health risks and give nutritional advice for optimal performance, and health and fun genomics is focused on the general public; they can order a kit at home, go online, and read information about their DNA. The idea is that if people know better how to stay healthy and how to handle stress, then they are less likely to become ill”.
“The idea is that if people know better how to stay healthy and how to handle stress, then they are less likely to become ill”
Other customers are companies, who offer Omnigen’s services as part of the secondary benefits package for their employees. It’s a great chance for employees to do an extra health check and for the companies, it is an interesting business case as healthier employees lead to lower absenteeism, in other words: cost reductions. Berry: ‘At the moment we are also talking to a bank and several insurance companies’.
What DNA can reveal about you
In theory it is possible to pinpoint awful diseases such as Cancer and Alzheimer. But what’s the point in telling them if there’s no cure? Therefore, we are more focussed on non-invasive services: to prevent certain illnesses instead of telling them afterwards. Take diabetes for example: if you have a certain predisposition, you are more likely to develop diabetes. Than we tell people that they have a high risk, so for you it is important to watch your weight. Other examples are nicotine addiction, back injury, and stress-related genetics. And that’s not all! We are also developing ancestry analytics. At this point we are able to pinpoint which continent someone’s roots can be traced back to.
Joining the community
I became aware of the ECE-Community in 2014, when I was looking for offices. You’d be surprised how boring offices can be. Deserted offices with chairs still wrapped in plastic! So I kept looking and then I noticed Erasmus Centre of Entrepreneurship. Here you see people chatting and really feel the entrepreneurial spirit. The fact that everybody operates in a different industry is even more fun and inspiring! And so I settled here and joined the get started programme.
“You’d be surprised how boring offices can be: deserted and chairs still wrapped in plastic. Here you see people chatting and really feel the entrepreneurial spirit”
Being a Get Started Alumnus
In the beginning I was sceptical about the programme: compared to other people I was further in the process. But it did force me to explain why I made certain choices or why I did not do what I promised previously. I actually think that you can join the Get Started Programme at any stage. It is way too easy to say: “this is my company and this is what I’m going to do”. But then the coaches in the programme ask “So did anyone bought your product yet”? Still confident but a little confused you say “No, not yet”. And then the coach asks you “Then how do you expect to make a profit if you cannot sell it to one person yet”? These questions force you to think about the critical next steps after deciding to start the company. And that is the biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make.
In my case, I started way too late with sales, hired the wrong people at some point and gave away too many stocks. If I can give one word of advice: start selling stuff from day one! Your product can be shit, but it doesn’t matter. You have to sell stuff otherwise you’ll get in trouble.
The biggest challenge so far
We have big clients, but now we just need to have some growth capital. Sadly, with this kind of product, it is difficult to attract investments. It is something new, so there are no comparison numbers. Banks see investments in companies such as Omnigen as a big risk, since they don’t know how to evaluate it. I cannot express how frustrating it is to be held back due to a lack of money. To know that you are on to something and that, technically, you are able to do it. Meanwhile, you see other companies moving into the market. You know that you are the first player, but you don’t have the money to push it forward.
Being an entrepreneur
In all honesty, if I would have known that it was going to be this hard, I don’t know if I would have done it. Seriously, it’s hard core. The amount of mental stress you have if you see the pay day coming up and you know that you do not have the money in the banks is exhausting. But of course the best part of being an entrepreneur is the kick you get once you do close the deal. It’s good to be in control, to be the boss. I can have a vision. One thing that struck me is that it is not about the money, but about building something. I read about other entrepreneurs, no one says: ‘it’s the millions I make’.
Future & Growth
If all goes to plan, we are going to have more than 800.000 euros of investments, which will enable us to not only offer commercial DNA services but also to start development regarding clinical diagnostics specifically for pancreatic cancer patients. The end goal is that we are able to pinpoint which patients can be treated and if so, which kind of treatment would suit them. This would make a tremendous health impact! We are also further defining the ancestry analytics, so that we can tell exactly from which country you are. For example, when someone is 30% Caribbean, 10% Chinese and 60% Dutch (that would make an interesting combination. You would want to know that right?!) The ultimate dream for Omnigen is to go beyond genetic testing and to further tap into the world of clinical diagnostics. In the end, I hope that Omnigen is going to be a commercial research entity with University-level Research, where academics can do their PHD’s.
From Alumnus ’15 to Get Started Coach
With all of these experiences, it became clear what Berry’s next challenge was going to be: to become a coach in the special addition of the Get Started Programme: The Health Track 2017! Berry about the programme: “I’m actually an academic who started a company. I know a lot of academics and there are a lot of researchers that want to do something else, but they have no clue where to start. Sometimes there are brilliant ideas, but they just need a leg up how to start and what mistakes not to make. I think that a lot of new innovation can come from that, so it is a great idea to have a Life Sciences track in the Get Started Programme”.
“I think you can join the Get Started Programme at any stage of your company.
The fact that you are being challenged is always worth it”
Did you know that Berry is one of the initiators of the recently launched Rotterdam Life Sciences & Health Hub, which is located in the Rotterdam Science Tower on the 9th floor of the ECE-Campus?!
Are you ready to Get Started? Launch your own startup in our upcoming special addition of the programme: the Health Track! Applications close on April 16th!