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Innovation beyond skin deep

Biochemist Carolina Reis went to the United States to create an artificial tissue company for developing anti-aging products

PERSONAL ARCHIVEFrom the time she finished her bachelor’s degree, biochemist Carolina Reis has sought to work on research whose results could be made available to society more quickly and effectively. However, it was only in 2015, about to complete her doctorate at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), that she was able to identify the potential of her research, which at the time was focused on the use of pluripotent stem cells as a model for drug testing.

Together with two colleagues, she founded CellSeq, a startup dedicated to producing different types of human cells that could be sold to companies in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. They submitted their business project to Startups and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development (SEED), a startups acceleration program in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

The acceleration program lasted six months. There were a variety of difficulties. “Although I was involved in a lot of entrepreneurial types of activities, when I decided to start the project, I didn’t know where to start; I wasn’t familiar with the tools or the steps involved in developing a business,” says Reis.

One important aspect for the company’s viability was identifying its target audience. At the time, there was an intense debate in Brazil and around the world about the need to replace the use of animals in cosmetics testing. “We took advantage of that climate and decided to focus on this industry, working on developing and validating methods that could replace animal testing in the development of new products,” she says.

Shortly afterwards, the project was accepted to participate in StartUp Brasil, a federally backed startup acceleration program. Despite the financial support, the project did not succeed. “The lack of experience of startup accelerators in the biotechnology sector, associated with a lack of innovation in the Brazilian market, made things difficult. ”

It was during a Demo Day promoted by StartUp Brasil in Belo Horizonte in 2016 that the company’s direction began to change. “At the event, entrepreneurs presented their business ideas to different types of investors,” she says. There, Reis made a connection with IndieBio, a US biotechnology accelerator from San Francisco, California.

She and her partners redesigned the project. After submitting the proposal to IndieBio and going through a few interviews, they were selected. Reis moved to the United States and there founded OneSkin Technologies. The company began with the goal of rebuilding all the layers of skin tissue to provide more robust safety testing to the industry. After the technology matured, the company developed a method for quantifying the rejuvenating potential of skin products. The focus now is on discovering new products with this potential.

OneSkin currently has seven employees: five in San Francisco, working on products in the lab, and two in Brazil, focused on large-scale data analysis and intellectual property.