Fellowship / 3-minute read
Approximately one year ago, Laura Ortiz got selected as one of the 35 participants of the START Fellowship Program. Together with her 2 male co-founders, she was able to spend 4 months in Switzerland to grow their business as well as themselves.
But first, let’s get to the beginning of it…
Laura is a biomedical engineer from the Universidad e los Andes, a partner University of the HSG. What once started as a capstone project soon turned into their startup Hem that got founded in 2021. Hem aims to use paper analytic devices and colorimetric detection to bring affordable diagnostic tests to rural areas in Colombia. With that, they want to bring care to those who cannot reach it. For us in Europe, access to healthcare and insurance is always guaranteed. However, it is not that easy in Latin America (LatAm): Access to healthcare resources and monetary support in Colombia is rare, as 89% of towns in Colombia lack centers capable of processing blood samples. Many diseases that could be treated, therefore remain undiagnosed…
“We want to make preventive healthcare accessible to everyone. We envision a world where no one must endure the consequences of a late diagnosis, independently of their geographical location or income.”
As hard as it might be to found a startup in Switzerland, LatAm is out of the frying oan and into the fire. In Colombia, connections and recommendations are crucial to make your startup successful. In LatAm, especially in the health sector, accelerator programs are scarce. The Theranos scandal (Elizabeth Holmes) in Silicon Valley further contributed to the distrust in startups in the field of rapid testing.
Therefore, it was even more important for Hem to prove themselves to the general public to position themselves in the LatAm health market.
That’s where START Fellowship Program builds the bridge. START Fellowship is a student-run accelerator program aimed at empowering young entrepreneurs from low- and middle-income countries through an interdisciplinary program. The program strives for a world of equal opportunities for entrepreneurs. Regardless of their background, young founders should be empowered and have the resources to put their ideas into reality as well as to challenge the problems of tomorrow.
As with all of those stories, Laura and Hems way to START was more of a coincidence. Through another former Fellow, they got to know the program’s perks and decided to give it a try.
After successfully completing the online program, their journey continued in Switzerland. During their 4 months stay, Laura and her startup profited a lot from the European entrepreneurial ecosystem and were able to develop their business case around their MVP. Concentrating on just one thing helped them improve their startup and themselves, which made them grow exponentially as soon as they got back to LatAm. Through the feedback and mentoring they got in Switzerland, they now understand their business better and started selling a different story to their customers. According to Laura, START changed her mindset and made their startup transition from an academic project to a real business. She describes the trip to Berlin as one of the breaking points, where they could benefit massively from the strong ecosystem and got a lot of inspiration for their startup.
Laura has always believed in her solution and further trusts that, with rapid testing getting more and more accepted by the general public, the time for their solution is now. As soon as they get their products FDA-approved, they might also expand to Europe. However, they want to have more of a local impact at the moment and focus on solving the problems in Colombia first. The situation there is way more challenging and the impact of Hem in LatAm can be much bigger than in Europe.