The NextWomen Interviews Dr Saskia Biskup, Winner of Germany's Most Prestigious Prize for Startups

Last month, Dr Saskia Biskup was the recipient of Germany's prestigious Founders Award, which recognizes the country's most innovative businesses.

Her company, CeGaT, sprung from the scientist's frustration at not having everything she needed to research the human genome in order to eliminate potential causes of illness. "I wanted to use the latest sequencing technology, but the university couldn't fund it. Only founding the company allowed me to do this".

CeGaT offers sequencing-based genetic screening for hereditary eye diseases, epilepsy, metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders. 

Here is what Dr Biskup had to say in an exclusive interviewwith The NextWomen:

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for CeGaT and what made you decide to take the leap of faith and turn that idea into reality?

Dr Biskup: We came up with the idea for CeGaT, Center for Genomics and Transcriptomics, because we wanted to implement the newest available and most accurate sequencing technology (SOLiD system) in genetic testing, diagnostics, and clinical daily practice. I was convinced (and still am) that our method of screening genes by means of Next-Generation Sequencing techniques is the right approach to genetic testing and that one day our method will be a standard available to everybody. Our method means we have a much higher chance of identifying the cause of a suspected genetic disease. A positive test result confirms the clinical diagnosis, allows a better assessment of the prognosis, helps family members with respect to prevention and awareness of the disease and in some cases enables personalised treatment options.

TNW: Were you able to easily apply the academic skills you acquired whilst studying for your doctorates to the business of founding a company, or was it a challenge to transition from scientist to entrepreneur?

Dr Biskup: Even though I am in the fortunate position that my husband, who is an expert in finance and business administration, has helped me a lot, it was still a challenge for me.

Being a Medical Doctor and scientist, the way I used to think was completely different from “being in business”.

TNW: Briefly describe your history in raising investment for your company

Dr Biskup: My husband and I spent a lot of time on writing a business plan. We discussed the issue of generating revenue streams (which is a complicated subject in the health-care sector). This business plan, however, was good enough to raise the needed monies with the banks. This was our preferred goal, as we did not want any other shareholders (such as PE, VC, etc) than us.

TNW: What have you learned the hard way through the fund raising process that you wish someone had told you at the beginning?

Dr Biskup: I was lucky to have my husband here at my side. Looking back, I feel that we did not make any major mistakes.

TNW: What do you think could be done to increase the number of women in science and technology?

Dr Biskup: Personally I am convinced that if you want to take responsibility you find ways to realise your dreams.

Most important is to fight for your ideas even if others do not agree, to have a very strong will, to work hard and to never give up.

Also, it’s important also is to find the right team to work with you, and of course one must be able to withstand set-backs.

TNW: How did you build your team and is it gender balanced?

Dr Biskup: Yes, the team is gender balanced even though this never was a criterion for us. My husband and I hired two absolute experts first who complemented our skills perfectly. Then we hired personnel only if the four of us agreed.

By this method we were lucky not make a mistake and to find extremely good employees. Gender never played a role. We just wanted the best.

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

Dr Biskup: The biggest challenge was to overcome a state of being completely unknown to being a well accepted and greatly valued and appreciated partner in sequencing projects. We also learned that we seriously underestimated the importance of marketing and sales.

TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?

Dr Biskup: We were just awarded the most prestigious prize for start-up companies in Germany. We are very grateful and see this award as a reward for the whole team. Another highlight is that our sequencing of exomes contributed to finding new genes and therapeutic approaches to a metabolic disease involving energy supply of the cell (mitochondrial disease); and leading to a publication in Nature Genetics.  

TNW: Do you have plans to expand internationally? Which countries and when?

Dr Biskup: Today we get samples from all over the world, with Europe being our biggest market. As genomic DNA can easily be sent by room temperature via mail, there is no need to have additional labs abroad. But as I said, CeGaT is still not as well known as we wish and our strategy to expand internationally goes along with establishing CeGaT in the field of genetic testing worldwide.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our audience?

Dr Biskup: I would like to motivate everyone to take risks and to believe in dreams.

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