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Today on Episode #6 of The Sage Executive Podcast, join our host Fernando Corona and his guest, Erik Gatenholm, as they talk about how to build your business with passionate people. Erik is the CEO and founder of Cellink, a global bioprinting leader working on developing technologies for researchers to print human tissues and organs. Basically, they take human bioink and use it as the resource to produce human cells, which are currently used for testing purposes with drugs, cosmetic products, and developing new treatments. During the podcast, Erik shares his take on managing a business in a unique field and making a change. Stay tuned, and enjoy the podcast!
The Founder’s Dilemma
How do you find people that are as passionate as you are (or at least somewhat passionate) about what you do? Is that even possible for building a business? It is, but it takes a lot of work to know someone just through a few interview processes. Previous experiences and references are one thing, but those don’t tell someone’s passions. You have to work next to people and observe them when they’re comfortable to understand who they are. What do they do in their spare time? What hobbies do they have? For instance, programmers that spend time in the community build their own software at home, building programming robots, or any passion project. Even with finance people, you want to see them organize their personal financial planning, and not doing their job only because you’re paying them!
Sticking to Your Story
For Erik, one of the most important things for him to keep in mind is being persistent about why he started. He has to stick to his story. Cellink began as one of the first bioink companies that did it first. This beginning has been hugely important because everything that they do revolves around this material. They’re able to help build the future of the medical community. Each step of the process, from interviewing, pitching to investors, or even speaking at podcasts, needs to be in line with the story and the reason why Erik started the company. If you have a business born out of your desire to help others, make a change in the world, or simply give a service that seems to be missing, stick to that reason. Additionally, as much as you don’t need to rock the universe like Amazon and Tesla, you also don’t have to be a CEO to have a story worth fighting for!
“You don’t have to change the world like Tesla does, but you’re changing the world one way or another as an entrepreneur. It’s important to stay true to that.” – Erik Gatenholm. Catch him on this episode from The Sage Executive Podcast!
About Erik Gatenholm:
Erik Gatenholm is a dynamic American entrepreneur who is leveraging his passion for sales, marketing, and lifesciences to create the future of medicine. Gatenholm is the co-founder and CEO of CELLINK – the world’s leading 3D-bioprinting technology company – where he and his team created the first universal bioink in 2016. Today, CELLINK designs state-of-the-art lifescience technologies to support world-renowned research institutions in over 900 labs across more than 50 countries. CELLINK’s current customers include esteemed organizations like Harvard, MIT, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and the FDA.
At 28 years old, Gatenholm has been recognized worldwide for his work as an entrepreneur and for the rising success of CELLINK. His tireless spirit quickly distinguished CELLINK in the field and led him to become the face of the entire 3D-bioprinting industry. Honoring his groundbreaking success, prodigious talent and innovative ambitions, Forbes selected Gatenholm among hundreds of thousands of nominees to join the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 class of 2018. In addition to this, Gatenholm has been awarded numerous awards such as MIT Review 35 Under 35, Innovator of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 and many more. With a growing team of about 200 engineers, scientists and professionals, his mission to change the future of medicine is well on its way to industry disruption.
Outline of the Episode:
- Printing body tissues and organs. How is that possible?
- The inspiration behind this amazing venture – a lack of leadership.
- Measuring the passion from the people you look to bring in.
- Different clients to such a business.
- Producing bio-ink themselves.
- Persistence and staying true to your story.
- Sage Executive Recommendations.
- Finding a mentor, how important is it?
- Netflix and chill. It’s simple, but it works!
- Erik Gatenholm’s LinkedIn
- Cellink Website
- Company Facebook
- Company Instagram
- Company Twitter
- Company LinkedIn
Connect with The Sage Executive Podcast!
- Website: https://www.flyingvgroup.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/flyingvgroup
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/flyingvgroup
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/flying-v-group/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flyingvgroup/
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC392lHtfhrWgJWG68huueQA
Building a Business with Passionate People Transcription
Fernando Corona: Hey everyone, welcome back to the Sage Executive Podcast, we got a special guest today and I’m excited to introduce him. So without further adieu, please go ahead and share with us what’s your name? What do you do?
