Being a small company in the Brazilian biotech field and being a family business is really a challenge. With 30 years of history, we have a lot of good stories to tell regarding the challenges and curiosities of an innovative company in this sector. I remember when the CEO/founder of the company, Dr. Francisco Wykrota, together with his co-founding brother, Dr. Leonardo Wykrota, filed for financial support from the government via an agency called FINEP. The project aimed to promote an innovation establishing the manufacture of a material that was going to be used as a synthetic bone to reconstruct bone losses. A large number of patients needed this technology, almost 30 years ago. FINEP denied the funding because they did not think the project had enough technical reasons to justify the investment. The truth was that the technology was way ahead of the market. It was ahead of its time; the founders had the knowledge to do it but not the money.
That is how everything started. Without financial support from the government, venture capitalists, private equity, or angels, or anything at all, the two brothers launched the company with their own small resources. When they needed certain machines for their production line, they had to build them on their own. They created some pigs in the backyard of their house to use for clinical studies. Everything started very simple and without any external support. Just with a dream and their passion.
Step by step they developed their small, homemade production line using their own machines and a lot of creative ideas and tools. Soon they were able to reproduce the technology on a small scale, which gave them products to start selling. But before going to market there was a very important and very difficult step to go through: approval by the Brazilian Health Agency. The problem was that the agency (called ANS then, and ANVISA today) had never heard of a synthetic bone used for bone reconstruction, and thus struggled with how to regulate a product they did not have the references to understand.
Dr. Francisco found it necessary to help the ANS understand this technology and regulate its use. The result was that the product, called Osteosynt, was the first Bone Graft Substitute registered officially in Brazil. In other words, it became the reference. It took years of work. Then after all the manufacture and regulatory were done, Dr. Francisco took some samples on hand and traveled around the country, participating in symposiums, conferences, meetings and all possible events to show off this new and revolutionary technology.
However there was again another big challenge: the doctors in Brazil did not know about this technology yet! How would you use a new technology that you have never heard about? He succeeded in this educating them, and in my next post, I’ll talk more about it.
My take-home point is that you may fine yourself building a new technology with no support at all in the beginning. Or you might find that no one believes in your product, and will not invest. Or you might realize that the market or users are not ready for your solution. You might find that you need to do all this work without money, with just ideas, creativity, hard work and passion! But that is, after all, what entrepreneurs do, and that’s what these two entrepreneurs did here in Brazil.