Interview with Ioanna Zergioti, CEO and co-founder of PhosPrint
Ioanna Zergioti is the acting CEO at PhosPrint and a Professor at the National Technical University of Athens. She is a world-leading expert in laser printing with more than 30 years of experience and is among the first scientists worldwide that demonstrated the use of laser printing for the solid phase transfer of DNA. During her research work, she gained experience from outstanding labs, i.e., University of California, Berkeley, Max Planck Institut for Biophysikalische Chemie, Philips CFT, and Oxford Lasers Ltd.
In 2019, she launched PhosPrint, a business that aims to introduce novel ideas to the field of bioprinting with an emphasis on regenerative medicine. PhosPrint's goal is to revolutionize the bioprinting and medical sector by creating cutting-edge instruments and techniques that can advance the field of organ reconstruction and contribute to significant medical advancements. We met with Ioanna and talked about the company and her journey. Here’s what she told us.
Tell us a few things about Phosprint. How did it all start? How did you discover the market opportunity for your technology, and where are you today?
PhosPrint is a Laser BioPrinter developer founded by myself, Dr. Apostolos Klinakis (Chief Biochemist Researcher at the Biomedical Research Foundation Academy of Athens), and Maria Pallidou (PhosPrint’s chief financial officer) aspiring to revolutionize Tissue Regeneration, Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology markets. Our company is a spinoff of the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems of the National Technical University of Athens (ICCS/NTUA). It operates as a Private Company registered in Greece.
Our combined extensive experience in laser printing, laser bioprinting for solid phase transfer of DNA, cancer biology, modeling of human disease in mice, and stem cell biology led us to identify the huge opportunity to transform and reform health care through the utilization of Laser bioprinting in the race to cure previously untreatable medical conditions, impacting favorably the lives of millions while decreasing health care costs. This is how PhosPrint was born.
Today, we have a fully functional pre-industrial laser bioprinter and protocols to isolate, expand, and print cells during surgery, with neobladder construction for bladder cancer patients being our first application, with the largest part of our development funded by a €2mm Grant from the EIC Accelerator program (the first Greek company to-date to receive it) that started in May 2023.
How do you differentiate from other similar offers in the market? What value does Phosprint bring to the clients and partners?
Our dual laser-induced bioprinting (D-LIB) platform will allow the in-vivo printing of neobladder engineering for cystectomy patients and will construct a fully functional neobladder with zero side effects to be commercialized in 2027. Our approach aims to utilize the beneficial potential of the intestinal muscle layer by replacing the intestinal segment’s epithelium with the urothelial one. Early preclinical trials have produced very promising early indications to address short-midterm outcomes. Printing performance was excellent, and animal survival was 100%. Our customers (hospitals, clinics, and health systems’ payers) and users (healthcare professionals and researchers) will be able to battle life-threatening or quality-of-life deteriorating diseases with a process that creates viable biological structures that lead to tissue regeneration and cell reproduction, leading to a significant improvement of quality of life of the patient at a lower cost to the healthcare system.
You have recently been awarded an EIC grant. Tell us a few things about it. What would you recommend to researchers or entrepreneurs aiming for funding from EIC?
The EIC has not only honored us with a Grant award but has given us the best recognition possible for the potential of our technology, which will hopefully allow us to attract private funding, representing 30% of the overall project budget. For highly innovative and transformative projects like ours that require a rather long period to reach commercialization, the EIC Accelerator is probably the best funding option in Europe. Unlike the US healthtech and biotech ecosystem, where funding for these projects is easier to attract – due to knowledge, risk attitude, and fund size- patient funding in Europe is primarily offered by State or EU sources. Our recommendation to researchers and entrepreneurs who have trouble raising private funding is to apply to the EIC and ensure they present and explain their innovation well, clearly highlighting the impact of their offering on society and the economy.
What would you consider to have been (or are) your biggest challenge so far?
Clearly, raising private funding for a project with a longer commercialization outline has been our biggest challenge. Local VC’s are reluctant to take patient funding positions, while foreign VC’s are often discouraged by the absence of local VC funding. Finding alternative funding sources is our biggest challenge, since we have to identify a lead investor for 30% of our EIC-funded project.
What are the biggest learnings from your journey so far?
Securing early funding is one of the greatest challenges and learning so far. Early funding for us, but also generally in spin-off companies, has been quite challenging due to several factors. Firstly, spin-off companies often lack a track record of proven market traction, making it difficult to attract traditional investors. Secondly, the technology or innovation being developed in Phosprint is relatively early, leading to uncertainty and higher perceived risks. Another reason is that, as a spin-off company, we face limited resources and struggle to establish a strong network of industry connections, further hindering their access to funding opportunities.
Another thing I learned from my journey so far is that a strong and cohesive team is essential in spin-offs. Spin-offs frequently operate in highly competitive and dynamic situations, making it especially important to have a competent staff with various abilities to handle difficulties and grasp opportunities successfully. The success and expansion of the spin-off depend on teamwork, innovation, and wise decision-making, all of which are fostered by a cohesive workforce.