We talked to Tobias D. Gantner of Tomorrowland on how they open organizations to tomorrow’s solutions and he had the following to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Tobias Gantner: We are all good. It is challenging because social contacts are really important and cannot be replaced by digital means. This is especially true for children. We are all now hoping that we will be able to get vaccinated rather sooner than later.
Personally, I consider risks to be chances. Our business has pivoted throughout the company history a number of times. One thing though, has constantly remained the same: The focus on the patient.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Tomorrowland.
Tobias Gantner: I am a transplant surgeon by training with degrees in philosophy, economics and law. I have worked with patients but also at major companies such as Siemens, Novartis, Bayer and Johnson & Johnson. I get bored quickly and found out that I am not a good fit into corporate life which subsequently led to the foundation of the HealthCare Futurists.
I established this company to be a one-stop-shop healthcare innovation agency with a hands-on spirit. My mantra is: Don’t get a job, create a job. This means we are all about seizing new opportunities: we don’t hire, we inspire. I currently work with over 150 people around the globe on their innovative projects. We do provide everything from innovation labs to injection molding. We do this because we drive our own projects in the first place and we understand for us, that bootstrapping is the way of innovation, especially in the digital arena, that we want to go.
For this, we have set up our healthcare Tomorrowland, which is somewhat like an adventure playground where innovative approaches are being developed. Out of this workshop, we have spun off a number of ideas, products and companies. So we are somewhat an accelerator without the startup petting zoo part. We are fully funded by equity capital and have no investors in our core think-tank and make-thank, giving us the freedom to do some not so mainstream stuff.
We have, e.g. developed a technology for3D printing of medicines, we have built a digital health literacy tool for the whole family, which works in several languages (www.jakibe.de). We have opened the first no-doctor offices (www.ohnearztpraxis.de) that are run by nurses and work fully digital, just to name a few.
We have offices, subsidies and workshops/fablabs in Cologne, Heidelberg, Belfast, Brussels and Zurich and are affiliated with partners in Spain, the USA and China.
How does Tomorrowland innovate?
Tobias Gantner: Our innovative power comes from the idea that no one can do innovation independently. It takes networks to grow great ideas and bring them to life. It is not only the big cheese professors that lead to innovation in healthcare. Especially in digital health, it is the patient that is in the focus of all activities. We thus stand for the democratization of healthcare, and we bring digital health to the people with our HealthCare MakerMobil (www.healthcaremakermobil.com). Together with patients, relatives, doctor, nurses etc., we work on their actual challenges in our hackathons (www.innovate.healthcare). Hackathons are also great labs for experience and product development by the customer and consumer design. This is where we start: Solving real-world problems with our multidisciplinary team by leaving enough space for wild thinking. Our motto here is: “we build the bridge when we get there. “And with our HealthCare MakerMobil, we have already crossed quite a number of bridges.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Tobias Gantner: Healthcare is quite a complex field. On the one hand, healthcare became essential in the time of the crisis, and especially digital health experienced quite a rise. However, there is still a way to go.
In corona times, businesses pivoted every now and then, and it was quite a ride. The usual customers sometimes began concentrating on themselves, and the overall situation rendered those already risk-averse even more so. But since we could distribute the risk on a number of thematic shoulders, we had quite a good year. I used to travel four out of five days. Now I am constantly in my office. It is difficult to establish a fundamental relationship with a person you have never actually seen in person. As much as teleconferences are great, they are also difficult to sustain real interaction.
But this aside, there was no time to be bored at all. We chipped in where we could, leveraging our knowledge and assets in the pandemic crisis. E.g. we started a pro bono data donation project which you can find on www.fasterthancorona.org. We operated with altruistic data donation for scientific discovery, or we printed face shields already in March 2020 when infection protection was hardly available and gave them away for free: www.mundschuh.org.
This all worked out quite well because we all believe “don’t get a job, create a job “. The lean company structure gives us the opportunity to really move fast.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Tobias Gantner: I had a number of people apply for positions at the HealthCare Futurists, and I could not offer them a job. This was not, because I did not have work to do; it is because I want people to have an idea of what they want to do at the HCFs rather than just securing a job. I was very tempted to employ people, but then again, I decided that I want to make a difference. I want to work with people who are committed to their ideas in the first place and not to their job titles or their salary.
I also had to let go customers who absorbed so much of our attention with tenders or invites endless zoom calls. We refer to them as energy vampires. It is hard to tell the point when it is right to let someone move on and accept that this is not the right time now for cooperation or an idea to come to life.
I love being self-employed because I just need to look into the mirror when I need to blame someone. The most difficult choice, however, is the balance between family life and business life. It sounds like an old, beaten out path, but being an entrepreneur also means to take responsibility not only for your company and your business life but also for your family. You can not expect a four-year-old to understand what a CEO call with a potential investor means and give in to your need for solitude or tranquility. Does not happen, will not happen. This is from where I understood that the four-year-old is my master, my teacher that being self-employed, being an award-winning entrepreneur also means to take leadership in my own life. And don’t get me wrong. I have not solved that one, I am still a white belt struggling here and there.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Tomorrowland in the future?
Tobias Gantner: I walk the dog (the COVID Way of getting out even in lockdown), I play music, I eat chocolate – too much of it -, I look to the stars with my telescope (gives me a perspective how small my problems actually are), I tend to my bees (gives me an idea how unimportant I am), I ask people for advice (makes me feel humble and that I do not need to know everything) and I apologize.
Even though the company name implies that I think a lot about the future and should very well know all the projections, I have to disappoint you. My goal is to grow the company by helping others to grow and then grow with them. It is not all about money, even though, money is an important factor to make a living, but it is much more about enjoying what you do, it is about the meaning and purpose of what we do, it is about the answer to the question that our children will ask someday: What did you do to make the world a better place. In my case, this is, what did I do to healthcare safer, easier and accessible.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Tobias Gantner: Well, our main competitor is ignorance for new solutions and fear of change, and then again, if they linger around to lounge, they become the fuel that drives innovation and provides opportunities. However, I think that every new thought and every idea has, what the ancient Greeks called, Kariós, the moment. Victor Hugo put it that way: Nothing is as strong as an idea whose time has come. This is also the way we want to develop our business. We are looking for innovative minds, people affected by the healthcare systems with challenges to be solved, and we try to make use of cutting-edge technology mixes to solve those. No one knows, what Covid will bring us, but we are trying to be as diverse as possible in the early stages of our business endeavors in terms of ideas. We are open to collaboration and cooperation because it takes all of us to create the future.
Your final thoughts?
Tobias Gantner: The future cannot be predicted. It is not a linear equation starting now and ending then. It is fuzzy and full of coincidences and serendipities. It is all about daring to go your way, accepting who you are and doing the things you think need to be done right now. It’s not only about business plan mastery or consulting chess. It is about fixing a real-world problem. Rephrasing a famous quote, I would say: those who can’t, consult. Those who can do. Make sure you know which advice you are going to buy.
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