Interview with Nikolina Lauc, CEO of GlycanAge

Find out what inspired mission-driven entrepreneur Nikolina Lauc to be the first investor in GlycanAge, and why she believes glycobiology is such an important tool.

What’s your career background?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur. Literally, for as long as I can remember I have had small ventures. When I was 18, I founded my first company focused on graphic design and events management. And later on while in university, I started my first bigger venture, a SaaS peer-to-peer platform for travel.

This was my focus for a good number of years and after successfully scaling it, I transitioted to biotech where together with my father who’s a scientist and researcher I co-founded GlycanAge.

I was also the first investor in GlycanAge which was detrimental in a world where investment in women-led startups is still around 2%. So I think you need to invest in yourself and of course believe in yourself, so after scaling my previous company, I decided to take another risk by putting everything into GlycanAge.

What is glycobiology?

Glycobiology is the biology of sugars but not the sugars you would think of usually but the sugars that have evolved as a language and determine how our biology works beyond our genes. Glycans have evolved to enable multicellular life and they enable cell-to-cell communication.

All biological processes after multi-cell life are mediated by glycans – it’s the most complex and the most information-dense data set we have in our biology that we haven’t yet utilized for what it has the most promise which is preventative, personalized healthcare

In simple words, glycans are something in between our genes and what’s happening to our biology throughout life. So, they’re the perfect tool to show us what’s happening in our body through time.

What does GlycanAge do?

GlycanAge right now is a biological age test that looks at the health of your immune system and chronic inflammation, which is one of these big pillars of ageing. Our test is easy to use and could be done in the comfort of your home and paired with a one-on-one personalised consultation give you more than your result but a clear and actionable plan on how to improve your health.

Of course, this is our product today because we are still in the wellness space. But we have a number of different biomarkers where we can specifically say that an individual is heading towards hypertension, CVD, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and many other conditions based on their glycosylation pattern, 10 years ahead of time.

So these are the future products we’re working on where healthcare could be very holistic. We can measure things that are declining from early on and optimize them to prolong our healthspan.

Why are you passionate about this business?

I’m passionate about this business for many reasons.

Firstly, I’m passionate about the science which is brilliant. It took me ages to open up to learning about it first because I didn’t study biology. But second because this was the field of work of my parents. And, you know, you always kind of judge your parents and you’re very critical and I really didn’t get it until I fully started to understand the biology.

This is when I realized, oh my father is not crazy – he’s brilliant. He’s actually uncovered something that the rest of the world is not seeing yet, which is really the future of how we do healthcare, and with GlycanAge I am continuing his legacy.

So I think that is a responsibility. But also it’s a perfect match for my personality because I’ve got tired of business for the sake of business or just for making money. I come from a very scientific family where everyone is motivated by everything else apart from money. If anything, they’ll work for free and they do when they can. So I just kind of always had this side of me and for whatever reason, some sort of survival to control my own environment.

But the truth is I love working on things where the money doesn’t matter. And once I moved from tech to biotech and to GlycanAge, it really feels like I am working on something bigger than money and profits. I have a mission.

What’s your entrepreneur journey been like so far?

Entrepreneurship journeys are always hard and since I’ve had multiple ventures I have had all the hard lessons. What I think it that if you have any vulnerabilities, anything you need to work on, psychologically and even physically, this will get challenged in entrepreneurship. So you have a choice to grow or to give up.

With my first business when I was at 18, we ran out of money within six months. I was probably depressed for two years after that and I have never had a business run out of money ever since. So that lesson was incredibly valuable and did pay off in the long run.

With my second venture, I learnt the importance of finding the right partners and the right team. As no matter whether the business is making money, if you don’t have a good partner, you don’t have a safety net and you cannot grow and scale successfully. So ever since, I have been very careful and committed to finding people I trust and building fair partnerships.

And now with this business, it’s constant ups and downs as what we are trying to achieve is just incredibly hard. My dad often makes the analogy that if sequencing the genome was going to the moon, then analysing the human glycome is like going to Mars. It’s a very demanding field where it literally takes decades and decades to build upon technology that’s been developed in science and to integrate it within the very rigid and and slow healthcare system.

You’ve recently completed a successful seed funding round. What did you learn from this about raising investment?

So at the beginning of my previous businesses, they were all self-funded. You start with some capital, build a product, reinvest everything to improve it and scale it and ultimately reach profitability.

Now raising outside capital was a completely different processes as we are building something for the long-run and not something that would make profit in a few months or an year. It’s about what can we do in 10 years versus what we can do in months or a year or two if you’re raising for the right investors for, for this type of thing.

And when we started fundraising, I had never pitched a business before, never looked for outside funding. And I think I received around 300 ‘No’-s. And a lot of that had to do with my pitching and me not having experience on how to build the right narrative for investors. And I think now we probably get one in three people we talk to offer us money. But it takes a lot of resilience to get through the 300 ‘No’-s.

And I learnt quickly and learnt on to go, by pitching, talking to investors and continuously getting feedback. And if you learn that way, that just means you have to keep trying and trying and failing and failing until you succeed.

Why do you think the longevity industry is growing in popularity, and why is it important?

So we got into this field by complete accident, we stumbled on to this aging biomarker over 10 years ago. And my dad told me that he can measure aging when I was 19 years old. I’m 32 now.

So back then, longevity didn’t really exist as a market or it was incredibly tiny, people just didn’t think about it in that way. They weren’t thinking about the processes that lead to ageing, to disease development. And they didn’t consider that delaying them would mean we can delay a whole cascade of issues versus firefight once we have issues. But now longevity is here.

It’s very vocal, it’s absolutely everywhere and that’s great. We’re at the right time now. But this technology and the science started a very, very long time ago and has been a very, very long process to get to the technology we have now to utilize on the promise of longevity.

What kind of changes have people made to their lives after using your company? (Thinking interesting customer stories if you have any!)

We hear so many interesting and inspiring customer stories every da. You can read some here:

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs considering raising funding?

Firstly, I would if you’re pitching to VCs you need to know they have this long term vision, so you need to make sure that you are aiming at something big with huge potential. And even if you get to half of that, it’s a billion trillion dollar market. But the end goal of it is just tremendous. So you have to think way bigger than if you were ever thinking about having a small profitable lifestyle business, which, which is what I’ve had before.

And of course, the odds are against you in many scenarios if you’re a woman, if you’re a minority. But you shouldn’t let that affect your psychology because if you’re walking into a room and you think that you’re at a disadvantage, you’re kind of making that true because you walk in with self doubt and you’re thinking that everybody is judging you.

So I think you have to walk in believing that you are not at a disadvantage. If anything, you most probably have way more to offer than the ‘average’ startup founder. But still you just have to accept that there will be a lot of people who may miss on the opportunity because they are biased and biases take time to change which does require a bit more resilience. So, don’t take it personally.

Find out more about GlycanAge.