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A Microfluidic Valley Is Growing in Europe, and You’re Invited

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The Elvesys project came to life in 2008 inside the microfluidic laboratory of one of the oldest French research institutions: The ENS Paris. It started with three young researchers who were passionate about microfluidics, and willing to give a new lease of life to their research through entrepreneurship and created Elvesys SAS. The concurrence was tough, and creating the company was not easy. Guilhem Velvé Casquillas, CEO, chose to stay independent from venture capital investors. This freedom meant working day and night (and occasionally sleeping in the office) in order to sustain the company. After much perseverance (and four financial defeats) the OB1 microfludic flow controller was finally introduced to the market – an immediate success!

Elvesys is an innovative, self-funded company that started the commercialization of microfluidic instrumentation in 2011, by creating the Elveflow brand. In just four years, Elveflow became the world leader of high-performance microfluidic flow control – doubling its turnover every nine months along the way. Elveflow can be found in laboratories worldwide (including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Google, Facebook, Nokia, Bayer, and Philipps).

Birth of the Elvesys Innovation Unit

Last year, the Elvesys Innovation Unit was born, the purpose of which is to promote the development of microfluidic lab-on-chip systems by participating in international research collaborations. Of all French companies, The Elvesys Innovation Unit participates in the largest number of European Union-funded research projects!

All funding received from the EU is invested into research projects. Thus, the Innovation Unit is not-for-profit, but for research and innovation. Starting with seven employees on 15 m2 in 2011, Elvesys has now 300 m2 of laboratory space at its disposition and nearly 50 researchers from around the world developing tools for biotechnology based on our expertise in microfluidics.

The Elvelsys Innovation Unit is setting up its own cell culture laboratory, to enable on-site testing of developed systems. The main focus lies in the development of organ-on-chip systems, given their vision of the great potential for these devices in the future. Not only would organ-on-chip systems allow an automatization of cell culture experiments, but they would also limit the use of animals in drug testing. 

Freedom to explore opportunities in microfluidics

Unlike other companies specializing in this field, who mainly focus on drug screening, our PhDs and postdocs have the unique opportunity to develop systems independently of each other. This is possible due to the separate funding of different research projects, and enables them to explore different compositions, materials and applications.

Some examples of the projects that are underway include a liver-on-chip device for regenerative medicine research, a multi-organ-device for drug testing, and a neuron-on-chip device for neuroscience. A schematic representation of a “breathing” lung-on-chip device developed by Lisa Muiznieks, postdoc at Elvesys, is shown in Figure 1. 

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the lung-on-chip model currently developed by Lisa Muiznieks, postdoc at Elvesys, based on the model by Huh et al. (2010) Science 328, 1662-8. Her mission is to study the composition of the semi-permeable membrane that is separating the alveolar airway compartment from the blood vessel compartment. A. Left: Schematic of compiled lung on chip (top and bottom pieces overlaid and separated along the purple section by a thin, semi-permeable membrane, not shown). Middle: 'bottom’ piece – pink channel: blood vessel mimic, yellow: side vacuum chambers. Right: ‘top’ piece – blue channel: alveolar airway mimic, yellow: side vacuum chambers; must be flipped over to mirror bottom piece. B.  Cross section through the lung-on-chip model. By applying vacuum to the side chambers, the membrane (green) stretches out and mimics breathing.

Apply for project funding and boost the technological revolution!

The goal of The Elvesys Innovation Unit is to create affordable, standardized, easy-to-use devices for researchers, to enable the automatization of their experiments.

We therefore invite motivated PhD or Postdoc candidates to apply together with us for project funding if they have innovative ideas and would like to develop them with us. In the ideal case, their research will give rise to new companies or new products.

But we don’t want to stop here!

Nowadays, the situation in Europe regarding the inception and support of startup companies is different from the US. The US invest billions of dollars into their startup community, and have thus created a functional ecosystem. In Europe, despite heavy investment, the startup ecosystem is less developed.

At Elvesys, we want to unite the forces of young entrepreneurs in France and together, create a functional ecosystem that promotes entrepreneurship and the valorization of research results. Since its creation in 2011, 10 new companies have been created on our site. All of those companies follow the same principles, and together, they present the Microfluidic Valley.

We hope that one day the Microfluidic Valley will be as well-known and successful as the Silicon Valley! Here, all efforts are focused on topics relevant to human life quality, like promoting research on human life span extension (Long Long Life), help in the detection of viruses in biodefense (BforCure) or develop fast and cost-efficient water purification systems (Eden Microfluidics).

An overview of the companies of the Microfluidic Valley today is presented in Figure 2. Researchers and entrepreneurs from around the world who have an innovative idea are welcome to join the Microfluidic Valley, where they will find the necessary support to make their dream of creating their own company come true.

Let’s start the next technological revolution in Europe – together!

To learn about Elveflow and the Microfluidic Valley, check out their respective websites.

Figure 2. Overview of the companies of the Microfluidic Valley (March 2019)

nb: The VW bus that the three founders of Elvesys used for traveling around Europe and present their project in the beginning of the company creation can still be found on the Microfluidic Valley website, if one looks closely ;)