Andreas Laustsen, a 27-year-old co-founder of two biotech startups and several innovation networks, was recently named Denmark's coolest engineer. Currently in Costa Rica researching snake antivenom, the PhD student shares his thoughts on entrepreneurship, on looking too young, and on why being an engineer is cool.
“Andreas shows how engineers find solutions that are changing the world. Already at a young age, he has shown that his technological knowledge can save lives. And he also gives priority to sharing his enthusiasm for engineering by preparing technological teaching material targeted at high school students. It is highly commendable.”
This was the verdict by Frida Frost, Chairwoman of the Danish alliance Engineer the future, which recently crowned ‘Denmark’s coolest engineer’ after a campaign to feature outstanding tech innovators. The title comes with a study travel grant of DKK 25,000 (around €3300).
Laustsen has already co-founded two biotech companies, Biosyntia ApS and VenomAb IVS, and is in the process of starting two more, TransAct Bio and Antag. While completing his engineering degree at Technical University of Denmark (DTU), he headed the university’s Biotech Academy, which develops technology-based teaching materials in biology, biotechnology, physics, maths and chemistry for high school students.
As part of his PhD studies at the University of Copenhagen, Laustsen is currently spending six months at Instituto Clodomiro Picado in Costa Rica. At this world leading institution within venom and antivenom research, he is investigating the venoms of black mamba and Thai cobra.
Laustsen’s dream is to develop a modern biopharmaceutical antivenom that can make a difference to millions of people.
Hard at work pursuing this dream, he took time out to answer some questions.
TECHNOLOGIST Congratulations on being named Denmark’s coolest engineer. What do YOU think is the coolest thing about being an engineer?
ANDREAS LAUSTSEN Thanks! Personally, I think the coolest thing about being an engineer is being able to work very cross-disciplinary in order to solve problems in a creative way using technology. I also believe that engineers are capable of just about anything (hence the old term ‘polytechnician’ for engineers).
I once met a Danish priest at a family party who, when introducing himself, said that he was also originally educated at DTU. I asked: “But I thought you were a priest?” and he said: “Yes, indeed I am.” Since I looked confused, he continued: “Do you not agree that engineers can do anything?” I said: “Sure!” and he asked: “So what’s your confusion about?” It turns out that even the Danish government believed (at least back in the day) that engineers can do anything, so they enabled engineers to become priests after a quick (3 months) read through the bible, at a time when there were too few people studying theology in Denmark.
TECHNOLOGIST What does winning this title mean for you and your current research (we assume you’re not entering priesthood just yet…)?
ANDREAS LAUSTSEN It’s of course a huge personal honour that I really appreciate. But more importantly, I hope it will help bring attention to my research on antivenoms against snakebites – a hugely neglected problem in the third world. More awareness of the problem will hopefully lead to more resources being allocated, which is necessary to advance the research.
TECHNOLOGIST What’s been your greatest source of inspiration on the way to becoming an engineer and biotech entrepreneur?
ANDREAS LAUSTSEN My greatest source of inspiration within engineering has probably been my own dad, who is also a biotech engineer. Many family friends have also been engineers, which has further invoked my interest. Finally, I met Robert Langer (the most cited engineer in history), and I also regard his work as very inspirational.
With regard to biotech entrepreneurship, I would like to highlight two teams and one individual who have not only provided inspiration but also actively helped me out on my own biotech entrepreneurship path: The startup team of 2cureX, with whom I conducted some research back in early 2009. It was in the wake of my research at 2cureX that my first to startup ideas (TumorTarget and Stella Cancaris) originated. The other startup team that has been a great inspiration to me is that of CMC Biologics. Since my own dad was involved, I have followed their process from the inception. Finally, Julie Serritslev has been a personal role model for me, initially through Biotech Academy and later through other settings. Her passion for entrepreneurial activities and proactivity has been very contagious.
TECHNOLOGIST And your greatest challenge?
ANDREAS LAUSTSEN My greatest challenge has been that I am and look (too) young. I have often encountered people who didn’t take me all that seriously, or for whom I had to work hard to prove myself (harder than I felt others had to work). It’s sometimes quite difficult to be modest, look young, and be taken as seriously as people who are much older (but less experienced within biotech entrepreneurship). This has at times been quite exhausting. However, I feel that this is becoming less of a challenge. (I hope it’s not because I’m starting to look old…)
TECHNOLOGIST What’s the best advice you would give to a young entrepreneur considering forming a startup?
ANDREAS LAUSTSEN Do it! You will learn a lot, have a great time, build a great network and hopefully also a good track record, and… you might even succeed!
My next advice is to select your team wisely, and select people you trust. Don’t necessarily choose among your best friends, since it’s important to have complementary skills. Choose people together with whom you have the required skillset to bring the startup to life. Also, don’t focus too much on dividing the pie early on, but stick to a preliminary agreement that leaves room for future evaluation, where the team or the idea might be very different from when you set out. Finally, believe in yourself, and that you have what it takes (or are able to learn very quickly) to succeed. And remember that most startups require hours and hours of hard work.
TECHNOLOGIST What’s the next cool title you’d like to win?
ANDREAS LAUSTSEN The next cool title I have actually already won… but it won’t be announced publicly until 2015. Besides that title, I am nominated for an award for young research talents, given by a large foundation in Denmark. I think it’s likely that I won’t win, since my research track record is still not all that long, but one can always hope.
And hypothetically speaking, the following titles could be cool to win: Sexiest man alive, Nobel prize winner, Angelina Jolie’s hottest husband, Most influential monsieur du monde, Largest receiver of research grants, Least boring pharmacologist, or Black Mamba’s Nemesis.
TECHNOLOGIST Well, if engineers truly can do anything, there’s (hypothetically speaking) nothing to stop you. Best of luck 🙂