Science in the skin. At the age of only 40, Amélie Thépot would never have thought a few years ago that she would be at the helm of two companies. Rather, she envisioned a clear career in biology research. In 2014, however, the scientist jumped into the grain of entrepreneurship with the aim of developing artificial skin for the cosmetics industry.
Successful bet: his company LabSkin Creations introduced 3D bioprinting of human skin for severe burns and, more recently, a brand new solution for breast reconstruction. Our conversation with the entrepreneur from Lyon in the service of science.
Lemon squeezer: Amélie Thépot, in 2014 you founded LabSkin Creations, a company that specializes in the manufacture of human skin. How did you get started with a startup producing artificial skin?
Amélie Thépot: The adventure was born in the beginning of 2010. As a Doctor of Cell Biology, I was working at the time in the Lyons Cutaneous Substitutes Laboratory (CNRS), housed in the Édouard Herriot Hospital and directed by Professor Odile Damour.
This woman of character and greatness in her field came up with the idea of building artificial skin for severe burns. And where most man-made skins only reproduce the epidermis (the top layer), those in his lab also contain the dermis, the layer directly below.
Thanks to this experience, I finally got a job at a Japanese startup in Lyon, where my mission is to recultivate tissue that is then grafted in the eyes. The advantage of this position is that I continue to work with Odile Damour. Except that she wants to retire soon.
Knowing this, I propose that he resume part of his activity: that dedicated to the creation of skin for cosmetological tests. The decision has been made and I choose to follow a Crealys incubation program for 18 months learning the basics: law, accounting, human resources, marketing …
At the same time, the European Union banned the testing of all cosmetic ingredients on animals at the beginning of 2013. The law falls at the right time. I am not wasting time and I am starting the steps to start my business. In January 2014, LabSkin Creations was officially launched. This means that the desire to test the effectiveness of ingredients and cosmetic products on custom-made models of reconstructed skin is tailor-made.
Lemon Squeezer: Did You Start This Entrepreneurial Adventure Alone?
Amélie Thépot: There are two of us creating LabSkin Creations. But my partner is not physically in France, I am initially alone to manage the operations,
the administration … It’s very stressful and I have the impression that I won’t make it. WHO
more is i am pregnant. (Laughs) Obviously, everything is connected very quickly.
Fortunately, I already have my first customer: a French cosmetics giant. The luxury I have in this story is that I don’t even have to advertise it. His team contacts me to ask if I can be up for a study in two weeks.
At this point, starting my business is not yet effective, but I am doing my best to get it done quickly. Two weeks later the challenge was overcome: the company was founded and I had access to Odile Damour’s laboratory and equipment. I then signed my first contract with LabSkin Creations. The study for the customer was completed in mid-May 2014. I give birth in the following month. And in September I am hiring my first employee: my Imaging Manager.
I could have run a fundraiser, but I wanted to be independent
Lemon Squeezer: Have You Had Difficulties Funding the Business?
Amélie Thépot: No, because I had a client right from the start. This first contract allowed me to be instantly credible and attract new customers. I could have run a fundraiser, but I wanted to be independent. I did not prefer to lose some of my freedom of action.
Lemon Squeezer: You just said that the LabSkin Creations concept had no problems finding customers. You have also won a tender for projects by the French military ministry. Why is ?
Amélie Thépot: After a while, the University of Lyon offered me a research partnership with their specialized laboratory, ICBMS. The aim of this project was to achieve 3D bioprinting of skins. LabSkin Creations was an expert in creating skins while ICBMS was an expert in 3D printing.
Very quickly – after about six months of research – the technique was perfected and we decided to patent it. In this context, at the end of 2016 we responded to a tender funded by the Ministry of Armed Forces with our Bloc Print project. The idea was to develop a model for bio-printed skin that would treat severe burns in the field.
FID2018 Defense Innovation Forum @LabskinC @ 3dFAB_platform @CHUdeLyon pic.twitter.com/JU7rpmwdZh
– LabSkin Creations (@LabskinC) November 23, 2018
Specifically, this involves printing the skin directly onto a lesion or burn using an articulated arm from cells taken in the operating room. If the first animal experiments took place in the period 2018-2019, the animal experiments are not yet relevant. But it is a revolutionary technology that is pioneering the world over.
Lemon Squeezer: Is It Complicated To File A Patent?
Amélie Thépot: No, but that’s very boring. To file a patent, you need to fill out a number of documents and compile a file which is then examined by the National Industrial Property Institute (INPI). The latter is responsible for assessing the novelty and ingenuity of the technology. In any case, this is the case in France.
It is different if you want your technology to be patented worldwide. It is then necessary to file a patent in each country and for each country to accept the patent.
It’s a long job, especially as the rules change from country to country. Fortunately for LabSkin Creations, I surrounded myself with legal experts who took care of all of these steps for me. Finally, one has to keep in mind that filing a patent costs a fortune. Even if someone chooses to emulate you, it will cost a significant amount to defend.
Lemon Squeezer: When Did You Pay Your First Salary?
Amélie Thépot: LabSkin Creations has been profitable since its inception. So it was pretty quick for me. At the beginning I was still working part-time for the hospital. I had to pay my first half of my salary myself about a year after starting the company.
Lemon Squeezer: LabSkin Creations now has nine employees. How do you manage management as a company like yours grows?
Amélie Thépot: Little by little. By making mistakes and trying not to duplicate them.
Lemon squeezer: Since LabSkin Creations you have helped shape another startup: Healshape, which develops 3D-printed breast implants. Can you tell us more
Amélie Thépot: The Healshape concept came about after patenting the 3D bioprinting of the skin. We knew how to make skin, make organic ink, and cultivate fat cells, so we asked ourselves: why not use all of these innovations for medical purposes?
We found that breast reconstruction rates after mastectomy were low in breast cancer patients. So we wanted to develop 3D printed breast implants that could be used to regenerate cells.
The advantage of this solution is manifold. She already only uses biopolymers that are well tolerated by the body without synthetic components. Then there is no need for multiple interventions in the operating room. Finally, thanks to the reconstruction of the patient’s own tissues, it is possible to achieve an immediate, definitive and natural result.
Since this is a medical device, it will of course take some time to bring such implants onto the market. Before we have the right to sell them, we need to do animal testing and then clinical trials.
Lemon Squeezer: What’s the Biggest Myth to Deconstruct About Starting a Business?
Amélie Thépot: Do you think we are not capable. In reality, anything can be learned. I, who came from a science course, learned everything in my job. For example, before my incubation at Crealys, I didn’t even know what Urssaf is, that is!
I, who came from a science course, learned everything in my job
Most of all, the key to being successful in entrepreneurship is surrounding yourself with the right people. For my part, I am accompanied by a lawyer, a wonderful lawyer and a good accountant. Most of all, beware of people trying to impress you.
Lemon Squeezer: What do you like most about your daily business life?
Amélie Thépot: My days are not the same. I never do the same thing and it’s very empowering. Otherwise, I like my teams to thrive. It makes me very proud of what we are achieving.