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X-STORIES | Nicolas Caleca | Co-Founder & CSO of Hillo


Behind the human

Can you introduce yourself in a few words? What has been your background?

My name is Nicolas Caleca, I am an engineer graduated from the Ecole Polytechnique. I first worked in the energy sector, at Areva, on the subject of naval propulsion, for nearly 6 years. Then I joined the technical department of an engineering firm, which gave me the opportunity to learn about different sectors of activity and to develop commercial and project management skills.


What made you want to start a business? What was your path to entrepreneurship? Did you grow up in a family of entrepreneurs?

I met my partner Stéphane when I was working in an engineering firm. He was then the sales manager of one of the agencies, and we worked together to create and sell offers to our clients. We were asked to set up the firm’s Chinese subsidiary together, to think about its business model… it made us want to do business together. There was no entrepreneur in my family.


What does entrepreneurship mean to you (in one word/one sentence)?

Necessary risk taking. Everyone has ideas, but fewer people are willing to take the risk of entrepreneurship to bring them to life and make a difference… and yet our society needs these people.


In your opinion, what does it take to be a good entrepreneur?

I think that the first quality is to know how to federate around your project. You have to know how to convince investors, future employees, customers, the regulatory world, etc. To bring these players together and involve them, you really have to be able to bring them together.


Do you have a role model when it comes to entrepreneurship? A mentor ? Someone who inspires you in your approach whether he/she is an entrepreneur or not? And why?

A lot of people idealise Steve Jobs or Elon Musk who are entrepreneurial geniuses, but I wouldn’t say I have a model,because Hillo is a company that operates in a specific sector and with completely different goals.


There’s always going to be people saying it’s not the right time and it’s going to be complicated. I think we have to go for it anyway. Nicolas Caleca, co-founder and CSO of hillo.


Behind the startup

Can you introduce us to your startup? How did you get the idea? What problem does it address?

We have loved ones with diabetes and we wanted to improve the lives of people affected by this condition. We developed Hillo, a solution designed to predict future changes in patients’ blood sugar levels based on artificial intelligence, because we lacked a tool capable of anticipating hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemia and helping patients make therapeutic decisions. This information is then made available in an application.


What were the major stages you went through in the development of your startup? What were the difficulties you had to overcome?

When you create a startup, you have a weekly calendar, so there are a lot of steps. I think the most important milestones are the successes in the progress of the project: entering an incubation program like X-Up, the first fundraising, the first recruitment, the first doctor you’ve convinced, the first awards… In terms of the difficulties encountered, we had to find a viable business model, which at one point meant pivoting and readjusting our offer. There is also the fact of cumulating functions because an entrepreneur is at the same time HR, accountant, project manager, salesperson, communicator… it was necessary to learn to master each of these aspects.


Can you tell us about your experience at the Polytechnique Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center? How did the center benefit your startup?

We spent a year and a half within X-Up: 6 months in the ‘pre-incubation’ phase and then twice 6 months to really follow the Incubation program, which is specific to the health sector in which related projects often take longer to develop. There was a real spirit of promotion within X-Up that was not found elsewhere. This makes it possible to build strong relationships with other startups that face the same problems as us and with whom we can help each other. The Incubation Program also allowed us to structure our project and define a viable business plan, thanks to various workshops that allowed us to learn the codes of the startup and entrepreneurship universe.


How is belonging to the X startup community important for your startup?

Welding startups and X-Up entrepreneurs together works well on several levels. First of all, there is a real community, a system of mentoring with startups that have gone before us and therefore have a feedback to share. I also think that the X-Up label, heir to the aura of the school, opens new doors with different actors and that’s a real asset.


Any advice for an entrepreneur who would like to get started?

When you have a good idea and you believe in it, you have to go for it. There will always be people saying that it’s not the right time, that it’s going to be too complicated, that it’s already been done… I think you have to be aware of the risks and the stakes and have your head on your shoulders, but still accept that part of naivety that allows you to go ahead anyway. And perhaps most importantly, what I would have liked to be reminded of from time to time, even if it’s obvious: you also have to know how to listen to critics because there’s often some truth in it.