Timea Polgar PhD, one of the founders of NaturAI Ltd – is a molecular biologist and chemist, and also has ample experience in strategic business development, research development, biotechnology and pharmaceutical software development. As their crowdfunding campaign will launch soon on Tokeportal.hu, we talked about business, challenges and plans.
Of course, as a little girl, I didn’t know specifically that I will be a molecular biologist or a chemist, but I was sure that I was interested in science. As a little schoolgirl, I was constantly reading human anatomy atlases: I was interested in how the human body works and why we get sick. I also had my own tiny microscope, and I checked everything, including my own blood. At high school, my major was chemistry-biology, which allowed me to learn more about experimentation. It made me realize that it was my direction, so I continued my studies at the University of Szeged. In parallel to studying molecular biology I was also studying chemistry to satisfy my desire for research. After completion of my two Master’s, I started as a molecular modeler at Richter Gedeon, a big pharmaceutical company, and I defended my PhD thesis, that was based on my pharmaceutical research at the company.
I had the opportunity to meet numerous scientists and researchers at conferences and other events, either as a visitor or as a speaker, or to work together in international collaborations and scientific competitions. This journey made me realize that science can become part of your life, it is more than a 9-to-5 job.
I would like to highlight Professor György M. Keserű, head of Medicinal Chemistry Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, who contributed to my research as former head of Richter Gedeon’s chemical research department. He was also my PhD supervisor.
Timea Polgar PhD, one of the founders at a conference in China. They coined the first idea here with Nora Lapusnyik, a co-founder of NaturAI. Source: Timea Polgar PhD.
I spent a lot of time in the US, especially on West Coast and the entrepreneurial mindset affected me. I attended a lot of meetups and events, I was interested in professional challenges. Probably, I was the only one at these gatherings who never started any business, so life offered me a next challenge that I was looking for anyway.
I met a lot of interesting people and startups in California. One of them is LuTran, which develops antiviral drugs. One of their molecules has received a huge financial support and is in test phase now. Another interesting market segment in California is the cannabis industry. I had the chance to tap into it as a data scientist. I started a project, called CannaData, which evolved into the IllumeSense startup, a company connecting patients and clinicians via a telehealth system.
I have worked for several small companies in important roles, as a researcher I have always had many ideas, but I have never been a founder. These situations incentivized me to start a business of my own, so we started working on one of my favorite ideas.
Outdoor office in Silicon Valley. Source: Timea Polgar PhD.
That’s right. When I had worked as a computational chemist, we noticed that around 75% of medicines are based on ideas from nature. Then I also wondered what can be the synergistic effect of many molecules coming from food or supplements on human body. The topic is a truly forward-looking initiative, and with ida, users will have the opportunity to learn about food rationally, which can improve their quality of life in the long run.
It was very important to get scientific validation of the idea. We discussed it with numerous scientists, on a broad range of forums and events, and the industry gave clear positive feedback (e.g. Food Chemistry and Technology, ACS USA). Professionals showed great interest in the subject, and we know that consumers are becoming more conscious today, it provided a first validation of the concept. Unfortunately, nutrition and food sciences are in somewhat an early stage, we cannot understand well how many molecules can interact and take effect. However, everyone has agreed that today’s technology and science can address and should find solutions for the problem.
We have been able to simplify the basic idea, the problem, to milestones – that is essential to enter the market – which I also consider as success. The fact that our service is both professional and marketable at the same time is the result of a long and complex research process.
In Hungary, there are about 18,000 dietary supplements registered at the food agency (OGYEI). Unfortunately, registration is not enforced allowing many products to enter the market without notifying the agency. They are not medicinal products and as such cannot exert a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action (EFSA). The local retailer market size is estimated to be 40-50 billion HUF, and the e-commerce sector is about the same.
The problem is that we consume a lot of products with varying quality, composition and we are heavily influenced by the confusing ads.
With the ida system, we want to help consumers select the best product based on accurate composition (ingredients), and their potential benefits or associated risks.
Our goal is to make the service accessible to as many users as possible, and this can be greatly supported by the communication opportunities and publicity provided by equity crowdfunding. Our service can work for small, medium sized vendors and wholesalers, and crowdfunding helps us to reach them.
In the coming year, we would like to enter and cover the Hungarian market with the retailer application, focusing on small and medium-sized businesses.
It is very positive that more and more entrepreneurial programs are available for women but maintaining a healthy work-life balance is always a big challenge – but not just for female entrepreneurs.
I love travelling, I’ve been on missionary work in many developing countries – Madagascar is especially memorable for me. We also started talking about ida’s idea with Nora Lapusnyik and Peter Horvath during one of my travels in China. I would like everyone to have equal access to unbiased knowledge and education. This is, after all, part of ida’s mission: we should have not only the right, but also the opportunity to access proper information, and I want to contribute to that through technology.
Timea Polgar PhD and Nora Lapusnyik, co-founder and business development manager of NaturAI in China. Source: Timea Polgar PhD.
It is important to be able to stand up from failures every single day as a startupper, stay focused and positive, and turn challenges into opportunities. I also believe the first investors we let in the business, have important influence, too. Still, I honestly believe the key to success is the team, the people you can start working on a problem with, you can trust, and with whom you can even create a new product or service.
Pre-registration for the equity crowdfunding campaign of ida – dietary supplement advisor has been launched. Be part of their story, invest in their business! Sign up now for priority access to their investment campaign!