The entrepreneurial adventure begins
I am Valentina Cesati and I have a biotechnology company, which deals with DNA analysis, which was born in 2010 in Prato.
The beginning of my company, of the passion for the subject to which it is related, biology, is way back in my story. It started almost as a child, when I constantly watched animals, so much that my parents thought that I would become a great researcher of animal behavior. Then something happened within my family that marked my life and my interest in biology diverted from the study animal to the study of something smaller, the cell and its transformations: from a healthy cell to a pathological cell. I decided very early, during the course of my scientific high school studies, to enroll in Biological Sciences, I completed my studies in five years and before my graduation I decided to go on an experience abroad, to gain insight on what I learnt. And because of this I met Professor Quattrone, who was already in Bethesda, at the “National Institute of Health” and I spent nine months with him, where I wrote my experimental thesis concerning a protein involved in learning and in memorization. Back to Italy I discussed my thesis and won a PhD in “Human Morphology and Morphogenesis” and from there, after completing my doctorate, I met Silvia, the sister of Professor Quattrone, who like me had started and finished her PhD.
We wanted to get out of the University and to be able to develop some ideas that we appreciated during our staying abroad. In fact, a leading company in DNA at that time was “23andme”. We were among the first wanting to bring DNA to everyone, in our will we were very afraid, we didn’t know to whom to send our DNA tests and so we spread our entrepreneurial risk on different lines of business, ranging from the vet, to the dental, to the pharmacy. And so “Gentras” was born in 2010. It was a startup, today it is no longer a startup, but a micro-enterprise.
We have survived through many difficulties, but we still have the enthusiasm and passion to carry out our desires and our goals.
The money to start
The search for funds, initially, was to look at our bank accounts and therefore we are all of us, partners, engaged in providing the necessary resources for the construction of the laboratory and the acquisition of the tools necessary for the performance of the analysis and even structurally to divide the space we rented into the various rooms necessary for the workflow. Subsequently we were joined by different training courses, offered by Tuscan Universities and also coaching and tutoring courses that should have led us to build a “business plan” worthy of presentation to official and institutional investors. I remember that every time I presented this “business plan” there were doubts about the fact that DNA could not be patented, so those who could have married our project did not feel protected by the lack of a patent, while they gave us the advantage that we were the first to move into this market. So, I remember someone told me: I recommend Valentina, run, run!
In reality, being the first to move in the market, a micro reality is really a negative factor, because you do not have the strength to trigger the demand that actually was not present in the Italian market at the beginning of our career. There is a moment when the entrepreneur gets to ask himself a question, especially by leveraging his own money, when it’s time to stop putting it because if your company is not bringing the results you set for yourself, bet on yourself and it is difficult to stop betting on yourself, having all the passion and hours of work dedicated and for which I think the really critical point is to understand when to stop this flow.
I consulted with my partners, in a critical period, the product marketing phase had taken place, but had not had the expected “explosion”, we needed funds. At that time it was fashionable, people started talking about “crowdfunding”, the platforms that are now online didn’t exist yet, but I found the smart thing, in the sense that belonging to the contexts of associations of industrialists, rather than small-medium ones – companies, I turned to some of them and I met some entrepreneurs, maybe older than me, who were retired, who still wanted to be close to the energy of new ideas that they saw in me, maybe the lack of experience, etc. , they joined me and invested small numbers, because what I wanted was not to take away the majority of shares from the founding members. So small figures, for small passages of shares and therefore we have been able to pull up, thanks to these wise entrepreneurs, the necessary capital to carry out the “Gentras” in a critical moment.
A negative and a positive event
A negative episode, which concerns people is definitely my first “business plan”. We also assumed a specialized analyst we did very expensive market research, prior art research on the sale of products, it was ambitious, we took on a sales network throughout the Country for the five DNA tests we had available. We trained 23 men and women, product specialists with great enthusiasm and passion. I remember the last trip, it was in Sicily and on the plane we made a sketch of how much each one of them could, me and my faithful partner Silvia, an analysis of how much each of these agents of ours could have sold according to the incidence of market penetration, which the analyst had actually studied and evaluated, and truly relaxed, we returned to Florence and made our first order, for the production of the kits that were to arrive at the pharmacy. An order, obviously at the height of the statistics and still today any success, I, small or large, may have, during my days, enter a room that today is called the Gentras warehouse, which is still invaded by all the boxes I made and which I never sold.
So now, to those who ask me for a “business plan”, I send them a page on the cover of “Astra”, because in a start up, in my opinion, it is absolutely very complicated to be able to do, especially in a product that does not yet exist, to be able to make business plans that make sense.
There have been positive events in Gentras, otherwise we wouldn’t be a start-up born in 2010, but still talking to this interview today. The positive event was, since no one, being a first generation entrepreneur, in a non-existent sector, however, came into contact with Italian realities, because I have always referred to Italian realities structured in our territory, which had a history. It is clear much more structured than us, who believed, despite our small size and our lack of knowledge of our brand in the market, who believed in our idea and embraced it and helped us make it become first a product and then marketing the product.
Because for startups it is very easy to invent products, much more difficult to get them out of the company drawer. For this reason, we have strategically decided to turn our ideas, which then become projects, to companies that are able to give them the commercial development that we believe would deserve.
Doing business in Italy
Doing business in Italy is definitely a challenge! The first answer that comes to mind on why doing business in Italy: it is because if you succeed in Italy, you will certainly find it easy in all the other parts of the world.
However, jokes aside, we must also think about our Country, we cannot depopulate it. Who has the strength and the will to fight to give life to their innovative ideas, in my opinion, in Italy can find many resources: they are the beauty of the country itself, which can be a source of creativity and inspiration for new ideas, for new companies.
The key traits of an entrepreneur
In my opinion there are many characteristics an entrepreneur must have. Surely one is the courage and the tendency to take risks. Another very important one is empathy, the empathy to share an idea and making all the people around him, all of his staff, believe. Empathy also to understand the needs of the environment that surrounds him.
I think the worst thing, for an entrepreneur, is feeling lonely, feeling misunderstood so, in my opinion, being able to create a strong union with the people around him is a fundamental characteristic of the entrepreneur. And certainly another element, in my opinion essential, is creativity, creativity and adaptability to know how to move and re-adjust in contexts that change.
The future for the new generations
In Italy there is no lack of ideas, there is no lack of start-ups because the data from 2017 reports around 8,000 start-ups, with a mortality rate of 6%, which means that in Italy we still want to do business.
It is important, I hope, for the future generations, that our country system tries, as it is doing, in creating a fertile ground to be able to develop and give life to the ideas of our future generations and to support them in the growth and development of the first years of the life of the start-up. There is a very strong problem of finding resources both human because many specialized workers prefer finding simpler roads than fighting in Italy, so we have a shortage of human resources, certainly of financial resources and these are the areas where we must work to create a fertile ground for our future generations.