Jul 25, 2019
EP #31 – Frank Thelen: From Failure To Success
Frank Thelen (Freigeist Capital)
Tanja Dowe is CEO for the Debiopharm International Innovation Fund and Board Member for Novadiscovery and Oncomfort. Using her expertise in strategic business and market demands, Tanja’s work encourages commercialization of innovative healthcare technologies and patient care solutions for a brighter, healthier future.
How upbringing can breed curiosity
“I wanted to turn innovation into practical things: how does that work? How are people actually going to access those technologies?”
Tanja is the daughter of a Finnish surgeon and a Swiss businesswoman. She describes herself as having been a wild child who wished to write her own story and leave her mark. Her interest in healthcare was sparked by the many fascinating dinner table conversations at home, where she heard her father talk about his day.
In 2000, she finished her MSc in Microbiology and Biochemistry at TKK (Helsinki University of Technology). Although the idea of pursuing a career of scientific research crossed her mind countless times, her curious personality led her away from the slow-moving groove of biochemical testing to creating practical outcomes and solutions for everyday problems as her life’s commitment.
The influence of North-American culture and the self-made entrepreneur
“The North-American culture is very entrepreneurial: when you’re in California, everyone is a businessman, they all have their businesses! Biotech companies on both sides of the street? You would not see that anywhere else but in San Diego.”
While completing her internship on market research for the biotech industry, Tanja got the chance to work in the energetic environments of dynamic cities like San Diego and Los Angeles. Hearing so many inspiring stories can naturally make anyone think: “Hey, I want to join as well!”.
Detailed plans were not her priority at the time; all it mattered was that American spirit which aroused her will to move forward and take part in something larger. Tanja is keen on believing anyone can become an entrepreneur, but some traits will definitely help on the journey:
Debiopharm International’s mission
In October 2016, Tanja became the CEO for the Innovation Fund of Debiopharm International, a privately owned pharmaceutical company focused on in-licensing and developing biotech products approaching clinical trials to help them reach their maximum potential and gain access to international partnerships.
With aging demographics and increasing healthcare expenses, companies should try to stay ahead of the game and ask: what is going to be the next great leap in patient care? Since drug development rates are understandingly slow, Debiopharm knows how important it is to have that special skill of foreseeing future gaps in the market, instead of developing products for a market where they’ll no longer be an essential board piece.
Tanja’s tips for fellow investors
Her experience with Innomedica Ltd. and Debiopharm’s Innovation Fund really brought her attention to how building investment funds gives rise to a crowd of unseen challenges: how do you establish a bond of trust with the companies? How do you increase your deal flow? Once the deal is completed, what should be your ratio of participation?
Tanja’s approach is clear: your philosophy of investment should rely on active participation. Before becoming Chairwoman of the Board for Oncomfort, she visited the clinical trials at the Swiss Pain Institute and witnessed the game-changing works of Virtual Reality in inducing clinical hypnosis and reducing pain and anxiety in ailing patients. After undergoing a small test herself, she was sold!
Investors often stand in awe before ground-breaking innovation and rush in investing, but many wonder: “What now? What should I do next?” Tanja explains her method:
Red flags to look out for during company assessment
Finland vs Switzerland: approaches on innovation
The events of Swedish integration until the nineteenth-century and the Russian Revolution of 1917 show how Finland is in fact a very young country. This historical status, Tanja defends, makes the Finnish heavily rely on IT-based innovation to get their point across in international markets. They are very appreciative of fresh-blooded, fast-paced energy that seeks quick exits to move on to the next big undertaking. Switzerland’s history, however, supports tradition and its time-tested industries, so companies are keener on a longer-term view of growing small projects to their maximum potential before exiting.
The future of digital health
“Some of the biggest things that we need to change lie in the way we understand health insurance, how we pay for treatment today and how we should be predicting and keeping ourselves healthy. I think it is unbelievable that we don’t already have access to our own health data today: changing that is very important.”
Our traditional approach on healthcare places physician practice in the centre of the equation. Tanja, in the meantime, suggests a different standpoint: highlighting patient experience with the help of digitalization. Here are some lingering topics to consider for the next decades:
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Frank Thelen (Freigeist Capital)
Monica Maurer (ACT Audit & Tax AG)
Herbert Bay (Magic Leap)
Lea von Bidder (AVA Science)
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