My Antler journey—driving the psychedelics revolution

A conversation with Rafael Alain Rolli, bioengineer and entrepreneur.

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Antler

The investor backing the world's most driven founders, from day zero to greatness. Enabling thousands of founders every year to launch and scale companies that move the world forward.

Hi Rafael, welcome to Antler. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Hi! I was born in Mexico but have been living in Switzerland for the past 11 years. I hold a BSc and an MSc. from EPFL in bioengineering with a specialization in biomechanics. I never thought I'd be choosing the entrepreneurial journey, but different things led me to be working in the cannabis industry first and now in the field of medical psychedelics.

What made you decide to leave your job in the cannabis industry and pursue entrepreneurship?

I chose to leave the job because at one point I was looking forward to the weekend and dreading Mondays. Monday mornings I stopped learning. So when I stopped growing and when I stopped learning, I figured it was time for me to try something new. I had a big debate with myself if I wanted to go through the route of studying and doing a Ph.D., and it didn't last a lot because I didn't want to stay in academia and I wanted to have a real impact on the industry. I always knew that I wanted to work. The decision to pursue entrepreneurship came because I wanted to lead the boat and not just be a follower.

How did you come across Antler and what made you apply?

Well, I wasn't aware of the existence of Antler until one of your newly recruited Investment Associates, Tom called me out of the blue one day and told me that he was working with Antler. At the same time, I was deciding whether to pivot my idea and looking also for some grants from the university. So everything came together at the same time, and Tom invited me to apply for it. I checked what Antler was and it looked really, really interesting. So it never crossed my head twice, and I applied straight after.

So, the first aspect that convinced me to apply was the environment and really getting out of my comfort zone and saying that, OK, now it's time to go through the entrepreneurial journey outside of what you think could be safe beyond the borders of a university. And the second thing is that with my co-founder, Federico, who is also part of the Antler Cohort, we have been looking quite extensively for a third co-founder to add to the team. And one of the, if not the biggest reason, why we decided to come here was to get in touch with different people and to hopefully find a co-founder that was aligned with our values.

How has your experience at Antler been so far?

I have to say I was a little bit skeptical at the beginning because they put together 50 people that don't know each other and they have 10 weeks to come out with a company for the investment committee. And I was like, how the hell are we going to do that? But from the beginning, Antler told us to trust the process, and I've been trusting the process since day one and have been meeting many interesting people. Each individual I meet, I understand why they are in the cohort. Being surrounded by these founders, and the support that is given from the Antler team from day one makes it much easier to move forward. They're here with you. They want you to succeed and they do everything in their power to do for you and your company to succeed.

Did you manage to find your third co-founder?

Federico & I came to Antler with an already strong bond. So we knew that sometimes it's hard for a third person to enter our circle. However, we were positively surprised with how people reacted and how people were open to it and willing to bring their expertise to our idea. Through talking to different founders, we found Carlo who perfectly complements Federico's and my skills on a career level and personal level.

What is your startup about?

The startup is in the medical psychedelic space. The active compounds found in things like the magic mushrooms have been studied for a lot of mental health conditions, such as PTSD, depression and anxiety. We're aiming to become a leading manufacturing platform for these compounds, using state-of-the-art synthetic biology techniques. Therefore, bypassing completely the use of plants or mushrooms or any organic source. We are very excited by our recent developments and can't wait to share more with you.

What do you think about the startup ecosystem in Switzerland and what would you say are the reasons for entrepreneurs from Switzerland to join Antler?

There's a lot of technologies being developed every day in Switzerland, but there's a hard time going from transferring the technology outside the lab to the industry. So a lot of people are, um, they are scared of doing that. One of the reasons why Antler is an amazing choice is that it is providing really this early-stage part of the startup journey. More people in Switzerland should be aware of this and apply it because they can actually learn the skills needed to get out of the academic work with their inventions and apply it to something much more concrete, which could be a startup. So, I would definitely recommend everyone who's from the Swiss ecosystem to give it a go, at least apply and see what happens.

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