Surgeon switched scalpels to VR gear – say hi to Arne

Arne Schlenzka is a husband, father, surgery resident and nowadays also the founder of Osgenic, developing a VR-based simulator for surgeons. We sat down with him to talk about his new venture and how he went from being a doctor to becoming a founder of a tech startup.

Icebreaker (IB):

Hi Arne, how’s it going?

Arne:

All good, thanks for asking! We have just filed the papers and founded the company. Having two young children at home so I’m having rather busy times at the moment.

IB:

Sounds hectic! Could you tell a little bit more about your background? It’s not the most common thing for a surgeon to become a founder of a tech startup, is it?

Arne:

Yeah that’s true. I finished my medical studies at the University of Helsinki back in 2013 and after that I’ve been in the residency program for orthopedic surgery. The last years I have worked at Päijät-Häme Central Hospital which is located in Lahti. Me and my family live in Helsinki so Lahti hasn’t been the most convenient location for me.

Even though I have always had ideas how to improve the way of working in different medical fields, I have never had the time to start something on my own. After taking my paternity leave I suddenly had the time to finally develop the ideas I had in my mind.

IB:

How did you come up with the idea for Osgenic? What is driving you forward?

Arne:

As a resident surgeon I know – as do my colleagues too – that we lack sufficient and cost effective simulators to train our surgical skills for the upcoming operations.

Sufficient simulators exist mostly for arthroscopic and laparoscopic procedures (i.e. performing mini-invasive operations on a joint or the abdominal/pelvic cavities assisted by an endoscopic camera), but simulations can’t be done in the same way for open surgeries. My personal experience was an important factor that drove my thoughts further to find a solution for the problem.

I have always had a huge passion for improving patient safety and with Osgenic I have the opportunity to help a lot more people than I could ever do as a surgeon. The opportunity to make a big impact is what keeps me working so hard for this venture.

IB:

When was your first experience with virtual reality? Did it have anything to do with how you came up with the idea for Osgenic?

Arne:

Yeah, actually it did! The first time I tried VR (Oculus) was one and half years ago, when my friend showed me how it works. It felt so real to climb the mountains and shooting zombies. It was awesome. This was maybe the A-HA! moment when I realized how I could use this new technology in my venture.

IB:

Can you tell a little bit what Osgenic is actually about?

Arne:

As I mentioned, it’s hard to get opportunities to practice surgeries. There are no sufficient tools for students and doctors that would enable practicing open surgeries. Utilizing the latest technology and years of medical experience our team aims to build a VR-based solution that would give students and doctors the opportunity to practice and enhance their surgery skills. Needless to say, this would improve the quality of procedures, make the operations more efficient, and therefore improve patient safety.

The medical education system is rather similar globally and the procedures are done in the same way so basically our solution could be used very fast internationally. Even though a lot of work and development is required, and naturally some funding too, our solution would be a lot cheaper than the best tools that are used today.

IB:

This is such a cool idea! Why do you think this hasn’t already been done? Or has it?

Arne:

The technologies haven’t been on the level that they are today. So previously it hasn’t really been possible to develop a kind of solution we’re doing now. I strongly believe that our team with years of experience in different required fields, has the opportunity to build a well-functioning product that would revolutionize the medical education industry.

IB:

Who are the other team members? And how has everything gone since you started?

Arne:

We have a team of three at the moment. In addition to myself, there are Jouni Lohikoski and Tatu Lyytinen.

Jouni is a computer scientist that has worked for over 20 years with health care technologies. He is a great guy and excellent in his work. His knowledge in the medical field has also helped our internal communication. He has worked together with my father in Computer Assisted Orthopedic Surgery (CAOS) since 1995, so I have known him for a while already.

Tatu is a business professional and his passion lies in the company’s financials and business administration. He has been working with startups before which has been an advantage for us when starting this firm. He also has a strong experience in international business.

At the moment we’re taking big steps forward daily and developing the technology. Everyone is working hard to achieve the goals we have set. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose you all the best details at this point but hopefully soon!

IB:

What kind of support have you got from your colleagues and family?

Arne:

They all have been very supportive! Of course, there is always a little skepticism in the air when someone is leaving a well-paid doctor’s job for becoming a self-employed entrepreneur, but overall everyone has been very supportive.

My father is a professor of orthopedic surgery and I have discussed with him quite a bit. He actually brought the earlier mentioned CAOS technology to Finland in the 1990s, so he also shares the passion for integrating technological innovations to improve patient care. His only concern has been that I’m starting the business with investors’ capital. It’s something that wasn’t so common back in the days. All my former colleagues have also given me the thumbs up and encouraged me to push it further. Thanks a lot guys, you know who you are!

IB:

You participated in the Icebreaker’s Pre-founder Project (PFP) this spring. Would you recommend it for your friends?

Arne:

PFP was very useful for me, and a lot of fun. It gave me the opportunity to really kickoff this project. I didn’t have any former knowledge of how to run a business but the strong support from the Icebreaker team and the helpful PFP community made this journey much easier. I have had the opportunity to meet many interesting and smart people, got good advice from them etc. I definitely recommend PFP for everyone who is thinking about building a tech company from scratch.

IB:

Now that you have started a new chapter in your life as an entrepreneur, what would be your tips for the others who are thinking about doing the same?

Arne:

Firstly, if you’re in a relationship you must have an understanding spouse, otherwise it will be much harder. I haven’t been self-employed for that long time so the biggest setbacks and shitstorms are probably waiting me in the future :) So far everything has been rather easy, though. I have always been used to a stressful lifestyle even before starting the firm. As a doctor, you work long days and you have a lot of pressure on you, so that wasn’t anything new for me. When running your own business, you are more free to choose when to work and it has worked well for me as a father of two little kids.

My advice to people who are thinking about starting their own company is that you need to have a genuine interest and be passionate about what you’re doing. A great team around you is a must and an ambitious vision makes it more rewarding. I don’t see why anybody shouldn’t try to start their own business if they have a good idea and want to try their luck.

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Btw, we're organising another Pre-founder Project this fall

More info here. Deadline for applications is September 30, 2017 👊