08:06 - Starting a company during the financial crisis
15:30 - Ethical debates surrounding animal testing
16:25 - The InSphero business model
25:18 - Getting funding with a science-based product
29:58 - Working between Switzerland and the US
Jan Lichtenberg is the CEO and board member of InSphero, a medtech company specializing in 3D printed models used for in vitro testing with easy-to-use solutions for producing, culturing, and assessing more organotypic 3D cell culture models. He has a solid scientific background of 10 total years of study, beginning with an MS in Microtechnology from the University of Bremen, followed by a Masters in Microelectronics from EPFL, and then completing his Ph.D. at Université de Neuchâtel in Microtechnology and Microfluidics.
It took 10 years to develop the InSphero 3D model, from conception to iterative research, to finally creating the in vitro tissue. The company came to fruition shortly after the 2008 financial crash, but this was nonetheless the right time for the InSphero team, as pharmaceutical companies desperately needed new and innovative ideas to rejuvenate their brands in those challenging times.
One of the company's main goals is to play a part in eradicating animal testing, for both ethical and reliability reasons. This will take many years, but offering alternative solutions like their 3D in vitro models is a start in allowing for more accurate testing and preventing unnecessary harm to animals. This is all the more important considering that animals often do not biologically react in the same way as humans, and so that animal testing is actually not that reliable.
Their business model is twofold: on one hand, they provide their 3D models to clients who do their own in-house testing, and on the other hand, they also provide them to clients who prefer to conduct testing at the InSphero labs. Correctly transporting tissue is tricky, so conducting research in-house has the added benefit of eliminating the possibility of compromised tissues. Currently InSphero is leaning strongly towards the US market, and Jan travels there every 6 - 8 weeks to keep his ear to the ground. For now, their main priority is the company's growth and expansion, but they hope to one day do an IPO.
“When starting a company, you have to either do it on a shoestring or go all in, but you need to decide that beforehand.”
“It’s not about the money in the bank, but about the interest customers have in your product.”