IAG Innovator Highlight: One Scientist’s Quest to Change the World

Dr. Mauro Rebelo has been a scientist his entire life. From a very young age, he had a vision of changing the world by solving not simply diagnosing, real problems. However, after a decade of working in academia he was less than satisfied. That is when he decided to become an entrepreneur. Little did he know entrepreneurship was much more difficult than laboratory research.

At the time, with no idea of what to do, Mauro decided to enroll in Brazil’s newest entrepreneurship accelerators. Since then, Mauro participated in five other national and international programs. They were teaching him how to build a business plan and pitch to VCs but he found himself frustrated because nothing made sense to him: even though the model was logical, the data was simply not accurate.  

VCs and mentors kept telling Mauro he needed to create a business plan. They said, “a business plan will tell you how to launch to market.” But, they never explained the process of validating those claims. As a scientist, this process did not make sense. He felt defeated because no one could answer his golden question. 

Talk about frustration! 

At the lab, in his natural habitat, Mauro was able to build three new prototypes simultaneously. He was most proud of a prototype that could remove heavy metals from wastewater. It worked – at least in a test tube – and it could have a real impact in mining and wastewater treatment.

The chance for success was visible, but he knew he needed to find a better method for deciding what research projects to continue scaling and which ones to discard.

After 7 years of battling with how to bring his ground-breaking biotechnology research to market, Mauro signed his team up for one last accelerator experience with IAG – our Scaling Startup Ecosystems Accelerator. Within the first two minutes of his first presentation, he knew that he was getting closer to uncovering his golden question. IAG’s instructors urged Mauro to find a scalable business by following a systematic process similar to the scientific method, which he loves so dearly.

 “This course had such a strong influence on me,” Mauro explained in our interview, “it brought together all my previous experiences as an entrepreneur and made everything make sense.” Like Mauro, many other scientists around the world were experiencing similar pains. Mauro explained, “business plans are worthless and fictitious – I always felt that way, and your course helped reinforce that it’s true! It’s all about the Business Model Canvas. I use the canvas for everything now. Every assumption is a hypothesis – all you have to do is get out of the building and talk to people. Then, once you validate your ideas, you can use them as a metric for getting to the next step.”  The act of ‘Getting Out Of The Building’ was not new to Mauro, but with the use of the Business Model Canvas, Mauro was better able to consolidate his ideas. This allowed for prioritization of his tasks and validation that the market was big enough and there was a consumer need.

 As the founder, most of Mauro’s ideas influence his employees and other researchers. By participating in the customer interviews and articulating his value proposition in layman’s terms, Mauro was able to build a clear vision by validating his own ideas, which in turn has helped him become a better team leader.

 “Your course showed me that there is no easy way,” Mauro exclaimed. “There is not a magic process, nor is it about inspiration – it’s about transformation! And now that I have the client discovery method in my toolbox… nothing can stop me!”

Two months after graduating from IAG, Mauro’s new enterprise, The Digital Forest won the global innovation award of the Eisenhower Fellowships, a US based organization devoted to leadership and innovation.