Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Utku Gülan

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Dr. Gülan is one of the founders, shareholders, chairman at the board of directors and CEO at the company. He is responsible for the management of the operations, strategic partnership strategies, and technology. Dr. Gülan is a mechanical engineer with a Ph.D. on biomedical fluid dynamics. He received his Ph.D. at ETH Zürich where he received the ETH Medal in 2012, an honor awarded to the 1% best theses in every year. Prior to that, he received his MSc and BSc degrees in Turkey in 2004 and 2007 respectively.

He has over 13 years of experience on biomedical flows and in vitro imaging techniques. He has become a renowned expert on in vitro imaging methods and biofluid dynamics in the last years. As an entrepreneur, his biggest ambition is to provide the service of Hi-D Imaging to as many patients as possible all around the world.

Founder-CEO Interview Series

With: Utku Gülan

Tell us more about your Hi-D Imaging. 

Hi-D Imaging was founded in 2019. The main motivation behind Hi-D is to help as many patients as possible, all around the world. 

We are developing a cardiac planning software for physicians. The main problem in the clinics today is the lack of time, precision, and standardisation at the decision-making workflow. This software will allow physicians to see their patients’ future hearts and determine the kinds of treatments that will be the best for each individual. We show them the different scenarios so that they can have the exact planning for cardiac operations. 

You may have flown to some places and experienced some turbulence during a flight. But in reality, we have even more severe turbulence in the human heart if there is a cardiovascular disease. This is why we focus on the interplay between cardiovascular diseases and turbulence which is our area of expertise. Recently, the legendary Mick Jagger also suffered from this disease due to heart valve dysfunction. 

Globally, more than 10 million patients live with turbulence in their hearts and every year 0.5 million patients undergo heart valve replacement operations. But the problem is that one-third of these patients do not show improvements. They have limitations in their daily activities such as shortness of breath, difficulty walking or climbing up the stairs and so on. 

We would like to bring personalised treatment to the clinics so that physicians can improve patient outcomes, and for patients to have a higher quality of life post-operation. In the end, we would like to create a healthier society globally. 

When was the moment where you decided that ‘this is what I want to do’? 

I have received my PhD on experimental biomedical fluid dynamics at ETHZ in 2012. I knew that I wanted to become an entrepreneur after my PhD, but I was also looking at the combination of different aspects such as the right founders, right time, having the same motivation with the founders, etc. 

During my postdoc, I met my co-founder who is an engineer with a background in numerical simulation. We decided to combine our skills and bring this technology to the market to help patients and physicians. 

In research and in academia, the main problem is that it is difficult to have a direct impact on patients. That’s why we decided to found Hi-D as we know the potential of our technology. We know that we can be a game changer in the clinics to be able to touch many, many hearts.

Where is the company today versus when you founded it?

We have progressed a lot within 2 years. At the moment, we have paying customers and two ongoing clinical study. Our flagship product is not on the market yet, but we would like to release it to the market by next year. 

Soon we will start the certification process. This is busy times, but we have a clear roadmap as we are currently developing and improving on our technology through close contact with physicians, who are our end users. 

We perform updates on our software with respect to their needs. We are also building our branding, as credibility is very important for us, whilst building the team spirit and team culture. I think that we have done a good job so far.

Who are your current paying customers?

We have two different business models. The first one is dedicated for hospitals, which will start next year when we release the software to the market.

The second business model is relying on the medical device manufacturers. We test their new generation devices with our technology before the manufacturers release them into the market. We send them a report including performance analysis of their prototypes. 

What is the technology you sell/enable? 

It’s an AI-based software with a combination of different state of the art technologies such as in vitro imaging, computer vision, image processing, deep learning, and machine learning.

With our technology we can go beyond the capabilities of conventional imaging tools like MRI and ultrasound. Our technology allows physicians to perform fast, accurate and personalized cardiac planning where we can provide complimentary information on blood flow abnormalities such as turbulence and stresses in the heart, which makes us unique in the market.

What has been some of the challenges you’ve faced? 

Covid. I personally learned that we need to prepare ourselves for unexpected changes, so right now we have different backup plans, and this is the most important thing. 

Technologically, we don’t have too many problems because we have a clear roadmap. We are experts in this field, so we know how to overcome the problems. At the moment, we are at early stage of the certification processes which may bring some additional challenges in the coming months. 

What drives you?

The daily motivation is really bringing this technology to the clinics and patients. More than 10 million patients suffer from this disease, and with this technology, we can bring better solutions for them that are more personalised and patient specific. 

This is the main driver for me.

How has Covid impacted fundraising?

First of all, I believe that personal interaction is very important. Covid has caused all meetings to go online, which is a problem. 

There were also some delays in fundraising. However, when we checked the market dynamics and investor ecosystem, it seems like everything is coming back to normal. Earlier, investors would like to monitor the status but I think they’re acting now, which is important for startups.

Best and worst part of being a CEO.

Well, I really like music, so maybe I can use this analogy. Being a CEO is like orchestrating a jazz band. You have to keep the harmony, but also leave enough room for improvisation for the team. In the end, we would like to build a strong team culture with the same vision and mission. This is the best part.

The worst part could be the challenges. It’s very challenging, and sometimes stressful. It’s similar to turbulence. There are always ups and downs and chaotic environments. But as long as you have a clear motivation, I think all that can be easily overcome.

Any lessons learnt that you could share?

Be prepared for unexpected situations. Since Covid, I always think about different scenarios—worst-case and best-case scenarios. That’s why I prepare myself for anything, be it technical delays or some other pandemic financial requirements. I think this is also good brainstorming for me.

What is your view on failure?

Failure is part of the game. I think we shouldn’t be afraid of failure as we can learn from our failures. We all make some mistakes, which may cause failure. But overall, it’s an experience.

What are your hopes for Hi-D?

We would like to reach all the continents of the world as quickly as possible. We will start with the European and U.S. markets starting from next year. 

Our hope is to reach the Asian and African markets within 2 to 3 years, to help as many patients as possible because we would like to hear the success stories from Hi-D patients. I think this will be a great feedback for us.

Any advice for those looking to become an entrepreneur?

They should think twice and then act immediately. They should also prepare themselves beforehand as this comes with many different challenges. This is not an easy task, which requires one to be prepared beforehand, mentally and physically.

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