German Startup Changemakers: Michael Friebe

Michael Friebe has been involved in HealthTech ventures as both a founder and business angel for quite some time now. He’s also teaching health startup entrepreneurship at the Technical University of Munich and seven years ago, he started the HealthTEC Innovation Lab at the University of Magdeburg. Find out what particularly attracts him about the startup world and what he predicts for HealthTech in the near future.
A man with short brown hair and glasses posing for a photo
1. Hi Michael, thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you entered the startup world?

After my studies, I went to the US for five years, and I was exposed to the startup culture in the Bay Area. It’s powerful when everybody’s starting their own companies, and you’re working for a big company. So I came back from the US to Germany and I started my first business, called NEUROMED, which became Central Europe’s largest provider of mobile imaging services. I sold it to a big provider called Alliance Medical in the UK.

At the same time, I started teaching health startup entrepreneurship at the Technical University of Munich and I’m still part of the faculty there. My goal is to get students interested in the startup world. I am of the opinion that the problems of the world can only be solved by entrepreneurial activities and not by large corporates.

Seven years ago, I started the HealthTEC Innovation Lab at the University of Magdeburg at their medical faculty. The general idea is to detect unmet clinical needs, create prototypes, validate them, and then try to implement them in startups. We have been rather successful, with close to 50 patent applications, and now about five startups that came out of this lab in the last few years.

2. You have been involved in diagnostic imaging and other HealthTech ventures, as both a founder and an investor. You’re also the CEO of IDTM GmbH, a consulting company for diagnostic imaging. Tell us more about your mission!

My main goal is to make sure that people stay healthy. So I have something called a massive transformative purpose. And my MTP is healthcare democratise enabling. I want to make sure that everybody on this planet has equal access to healthcare and healthcare technologies. I’m focusing my development efforts on ensuring that systems devices and applications are cheap enough, affordable, can be used easily, actually solve a problem and have a purpose. My mission is to make sure that people all over the globe, not just in the developed parts of the world stay healthy, without the need for expensive equipment.

I try to teach people and enable them to actually take care of their own problems because healthcare problems in India or Ethiopia are different from the ones we have in Germany. We need to make sure that the problems are actually based on local needs, and not necessarily on the needs of the developed world. I want to enable people by actually giving them access to innovation generation tools and teaching them about healthcare innovation. Hopefully, as part of this, there are startups that really make an impact, being generated.

3. You’re an Ambassador/Trainer/Coach at OpenExO, a global transformation ecosystem, which connects professionals, organizations, institutions and people in order to change the world. What is it about transformation and innovation that particularly attracts you? How do you feel you’re contributing to the startup ecosystem in Germany?

I’ve contributed to the ecosystem by starting or being a part of starting about 30 – 35 companies. I’m also a business angel, and I try not to look at the current business models, but actually project what will happen in healthcare. I believe it’s important to look at other countries. If we only focus on the Central European business model of health, for example, we’ll probably fail with disruption and with new ideas. When we look at other countries, we see there’s a completely different way of approaching health and health innovation. That’s what attracts me most. 

I do a lot for India and Australia. In Germany, I try to point out that we cannot necessarily develop things for the next three-four years but we need to understand that the business models will change and take digital information into consideration. Things will actually move towards prevention. If you have a lot of prevention activities you won’t need all the hospitals and the doctors we have.

4. You’re a Board Member of three companies, a shareholder of several startups, a regular speaker and a listed inventor as well as an investment partner of a MedTech startup fund. Could you share the top three lessons for founders you’ve learned over the years?

Let me tell you why I’m investing in certain companies: I’m trying not to be somebody who tells people what to do, I only give advice. And what I like to see from startup founders is that they actually try to take in as much information as they can get, make their own evaluation, and then communicate why they did what they did. So my first advice would be to make your own decisions and evaluations.

The second piece of advice is: don’t build something before you clearly understood the problem behind it. Founders often focus on building a solution without understanding the consequences of the problem or projecting what will happen in the future. My advice is to come up with lots of experiments that have an exploration phase. In this exploration phase, do a lot of customer experiments and then build something that is really needed with a projection of 10 years into the future. 

The third thing is that engineers, computer scientists and artificial intelligence experts are all afraid of finances. My advice to them is to first focus on asking the important questions and resolving the problem and worry about finances later, that’s the least of your worries.

5. What’s the next big thing in the HealthTech world? What do you predict for the ecosystem in Germany in the near future?

Well, in Germany, we have a fairly good system, but we also like to complain a lot about it. We do have a very non-digitised environment in healthcare. And I think, in time, everything will be more digital. Digital doesn’t necessarily mean only turning an analogue process into something digital but taking advantage of what the digital process can give you. 

I think everybody can predict that AI will be significantly more dominant. There will hopefully be a shift from expensive care and hospitals to ambulatory care, and maybe even the shift to home care where people evaluate their own health status. There will be more focus on analysing genetic information with respect to potential disease patterns and prevention. In the next five-ten years, I think healthcare will be practised everywhere, not just necessarily in hospitals or healthcare centres. Maybe we’ll see booth setups in shopping malls where you can go in and get a little check-up done.

Thank you for sharing your story and insights with us, Michael. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours.

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