Founder-CEO Interview Series

/

Olgaç Ergeneman

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Olgac Gerneman

Olgac Ergeneman is the CEO and co-founder of Magnes, a spin-off from the Multi-Scale Robotics Lab of ETH Zurich. 

He did his PhD on biomedical microrobots and co-founded Magnes to commercialise the sensor technology and algorithms developed during his PhD and postdoctoral studies.

Magnes offers a disruptive real-life-monitoring solution to analyze walk patterns of patients with neurological disorders.

 

Founder-CEO Interview Series

With: Olgaç Ergeneman

Tell us more about Magnes.

We are offering a remote monitoring solution for patients of neurological disorders. We integrated our sensing technology in comfortable sneaker-like shoes to collect data from patients during daily activities. This is interesting for patients with movement problems such as Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, dementia, and stroke. Most of the elderly population can benefit from our solution.

The symptoms of these diseases are not so easy to track. It’s not like you can get a blood test and get an immediate diagnosis. They progress very slowly. But we can learn a lot from the way people walk and how they do their daily activities, and that’s the direction that we are taking. We are offering a solution to collect data at home or during daily activities. I think, it’s a big advantage that we do not need to take them to the hospital and measure them in a clinical setting. Everyone behaves differently in front of a doctor.

Another highlight of our technology is that we are able to process this data on-the-go in the shoes and provide feedback to the patients by haptic stimulation, which are vibrations coming from the shoes similar to your cell phone’s vibration. This can really guide the patient in every step that they make.

How did you get started?

I grew up and studied Electrical Engineering in Turkey and I came to Switzerland to do a PhD in biomedical robotics at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at ETH Zurich. I completed my PhD study there, and then worked for a few years as a postdoc, developing the technology we are using. I met George who is the co-founder of Magnes during this time. Indeed, I was his supervisor when he was doing his Master’s study. Then we worked together for many years in the same group.

We had the idea to start a spin-off company to take what we had developed during our researcher years one step further. We got the prestigious Pioneer Fellowship of ETH Zurich Foundation and we started working to figure out how we can use the technology to develop products and make a bigger impact. Most of our team today are young, talented engineers from ETH and they are behind our strong technical know-how.

What do you analyse when a person walks?

We analyse many parameters using different sensors in the shoe which measures accelerations, rotations, pressure and more. We calculate what is called the gait parameters. We are looking at over 20 of these gait parameters.

From that, we can collect information about the state of the disease. Not just that, we can also measure improvements – whether they can get better if they are using a medication, and if there are any fluctuations during the day. This information can be used to tailor their therapy and medication.

Could you make shoes just for athletes?

I would say yes. There is a trend we’re seeing now in sports where they are trying to do similar analyses and I think as this kind of technologies become available, more and more solutions will appear in the market. At some point in the future, every shoe might be equipped with something similar.

How have you been impacted by Coronavirus?

Due to COVID, we had many clinical trials postponed or cancelled, but we still managed last year to have our devices tested and validated in a clinical setting together with our clinical partners. We are also getting the medical certifications -CE mark- for our device, and we expect to have that by this summer. After which, hopefully we will make our product available as a medical device to patients.

COVID also made an impact on how we manage diseases. Many people, especially elderly people and patients with chronic conditions could not go to hospitals for a long time.

Today remote monitoring solutions are more needed than ever. I think digital health solutions will be adapted faster by the healthcare systems after the pandemic. We are also discussing with some clinical partners to offer solutions to patients affected by COVID.

What are some challenges you’ve faced?

The technical problems are usually the problems we prefer because we can handle those, but finding answers to questions like “What are the requirements for getting a medical certification? Who will prescribe our device and who will pay for it among the stakeholders of healthcare system?  How can we get our solution reimbursed by insurance?” was a quite different experience for us and was the big challenge.

You have to make sure that you can make money with the solution, and we have learnt a lot there.

Have you always known that you would become an entrepreneur?

This was a choice I made towards the end of my PhD, when deciding between academia or business. The most important thing for me was to find a path where I can learn more things and interact with people from diverse backgrounds.

I realised choosing the entrepreneurial path would open me to a totally new world and provide the challenge I was seeking more than staying in academia.

What are your plans for the rest of 2021?

We had great progress in the past year and are now about to launch our product. We will be getting the medical certification several weeks from now. This will be an important step for us.

We are already working with several clinics and after receiving certifications we will increase our activities at clinics and start offering our solution directly to patients. Interacting with more patients, measuring them, trying to make a positive change in their lives with our solution especially with the haptic feedback will be an amazing experience.

Best and worst part of being a founder-CEO?

As CEO and co-founder in a start-up, we really have the chance to direct the company and decide which direction we want to go. I think the best part of being in this position is the freedom and ability to decide what to do.

The worst part, and I don’t know whether to call this the worst part, but it’s the big risk that follows. Sometimes it’s stressful having to deal with a lot of unknowns or topics you have very little knowledge about. I think this is not for everyone. So, if you want something less risky and more stable, then you either go down a path of working at a bigger company or something similar.

What is your hope for Magnes?

Our hope is to make our solution part of the disease management. This way, we can make an impact on patients’ lives. We can learn a lot about patients by monitoring them at home or during daily activities. We can use this real-life information to make decisions or personalise therapies for patients.

In the future, collecting real-life data will become crucial from the development of new drugs to early diagnosis and prevention. As a company, we want to be a leading actor for providing real-life data related to all movement disorders and beyond.

Once we have reached that point, I see myself in a different role starting with new ideas or founding another company.

What is your view on failure?

If you don’t try, you won’t get anywhere. As a startup, you have to also experience failure. You cannot achieve something without having some unsuccessful attempts. This happened to us.

Sometimes we see a path and think we will have success there, especially in instances where we were past the idea stage, so we really had to invest, spend some time, but then it doesn’t work out. But we did not give up, we learnt from our mistakes and updated our plans finding another way to move forward and go to the next step.

Any advice for new entrepreneurs out there?

Do not stay in the office and focus purely on technical development. Go and interact with the world as early as possible.

Most startups worry too much and want to make their product perfect before connecting and talking to people – potential customers, partners, competitors etc. However, time is better spent by going out earlier to the market to get feedback and really focus on the right problems.

Insights

Related articles

Helvengo

What motivated you to do this? How did you get to do what you do today? Vedran: I come from an entrepreneurial family background. My father is a first-generation immigrant who came to Switzerland, who very early on started his own business. I always call it existential entrepreneurship because he basically started something just to

Read More

Jan Lichtenberg

Tell us more about InSphero. InSphero was founded 12 years ago to help pharma and biotech companies developing new drugs and treatments in a more efficient way. At the time, animal testing was the gold standard to understand drug safety and efficacy. The attrition rates were very high and we were certain there were other

Read More

Stefanie Flückiger-Mangual

Can you tell us more about TOLREMO and why did you found the company? TOLREMO is a cancer drug resistance company which uses a screening and drug development platform based on non-genetic drug resistance and cancer cell plasticity, to develop companion inhibitors that prevent resistance development. TOLREMO is based on academic research that I did

Read More