Meet biotech entrepreneur Erik Gatenholm, spreading some serious startup magic to the Swedish west coast and beyond.
“I’m an opportunist, and by adding two and two together I discovered a gap in the market.”
Cellink is deeptech of the week!
As the first bioink company in the world, providing a technology platform that enables researchers and scientists to print human tissues and organs.
CELLINK started as a project at Chalmers University, where several researchers and organizations decided to develop a biomaterial that could be used for growing human cartilage. Being the son of one of the main researchers, Erik was introduced to the research and the material.
– I realized right away that there is a commercial opportunity just around the corner. I was introduced to Dr. Hector Martinez, a tissue engineer at working on this material. We both realized our burning passion for 3D printing and started investigating a relatively new technology that a few universities around the world had started working on, namely 3D bioprinting.
At that time, they also found that many of the companies working in the field were offering very clunky, extremely expensive bioprinters, and that no bioink (the material used to print the organs) was offered, Erik explains.
– I’m an opportunist, and by adding two and two together I discovered a gap in the market. There were no company in the world focusing on making the actual bioink for the printers. I love being first so we quickly claimed it by licensing the technology from the researcher at Chalmers, started selling the product online, and fired up the company that is today CELLINK.
Besides marketing and sales, Erik Gatenholm is really passionate about people, and making a disruptive dent in this word.
– As many other entrepreneurs, my life goal is to change the world, and I believe that by focusing in on the medical industry, I can change the world of medicine by offering revolutionary, innovative technology.
Said and done, CELLINK is the first bioink company in the world, providing a technology platform that enables researchers and scientists to print human tissues and organs that can be used to develop new drugs and cosmetic products.
– Our focus is on developing a complete solution for scientists so that they can get started with bioprinting at ease, including products such as the novel bioink, cost-effective bioprinters, consumables, and even educational packages for high schools and universities. We believe in building a community.
Today, CELLINK has 300+ researchers in more than 40 countries worldwide utilizing their products.
– We’re not only a bioink and bioprinting company, but a global research solutions company too, says Erik.
Even though it sounds relatively easy, there’s been ups and downs, he continues.
– My toughest challenges so far, among others, has been surrounding myself with the brightest, hardest working people. The challenge hasn’t been to motivate these individuals but more to scope them out on the rapidly growing employment market. As a small startup, it’s always challenging to compete with larger organizations that can offer a wide range of benefits that startups might not always be able to offer.
The big learning experience in this has been to constantly focus on the amazing journey that team members get to be part of, that other companies simply cannot compete with, Erik explains.
– I think that when a new employee is faced with the option of joining a large organization where changes come slowly and where the ability to stand out is much smaller, versus working at a rapidly changing company where the main drive is to change the world of medicine, the choice is much easier.
One thing Erik is particularity proud of is the pace and speed that the company have been able to move.
– I’m very excited that our investors and shareholders, and particularity our chairman, are so fluid in the way we move forward. We move quickly because that’s the rhythm of the world today. And we were born global, he says, pointing at CELLINK’s first ever couple of sales to the US and Asia.
Building a solid customer base truly is key.
– As an entrepreneur, my speciality is bringing value to customers, such as excellent customer support, constantly maintaining the entire organization revolving around the customer. At the end of the day, without them we wouldn’t exist, says Erik and continues:
– I typically like to say that "a company is only as good as its products. If the products are of poor quality, the customer will be dissatisfied with the entire business and brand. If the products don’t ship, the company doesn’t exist”.
From growing up in the States and being part of the startup community there, joining an incubator and accelerator at early stages comes natural to Erik.
– I wanted to ensure that we’d get the additional support that an incubator can provide to new companies. Being part of an incubator, or rather being accepted into one, the process requires the entrepreneur to have a good business plan, a scalable business model, a financial plan, and sometimes even some financing on the table.
CELLINK and his team were reviewing a few different incubators when they got started, and GU ventures was a good fit.
– I am a GU alumni and I knew the staff quite well, which made the choice easier. We have received tremendous support from GU ventures, and their staff is awesome to work with. In conjunction with being accepted into their incubator, they also offered early seed financing. Startups love funding, Erik says and winks.
The company recently signed a collaboration with Takara Bio in terms of bioprinting beta cells, as well as a collaborative partnership with MIT and Prof. Langer’s lab, and they are constantly looking for new collaborations.
– That’s truly the way for startups to grow nowadays. You can’t do everything on your own. The big companies offer great resources, scientists, and new technologies that can be combined with our platform. Collaborations are truly exciting because it really helps us continuously innovate.
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