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Sano Genetics founder: Settling for the wrong funding can ‘torpedo’ your startup

Sano Genetics founder Charlotte Guzzo Image credit: Sano Genetics / UKTN

Charlotte Guzzo is the co-founder and COO of Sano Genetics, a healthtech startup that connects patients that have rare and chronic diseases with personalised medicine providers.

Sano Genetics’ platform lets patients with rare and chronic conditions, such as Parkinson’s, contribute to precision medicine research at no cost and from home. It charges a subscription to its pharma, biotech and population health clients.

Its aim is to accelerate the development of treatments for chronic and rare genetic diseases that affect millions of people around the world.

Guzzo founded Sano Genetics in 2017 alongside two fellow postgraduate students of genomics: Patrick Short (CEO) and William Jones (CTO).

The company has raised £11.3m ($14.9m) in funding, including an £8.4m Series A funding round in March 2022, and received several innovation grants. The Cambridge-based company currently employs 45 people.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Guzzo explains how settling for the wrong funding offer can “torpedo a startup”, why you should “over-communicate” to your team, and how Sano Genetics is using ChatGPT to reduce manual tasks.

1. What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?

Charlotte Guzzo: A common mistake is to accept the first investment offered, or settle for an offer that doesn’t feel quite right for lack of a better option. But the long-term effect of this can be worse than fundraising again: it can torpedo a startup.

The very first people investing in your business are going to have a pretty strong influence – both in terms of how the next funding rounds are structured and in terms of advice and introductions.

Some investors are hands-off and some are more hands-on but, ultimately, they need to trust you and what you’re doing. Your conversations should feel productive. Be selective and research interested parties by speaking to other founders who’ve worked with them.

2. How do you motivate your team?

CG: Hire the right people, by which I mean people who genuinely believe in what you’re trying to achieve as a company, feel driven by it, and can show that in the interview process.

After that, the key is to over-communicate. It’s so easy as a leader to just live in your own head and forget to talk to your team, or to never show vulnerability.

On a company level, celebrate the wins, communicate the vision, clearly set out the objectives and make sure everybody relates to them. Through engagement surveys and one-to-ones, try to understand what motivates each individual and how that fits in with the trajectory of the company.

3. In another life you would be?

CG: Before I got into science, I loved writing and wrote quite prolifically so, in another life, I would be a fiction writer. But before we started Sano I was doing a PhD at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, looking at genetics in the context of embryonic origins of childhood cancer.

Generally speaking, I have always had an interest in paediatrics so I would probably have continued down that path and gone into paediatric medicine research if we hadn’t started the business.

4. Excluding your sector, which nascent tech holds the most promise?

CG: I’m genuinely excited about the future of AI. At Sano, we’ve been blown away by how ChatGPT has helped us significantly reduce our manual task load. We recently held a hackathon within the team to look at how we could use AI more widely, and so many different use cases emerged.

It’s fascinating to see how different brains find creative new applications for it. Of course, we have to assume it’s only the beginning and AI algorithms will become a lot more refined. There is a lot there that’s potentially world-changing.

5. How do you prevent burnout?

CG: As a founder scaling a company I’ve certainly battled with burnout. I’ve learnt that it’s not just a symptom of a difficult work-life balance, but the amount of pressure we heap on ourselves in a sustained way.

Having two young children who don’t care what’s been going on at work helps. They demand my full attention and give me a healthy amount of perspective. When I’m with them, work issues seem smaller. I’m also a more effective leader when I can tackle problems with some level of detachment from the emotional stress. Good sleep, diet and exercise give me the physical stamina to withstand the ups and downs, too.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.