Erik Gatenholm: Hi, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be on air. My name is Erik Gatenholm. I’m the CEO and co-founder at Cellink, a global bioprinting leader working on developing technologies for researchers to print human tissues and organs.
Fernando Corona: So can you expand a little bit on that when you’re saying they print tissues and organs? is he like off of real cells or is this synthetic in any way?
Erik Gatenholm: It’s a really good question. So it’s, it’s all with human cells. So what scientists essentially are doing is that they’re using a 3d printer or a bio printer, which is what we’re, we’ve developed a novel ink or like it bio ink, and then they’re using humans. And they mix the human cells inside of this tank, and then they print out the structure. So for instance, if you want to print a human ear or a human kidney in the future, you would have to mix these kidney specific cells with a kidney specific material, and then print out the blueprint using the 3d printer.
Fernando Corona: And as of right now, what, to what degree has it been used? Is it primary like the animal phase? Or is it actually being used in humans? Or how’s it working right now?
Erik Gatenholm: It’s a great, great question. So the field has been moving really fast the last couple of years. I mean, this technology has been around for about 15-18 years. Starting at the University of Clemson very, very novel technology, a professor realized how to essentially print human cells using a regular HP or a compact printer. And then so fast forward to now pharmaceutical companies, researchers, academic institutions are using this technology. to essentially print out small pieces of human tissue and then they’re using that printed tissue to test drugs or develop cosmetic products, or develop new treatments. So it’s a really, really exciting field where we can essentially reduce the use of animals by providing these researchers with the printed human tissue that can then be used for the testing process.
Fernando Corona: Yeah, and was from your end. Was there any inspiration in you know, being a part of this and the development what why did you kind of decide hey, you know, there’s, there’s a space here a challenge and something you wanted to pick up.
Erik Gatenholm: So, I was introduced to this through a few researchers that were working at a university and also my father. So he’s a professor in biomaterials. He had been working in this field for quite some time along with his colleagues, but I realized that this field was moving very, very slowly. There was no, there was no leader in this field, no company that was essentially pioneering and providing a complete package solution. So if you look at, for instance, conventional 3d printing, you have 3d printing companies to provide the printers, they provide the filaments, the plastics, and then typically also in the models, but in the bar printing field that didn’t exist when I started. And I think I brought that previous knowledge and inspiration to this industry and essentially enabled these researchers research to get all of this from my company instead of having to go out to multiple different sources to buy all of these different types of products. So we took an opportunity, I mean, it was an opportunistic approach. We essentially bundled everything and became a one stop shop for all bioprinting needs.
Fernando Corona: Yeah, and I think you guys received like the startup of 2020 across multiple platforms. So it’s just fairly recent or what tells us a little bit about that. And we can go to the second question from there you can kind of share, you know, what’s been the best thing about being a leader, and especially when you’re getting these types of accolades.
Erik Gatenholm: I think those accolades, and those prizes are super important, I mean for the entire team, and we’re very, very thankful and humbled to receive these awards. I think what has brought us here and why we’ve been so successful is essentially we are very passionate about what we’re doing. We understand that we’ve been presented or provided an opportunity where we can, we can change people’s lives, we can provide technologies that will essentially change healthcare for the next coming decades and generations. And you know, having that mission as a company, it makes it very important for us to essentially go to work every day to wake up and have that purpose. So as being a leader for this organization in this venture, it’s of course important to find out other individuals that are equally passionate or even more passionate about what they’re doing, passionate about patients and healthcare and the health of other people and see people grow. I mean, I love the fact I think one of the greatest things about being a leader is being able to bring on board individuals. And coach and mentor them, and bring out the best of people when they work together.
