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TECHNOLOGY

How Persistence Led a 28-Year-Old to the Top of a $160 Million Bioprinting Business

Learn how persistence was the driving force for 28-year-old Swedish biotech entrepreneur Erik Gatenholm.

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BY Brian Hart - 07 Aug 2018

How Persistence Led a 28-Year-Old to the Top of a $160 Million Bioprinting Business

Plant Root Microscopic Section PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Any successful entrepreneur is no stranger to adversity, failure and rejection. But what separates successful entrepreneurs from failed entrepreneurs and " wantrepreneurs" is their unwavering confidence in a vision and the persistence to power through seemingly catastrophic setbacks and insurmountable odds.

One noteworthy, successful entrepreneur who prevailed through numerous failures and rejections is now the CEO of global leading company in bioinks for bioprinting of human tissue and organs. His name is Erik Gatenholm, and--at just 28-years-old--he is a co-founder and CEO of CELLINK, a $160 million bioprinting business.

 

Gatenholm had early exposure to the biotech industry due to his father's job as a professor of chemistry and biopolymer technology. During his time at university, he met his business partner, Hector Martinez, and the two went on to found CELLINK and become the world's leading provider of bioprinters. This success came with some brutal challenges and setbacks along the way, causing the duo to change course many times, but it was the partners' grit and persistence that helped them realize their business dreams.

Be ready to pivot.

The product Gatenholm and Martinez initially planned to sell was bioink--a filament that's used for 3D printing of tissues and organs. At the time, in 2015, the bioprinting industry was beginning to draw some attention in the medical field for personalized prosthetics and tissue development. Gatenholm observed that there were a lot of printers on the market, and with that, there was a need for ink.

The pair sold a few cartridges at the start, but demand for the product eventually stalled. Customers were more drawn to the printers because they "make noise and actually are doing the printing," said Gatenholm in a phone interview. Gatenholm and Martinez knew at that point they needed to drive the market, so they developed a simple 3D printer prototype. Originally, they planned on using this printer just to show off their bioink, but to their surprise, customers became more interested in the printer itself.

Gatenholm advises that entrepreneurs should spend more time speaking with their target customer and getting feedback that will help make their product better. "The way the world works today, you need quick wins and you need them really early."

While you may have a very clear vision for your startup from the get-go, sometimes it just won't be successful in a given market. It's crucial to be open to change and face obstacles head-on, as markets and technology are always evolving. Adapting your goals to meet demand does not mean you are abandoning or failing, it just means you're engaging and listening to the market.

Power through stagnation.

For many entrepreneurs, it's hard to imagine how an idea went from a university lab to a multi-million dollar business in just a few years, but for Gatenholm, the key was persistence. Once your idea has found its niche, adapted to the market and become sustainable, the next step is to scale up. It's the time where you have to convince others that your idea is worth their money and attention.

When Gatenholm realized his idea was sustainable, he took a big risk in an effort to overcome stagnation and take his business to the next level. The company worked to raise over $300,000 so they could hire more employees and ramp up production. Shortly after, they went public in Sweden. In November of the same year, they opened and rang the bell at NASDAQ in Stockholm.

Gatenholm and Martinez had the shared tenacity to power upward where other businesses may have mistakenly thought they had already reached their highest level of success. The pair made a bet on their vision and ability to prevail, and it paid off in a big way.

Some continuous challenges that CELLINK faces is being the underdog in the huge biotech world. Many of the company's competitors, such as Bioinksolutions and PepGel, are much older and established than this 2016 startup. Being the underdog in the beginning meant that every potential customer had more options to choose from at more established companies. Being the underdog, for Gatenholm, meant that you have the opportunity to work harder, faster, and smarter. "By being the new kid on the block, you learn how to focus all your energy on your customers and how much their opinion, values, and money matters".

Control your vision.

As an entrepreneur, you must decide how far your vision and business will go. Gatenholm, for example, still has big plans for CELLINK. He hopes to begin printing pieces of tissue to repair organs within the next 15 years. "This is my chance to do something, and I'm going to go for it all the way," Gatenholm said.

Setting lofty goals and a bold vision requires an unflinching mindset. "When life pushes you down, try to land on your back because if you can look up, you can get up," said Gatenholm.

With CELLINK, Gatenholm has built a case study for entrepreneurs proving that persistence and innovation paired with a determination for success can equal big-time results. His story lays out a blueprint for turning an ambitious idea into a multi-million dollar venture. The road was paved with obstacles, but Gatenholm and Martinez had the grit to push through challenges to realize their vision while mapping their own niche in the biotech industry.

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