From Cyprus Seeds Great Dreams Grow

Interview with Cyprus Seeds Chairman Jeremy Downward

Cyprus Seeds is a non-profit organization with the mission to help commercialize innovative academic research in Cypriot universities and researcg institutions. In addition to grants, it offers mentoring, business skills training and networking with the business community and potential investors outside Cyprus. Here, Cyprus Seeds Chairmaan Jeremy Downward tells GOLD why he is optimistic that the organisation’s continuing support for innovative ideas will lead to great things for entrepreneurship and the country.

 

Later this year, Cyprus Seeds will be announcing its third call to Cypriot researchers to apply to its programme. As you look back on the previous two years, how would you assess the experience?

We are now close to the end of the second 12-month cycle of Cyprus Seeds and I must say that it has been a great journey! I feel honoured to have been involved as Chairman of the Board. The past 24 months have demonstrated that Cyprus Seeds is an idea with substance. There are currently 12 projects moving towards commercialization and this is a clear indication that something serious is taking place here. I make special mention of three teams: From the first cycle, Gene Therapy for Inherited Neuropathies (Kleopas A. Kleopa, Cyprus Institute of Neurology & Genetics) and from the second cycle, Innovative early detection of faults in Photovoltaic (PV) Systems – SOLEX (George E. Georghiou, Professor

University of Cyprus) and ABLASONIC: MRI-guided robotic system for non-invasive focused ultrasound surgery (Christakis Damianou, Cyprus University of Technology).

These three examples show great diversity and show how Cyprus Seeds’ teams participate in a range of industries. Moreover, bearing in mind that Cyprus Seeds consists of a relatively small group of highly energetic people, we can recognise the great value of the current results and the huge prospects that exist.

As we now have substantial results and evidence of our successful journey, I truly hope that this will impact those in academia, researchers and of others pursuing their PhDs. There is now a proven path for them to follow and join Cyprus Seeds for the successful commercialisation of their innovative ideas. Cyprus Seeds, with its softer, more qualitative impact, can act as a beacon leading to the involvement of new promising teams and individuals. Mindsets are changing and this is for the benefit of all. Further proof of Cyprus Seeds’ great ‘legs’ is the fact that it has attracted and retained some great sponsors who believe in the positive impact of our mission. The AG Leventis Foundation has been one of the main sponsors, as has The Hellenic Initiative (THI), which has two sides to its operations: philanthropy and offering support in times of crisis (outside Cyprus) and being a catalyst for entrepreneurship in order to encourage young people to enter the business world. We are also proud that THI will continue to support us, together with the Cyprus Government.

In view of all this, I believe that we can be justifiably proud of our journey so far.

 

Will the new call for applications differ in any way from the previous two?

The new call, which will take place in the last quarter of 2022, is similar to previous ones but it will finesse our thinking, based on what we have learned and experienced to date. Our profile today is highly respected and we wish to attract ‘the best of the best’, offering not only funding but also mentoring, which is equally important. We have two ideas continuing with us from the previous cycle, which shows continuity but also indicates that 12 months is a relatively short period of time. Nonetheless, we are doing our best to make the most of it.

In general, young startups find it very difficult to obtain access to finance for new ideas that need to be commercialized. These can be capital-intensive and, of course, there are limits on what can Cyprus Seeds, as a non-profit organisation, can offer in terms of funding in such a short period of time. Our remit does not allow us to provide further financial support, so the upcoming London event is one of the initiatives that we shall be taking as part of the process to raise our profile and push our teams towards more dynamic scenes and international audiences, enabling them to present their ideas and results and gain access to financing.

 

Tell us more about the upcoming event. Why London?

There are two main ports of call for financing for our teams: Greece and London. We would like our teams to receive funding from one or the other, as we strongly believe that they have what is necessary to become success stories. Greece has moved from the call stage to a working stage. Those involved saw opportunities, became entrepreneurial due to the financial crisis and now have the seeds of a thriving, young, dynamic startup community, which simultaneously led to the launch of a forward-thinking VC industry in Greece. Early successes led to more money coming in and a need to expand their geographical presence, and Cyprus was the first expansion point for many of the Greek VCs. We are looking forward to seeing our teams become part of this.

However, though exciting, VCs in Greece are not as established as their London counterparts, which is why we have chosen to hold events at the Science Museum there and other similar initiatives will take place to give our teams access to London-based VCs. The next event will give an opportunity to four of our teams to tell their story to a more international and well-established industry, which can help them progress further.

 

You have already mentioned Cyprus Seeds’ three major sponsors. What would you say to other companies/VCs that might consider becoming sponsors?

The AG Leventis Foundation, THI and the Cyprus Government will continue to support our mission aimed at the commercialization of innovative ideas. These three entities have very different purposes but, when it comes to Cyprus Seeds, they are united. Cyprus Seeds has good governance and management and the sponsors know exactly where their money is going and that it is being well spent on a great mission that will impact society and the country. By supporting our goal of creating a fledgling startup culture in Cyprus, they are also helping prevent a brain drain and increase employment. VCs can support this platform, which now has three years of proven track results. We are speaking about commercially viable ideas, which may have begun their journey in Cyprus but have a broad, universal application. Our teams have world-class ideas with worldwide applicability, which is why I firmly believe that the quality of their work will attract the interest of VCs and lead to them providing tangible support to our best researchers.

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