Fernando Corona: That’s awesome. And how are you? What do you do when you actually are determining when to bring somebody like that on, how do you actually gauge passion or gauge the qualities that you might be looking for in your leadership team or just when you’re doing a normal hire?
Erik Gatenholm: It’s a really good question, because I think that that’s the founder’s dilemma right? Or as part of the founder’s dilemma. How do you find people that are equally passionate about what you do, or or at least somewhat passionate about what you do? And that’s typically quite tough to find out three interview processes. I mean, your interview process is quite stiff, you talk about previous experience, reference, things like that. But it’s so important to work next to people and see people in, perhaps they’re more comfortable or in a hobby environment, and understand what to do during their spare time. So for instance, programmers that spend time in the community that are building their own software at home, they’re spending time programming robots, and they’re really passionate about the technology they’re working with. Those are the winners, those are the ones that we want to work with. finance people who love organizing their own financial planning, ride, do their own financial organizing, etc, etc. You start to kind of understand where these people are, what they’re passionate about.
Fernando Corona: Got it. Got it. All right, no, thank you for that. The third question I want to bring in here. I mean, I know I’m asking multiple questions inside the questions. So I do hear from other execs, sometimes acquiring clients involves so many different types of strategies. In your case, I mean, what are your clients? And then what are the different strategies you’ve seen that work to go after them?
Erik Gatenholm: So, so, client acquisition, definitely, you’re definitely touching on probably the most important subject in the entrepreneurs lifestyle and, and part of growing any business client acquisition, for me as the most important part about my entire day or essentially everything I do. I find most of my clients either in academic institutions such as professors, at all the universities around the nations or Harvard, MIT, you name it, essentially any school that has a biomaterials or, or life sciences or cell culturing department. Could be an interesting client for me, and that’s the type of client that I would reach out to and strike off the cover. Same thing with pharma companies and biotech businesses. You know, the biotech or pharma companies are working on developing new treatments. They’re either doing animal trials or clinical trials, those are the type of clients that we want to work with.
Fernando Corona: Well yeah, and and you guys are I mean positioned to scale to whatever level so it’s, are you producing the machinery and the actual like product, what do you call the material? It’s not a plastic with what would you call that?
Erik Gatenholm: It’s a bio ink, an ink made out of the bio material, and we produce everything in house. And that’s kind of one of the strengths of our company, we have everything under the same roof. So manufacturing of the systems in the bank, we have the experts to scientists that develop these products, marketing, sales, finance, you know, essentially the entire development cycle from an idea to a to a finished manufactured good. And then delivery to the end user. It’s all in house. Yeah, it’s all in house. And I think the reason for that was from the early days, we realized quite early that outsourcing this to China or somewhere else, it’s actually going to take us much longer because we have to establish that network we have to establish yourself in in the country that we want to outsource to get a good grasp of, of how to Austin how much training we have to provide these people that will take over a manufacturing just makes sense to do it ourselves.
Fernando Corona: Yeah. And going off that I know you’ve mentioned a few things now that can be extremely helpful to other founders or execs in their roles. But any specific advice that you would want to share given you know what, what you’ve kind of gone through and what you’re going through?
Erik Gatenholm: Yeah, I think one of the most important things that I try to keep in mind is of course the persistence and continuously stick to the idea right how important that story is, and how important Stay stick to your founder story. We started as a, essentially one of the first bioprinting companies in the world. But we started as the first bio ink companies, the ones that made the first materials. And that has been hugely important because everything we do revolves around this material. And as a company, what we’re enabling for the community is to create the future of medicine. So it’s so important all the way from interviews with new colleagues to, to pitching at to investors, or speaking at podcasts, or whatever it is. It’s so important to continue to stay true to that story of the reason why you started the company, and how you’re changing the world. You don’t have to change the world like Tesla does, or you have to change the world like Amazon does. But you’re changing the world one way or another as an entrepreneur. It’s important to stay true to that.
