Producing environmentally-friendly biocement underground is the challenge that Dr. Dimitrios Terzis, co-founder of the EPFL start-up MeduSoil has set in. MeduSoil develops and commercializes the world’s first carbon bio-mineralization technologies to provide solutions to problems of ground stabilization. The aim is to turn soils into rocks to mitigate infrastructure risk related to soil erosion, landslides, rising sea levels and to reduce damages caused by extreme weather and earthquakes in many zones of the world. The one whose purpose is “to bring innovation, literally, down to Earth”, explains how an innovation can become a functioning business model.
Why was MeduSoil created?
MeduSoil was created in April 2018 as a spinoff of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL). Its creation was driven by the pressing needs towards seeking sustainable solutions for ground stabilization and the strong belief I share with my co-founder, Prof. Lyesse Laloui, that the technology we developed disrupts an industry that hasn’t been disrupted in decades. Developing tech solutions which combine elements of technical innovation, economic efficiency and environmental responsibility was the main motivation behind launching this venture and focusing our efforts on turning MeduSoil into the next big thing in our target market. Since its creation, our start-up has met an overwhelming response from construction material providers, engineering consulting firms, contractors and public authorities who partnered with us to deliver real-life construction and environmental applications and that’s the best basis to continue growing our business.
What has helped MeduSoil get where it is now?
MeduSoil has been shaped thanks to the active contribution of more than ten people during the past two years. This path started through research at EPFL and through a period of very targeted intellectual property creation. With an experienced R&D team in place composed of Civil, Environmental and Chemical Engineers, as well as project managers with deep knowledge and understanding of our target market, MeduSoil is ready to chase what’s big and creates an impact in our field. As a team we believe that since innovation is a complex, company-wide and incremental endeavor, success comes at carefully designed and executed increments. By looking back to what brought MeduSoil where it stands right now, we believe that our recent successes lay the ground for a successful internationalization of our operations. That’s currently our biggest challenge and opportunity and our team works with passion towards generating more successes.
What do you think is necessary to lead a company to success?
If a startup like ours wants a shot at surviving within an extremely competitive and fragmented global market, we need, first, to determine, and then to instill to our partners, what sets us apart from the other available options. We believe that owning an exciting technology and implementing smart marketing strategies alone are not enough to impress target customers – it’s all about creating real, tangible value and experiences which improve substantially current practices. The long-term success of our business requires that we assemble the right talent to build a strong brand, which pays attention to trends. Our backbone is our agile team which shares the same vision and that’s what we believe will greatly improve the chances of our success.
What are the hurdles to implementing new business models and how can they be overcome?
I’d say that it takes a certain level of independence granted to our team members, who develop and execute our roadmap. They are the ones who discover all the hurdles and opportunities towards executing what’s planned. From planning to execution, the degree to which our value proposition challenges the status quo requires hands-on understanding of the chain that leads from design to delivery of solution as well as being in direct contact with all involved stakeholders. If during this process, our front-men and front-women are granted the independence to adapt, propose and ultimately customize solutions then any new business models will be always characterized by value proposition persistency, and that’s our top priority.
You have recently decided to apply for the Initial Coaching programme proposed by Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency. Why?
Owning and running a business can be very appealing to people for many reasons who tend to think that you get to be your own boss, work with amazing people, create your own schedule and turn a passion into a career. Well, there’s absolutely no way that one can build such a company without talking to people and learning from peers. Innosuisse offered us the right people to coach us, an ecosystem which supports entrepreneurs and a network to foster collaborations and internationalization of Swiss excellence. Once, somebody told me: “where you stand right now, that’s where I used to stand, and where I stand right now, that’s where you will be standing soon”. This summarizes the common path, challenges, perils and opportunities involved in building a Swiss company with international outlook. Innosuisse embodies this spirit in a very forward-looking way by building a community of inventors, entrepreneurs, coaches and institutions, all aiming to make the best out of Switzerland’s potential and talent.
At what point can an innovation be described as a functioning business model?
To us, a business model is a tool, not a sole purpose for an early-stage tech startup like ours. This describes the rationale of how our organization creates, delivers, and captures value, in terms of economic, social or other impact. The process of building a business model and modifying it accordingly based on our achievements and the ever-changing environment within which we operate, offers opportunities for business model innovation and forms a part of a never-ending business strategy. We should not remain complacent in a single business model and we need to remain open towards questioning our strategy to ultimately define what will bring us to next big step.
Can a company operate several business models at the same time? How best?
I can see why many suggest that one Business model isn’t enough and I also understand why startups strive to stick to a single business model. But I don’t think that operating several business models is a leading cause of strategic failure. That’s because the need to address several customer segments automatically translates to using a particular business model for each one. For MeduSoil the very existential need to shift between a reseller distribution model with a direct-sell model, to operate in different territories, is such an example.
*Medusoil has also received support from the BRIDGE program and was funded by the Horizon 2020 instrument.
Interview: Johanne Stettler
Last modification 05.10.2020