Erik Gatenholm ahead of TEDx: “We managed to disrupt the whole industry”

18 February, 2019

“The customer should be as satisfied with a research product as with a laptop or phone,” says CELLINK’s CEO, Erik Gatenholm, who is one of the speakers at TEDx Gothenburg with the theme ‘disrupting status quo’.

TEXT: KENNY GENBORG

As a friend partner to TEDx Gothenburg, Sahlgrenska Science Park wants to celebrate creative ideas and showcase entrepreneurs who are making a difference in a rapidly changing world.

Cellink’s CEO, Erik Gatenholm, wants to see disrupted attitudes in the industry, and also sees how Gothenburg is on the verge of becoming an innovative city with the help of creative people who want to come here.

What does disrupting the status quo mean to you?

“For me, the status quo is something that is rigid, slow, and usually the opposite of innovation. Disruption of the status quo is about being able to come up with something completely new, something that changes methods of use, and also how we think about the whole industry.”

“What we managed to do at Cellink was to disrupt the entire industry, from something that was relatively rigid and classic “biotech” to something that is now innovative, exciting and which people are attracted to.

How good is the life science industry at doing new things in ways no one expected?

“Not so good. The biotech industry is about safety and stable products that offer benefit to patients. What you often forget is that there are two parts of the life science world. One is what comes to the patient, which must clearly be about safety, security and benefit. The second is the research part, where new technology is used to develop new solutions that can lead to patient benefit and products in the future. Today, we are in the research world where things are about as unsexy as they possibly can be.”

“We want to be a breeze of fresh air in the biotech research world and contribute with a completely new way of commercialising products. Products should look great. They should be incredibly easy to use, and there should be support that people love. The customer should be as satisfied with a research product as with a laptop or a telephone.”

How are we doing in the Gothenburg region and West Sweden in our attitudes to thinking new and daring to disrupt the old structures?

“I believe Gothenburg is on its way to become an innovative city. It takes time to change things and it comes with the industries that have existed in Gothenburg previously. Gothenburg has been a port and manufacturing city and I believe that we are trying to make it into a development and innovation city.”

“This can only happen if you can recruit the best people in the industry and get them to move here. Innovation and cities are built by people who have attitudes and think in different ways.”

At Sahlgrenska Science Park, we often say that the digitalisation of life science and healthcare is as much a change as cars become self-driving. Do you agree?

“Absolutely. I go to a lot of events around the world and it seems to be the same theme everywhere-that digitalisation takes time and that it is a big transformation. I think it is happening step by step, and for people who work and live in this industry, changes can seem slow but in reality, things are actually moving quite quickly.

As always when it comes to large development advances, there is built-in inertia. Which ones can you see from your perspective?

I see that researchers can sometimes be shy or slow to adopt new innovations because they are worried about making changes. We want to make changes and sometimes you have to stir things up to bring about development. For example, like when you come up with a product that costs less but still gives researchers the opportunity to get to know a new research area.

It’s all about making it painless to make changes and to dare to test new things. Then you’ll get rid of inertia.

What risks are common to underestimate when we’re thinking in new ways about innovation and business development?

The risk is of course that no one adopts the innovation or that the rate of adoption is too slow. Another risk is obviously the cost associated with the development and launch of innovations.

The most important thing that has worked for CELLINK is that we do not try to develop cool new technology that we then try to sell to customers. Instead, we first listen to what our customers want and then we develop a solution to help them. In that way, we ensure that what is developed has less of a risk.

CELLINK is constantly making giant new development strides. What’s the latest new thing?

It’s live cell microscopy. We have just released a new platform called CELLCYTE X, a live cell imaging system that enables researchers to see their cells on-demand, without having to extract them from their growth environment and place them in a microscope.

With CELLCYTE X, researchers can better prepare themselves and their cells for an optimal bioprinting process.

Photo: CELLINK