Fernando Corona: Yeah, I mean, in your case, PETA would love you guys, right? We should you should go with them and help have them you know help you do a marketing push PR like you don’t you no longer need to torture animals you just go Come over here you know, let’s talk to Erik and his team so absolutely well on that you know, other top leaders just you know like yourself that you’d like to acknowledge on our podcasts that you think hey, these are these are people that you bring on you pick their brains you get you know them to share what they’ve gone through. Absolutely.
Erik Gatenholm: Yeah. So one exact thing that I would really recommend is Dr. Bahia Jellal. She’s at she used to be at medimmune now she’s at a company called immuno court really really cool executive she been the CEO for for medimmune a couple of thousand people company for quite some time. And she is An important mentor to myself. I spent a lot of time learning from her. I think your entire community would learn a lot from listening to her advice. I mean, she knows essentially how to establish a functioning management team, you know how to structure town hall meetings, how to approach an organization, so have thousands of employees and still, essentially penetrate organization with a holistic culture that everybody can, can work towards and a vision that ensures that everybody works towards the same goal. Yeah, and you really should be the leader.
Fernando Corona: Great, and you mentioned that she’s a mentor of yours. How do you go about finding a mentor like that to help you in your role?
Erik Gatenholm: That’s an interesting path specifically to allow doctors. So about two years ago, I was accepted into a fellowship. So this was actually The Prince of Sweden, he accepted me into his fellowship, essentially, 14 people, 14 entrepreneurs were accepted as the prince of Sweden, the prince of Sweden, so this fellowship, really, really cool community. But they accepted me into it. And in this fellowship, they pair you up with a mentor. So this could be a CEO of a blogger at a huge biotech or pharma company or whichever industry that you’re operating in. So they paired me up with Dr. Jello, and at that time, she was medimmune, which is owned by AstraZeneca. Now, and that was, I mean, that was a great match. So we met in Maryland, that’s where she was positioned. And that’s essentially that’s the story behind this other relationship.
Fernando Corona: Yeah. That’s so fortunate. And in Sweden, is that something where they just pick random entrepreneurs or there’s something that you have to accomplish in order to even reach that fellowship?
Erik Gatenholm: No, you’ve had this it’s a very long process. It’s a rigorous, thorough process. They pick essentially some of the top entrepreneurs in the Nordic countries and accept them there.
Fernando Corona: Okay, all right, so the last piece we’re going to be closing off how do you celebrate after a win and at this point you know, like you see a few wins on your website so what do you typically do for yourself or for your team? Your loved ones however
Erik Gatenholm: I’m probably one of the most boring ones on your on that
Fernando Corona: Yeah, Netflix, Netflix and chill?
Erik Gatenholm: Not even that that’s another level of celebrating No, I mean, we you know, if we do something really good as a company, we sit down for a dinner or we try to celebrate get some good food and a couple of drinks couple of beers and celebrate, but it’s been a while since we’ve done it and I think of course, because of this and It’s been a it’s been a challenge. But during normal times you try to celebrate with the team, take everybody out for a good dinner and yeah and really celebrate a great win.
Fernando Corona: Show appreciation. Right?
Erik Gatenholm: Exactly. It’s been a long, long time since we didn’t know, the crazy parties. We did tell them that in the early days. There were some crazy days. Yeah, now it’s probably a little bit more, more stable.
Fernando Corona: Okay, Erik, thank you so much for being on giving us your time. If others want to get in contact or learn more about you or about your company, where can they go?
Erik Gatenholm: So you can visit Cellink.com Or you can go to our Instagram Cellink 3d Cellink 3d or AR or LinkedIn. Add me on LinkedIn. I’m always available. So I answer really quickly. And, you know, just feel free to reach out. I’m always supportive of the entrepreneurship community. It’s a big passion of mine. So I’d love to help in any way that I can. Thanks for having me on more men.
Fernando Corona: Yeah, no, absolutely. So thanks everybody for tuning in to the sage executive podcasts. You can find more episodes at FlyingVgroup.com/podcasts. Take care.