Interview with George Loudos, CEO at BIOEMTECH
Today, we have the pleasure of talking with Dr. George Loudos, co-founder and CEO at BIOEMTECH, and board member of Hellenic Biocluster. George’s interests focus on molecular imaging for testing new drugs and medical instrumentation. His research performance has so far been rewarded with two national excellence grants. He is an avid supporter of interdisciplinary cooperation in nanomedicine and molecular imaging.
What sets George apart and places him in a particular category of entrepreneurs is that he left a promising academic career as Assistant Professor at the University of West Attica to commit his full-time to Biotech. Here’s what he told us.
George, Bioemtech was essentially born out of your work as a researcher and subject matter expert. Tell us more about the process and experiences of transferring technology from the lab to the market.
This is partially true; as we experience a period where academic spin-offs and technology transfer become very popular, I would like to highlight two crucial points. Obviously, part of our know-how was developed in the lab, and it is true that most research groups develop specialized know-how. But this is not enough to lead to successful products or services.
However, it was necessary to have a broader overview of the entire field besides technology. This included understanding user needs, available alternatives, required time and cost to build the products and/or services, market readiness, and of course, go-to-market resources and support infrastructure. On the other hand, as we work in an interdisciplinary domain, it was necessary to establish a team with different kinds of expertise, maintain it and help team members increase the quality of their work to levels appreciated by the clients.
Over the past ten years, we have learned “the hard way” that expertise and good ideas are just starting points. Looking around us, we see very few successful companies that started from the university. And at the same time, we see several successful companies that do not have a strong technological background. The key word is “change.” You need to change if you want to build a company, if you want to dedicate your work to the company, or if you want to evolve with the company. You rarely end up exactly where you wanted at the beginning! And to keep growing with the company, you need to hire the right people, reassign roles, delegate work, learn to work with numbers, and many more. So, having some expertise or technical skills is important but not enough to enter the world of entrepreneurship.
What differentiates you from the rest of the industry? What value do you bring to the clients and partners?
BIOEMTECH designs small instruments -a miniature of clinical tomographs- that allow non-invasive imaging of drugs in small animals. While scanners for imaging mice have existed since 2000, our products have many unique features compared to the existing solutions. The most important is the ability to see images and get dynamic data during the experiment. This information is valuable, especially at the early stages of designing new drugs, and significantly reduces the overall cost and time of testing a new compound. They have very small dimensions, are simple to operate, and their cost makes them a very attractive option. This is why we already have approximately 20 clients in the USA, China, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
In addition, we provide services for preclinical testing of candidate drugs for small and medium pharma companies to assist them in for the clinical evaluation procedures. BIOEMTECH offers a “one-stop-shop solution,” as our labs and team expertise allows the performance of many preclinical trials without the need to split studies at multiple companies. And this is why we continue to enrich our portfolio through investment in new equipment, experienced personnel, and strategic collaborations. Compared to companies from the US and Western Europe, we can offer competitive prices, and we have noticed that our clients find the idea of working -and visiting- their partners in sunny Greece very-very attractive!
What would you consider to have been (or are) your biggest challenge so far?
BIOEMTECH aims almost 100% at the international market, and being a new company, introducing new products, and coming from a country with a little track record in the domain, it is rather challenging. As the team grows, it becomes more difficult to recruit people with high skills; fortunately, we have always maintained an extensive network of collaborators. Today, several BIOEMTECH members are people whom we have known for years and have always wanted to work together. We are also proud that several Greek researchers returned to work with us, and this number will increase.
Still, a significant obstacle for a company like ours is the difficulty of accessing working capital. In Greece, we don’t have access to specialized financing tools that would allow us to operate at lower levels of financial risk. Our competitors in other countries have access to tools for project financing or tools that allow them to get paid directly from the bank as soon as a purchase order is received. This allows them also to offer leasing options, as they are prepaid again by their banks. Obviously, this gives them a competitive edge in the global market. However, it is not in our mindset to complain for additional governmental support; as our financial situation continuously improves, we feel more mature to discuss again with Greek banks, keeping all business possibilities open.
What are the biggest learnings from your journey so far?
The first learning is the need to be fully dedicated to this. I decided to leave a permanent professor position at the University of West Attica and never regretted it. This is confirmed by the company’s growth in personnel, numbers, and prospects. And I am 100% convinced that this would not have happened if I had kept trying to balance teaching, research, papers, and leaving the company as a side project. I think this is the main reason that most Greek spin-offs remain stable for years and years, as they mainly aim to attract research grants.
The second learning is the need to change and either become a manager or decide that someone else should manage the company. I had to learn to delegate work to people, make clear roles, establish processes and monitor them. I had to stop thinking that “I can do this better or faster,” and stop telling my opinion to confuse the team. There are so many things when working “on” the company and not “in” the company that no one else will do. My role is to see the opportunities and propose “what” we must do. I trust that my team has the expertise and they know “how” to do things. And also, my role is to see the bottlenecks as an outsider and let the team propose an alternative way so that we can evaluate if it works better.
Most importantly, I learned the value of understanding numbers as tools to make decisions, not as reports to the tax office. Something that you don’t necessarily learn in the university. This was enlightening for me, as careful budget planning allows us to assign budgets to the unit leaders, which helps them define actual goals and specific tasks for each team member. Thus, we can monitor our weekly and monthly plans and deviations, minimizing unnecessary back and forths.
Finally, I learned that mistakes happen and this is not a problem, provided that we analyze them and use them to find the real causes so that they will never happen again. In the end, I believe that if things work out well, the bravo goes to the team, who did a great job. If they do not work out well, the fault is mine. I think that if a CEO understands this, he can make better decisions a lot easier for the benefit of the company, his team, and in the end, his time!