Many of us remember learning about the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, in school. But few of us learned what happens when the cell’s powerhouse no longer works properly: Mitochondria dysfunction has been tied to many medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Alexander Schueller and his team develop a new approach to reinvigorate the cell energy metabolism by pioneering Therapeutic Mitochondria Transplantation. In this novel treatment approach, mitochondria are transferred directly into compromised cells, where they rescue and contribute to the cells’ energy metabolism. Learn more about Alexander’s expectations for the Venture Leaders Biotech experience, and find out more about the helpful advice, important lessons, and rewarding aspects that shape his entrepreneurial career.
Switzerland boasts one of the world’s most renowned and innovative biotech industries. To do justice to this powerful position, Swiss biotech startups now have their own Venture Leaders program: During their roadshow, the Venture Leaders Biotech will meet international investors and industry leaders and access industry-specific expertise and networks to grow their companies. For the next few weeks, we shine the spotlight on the 10 Venture Leaders Biotech 2021 and introduce you to the inaugural graduates of the program. To learn more about the startups, we asked each entrepreneur to complete a short profile and choose at least six questions from a questionnaire about their personal and professional life.
Name: Alexander Schueller
Location: Matzingen (TG)
Graduated from: RWTH Aachen University
Your job title: Founder and CEO of cellvie
Number of employees: 6
First touchpoint with Venturelab: In 2021, for the Venture Leaders Medtech
How and where did you come up with the idea for your startup?
During my first venture, Adhesys Medical, I worked with Dr. Pedro del Nido, a renowned cardiothoracic pediatric surgeon. In 2017, after we had exited, he introduced me to Dr. James McCully, the inventor of Therapeutic Mitochondria Transplantation. I was immediately intrigued by the elegance of the approach and the potential that the data my co-founders had generated suggested. I went back home, did my due diligence, and came to two conclusions. First, that it was clearly a long shot. Second, that if it did work, mitochondria might emerge as a new treatment modality. The chance to contribute to something that fundamental motivated me to start cellvie.
What do you expect from the Venture Leaders program, and how will it help you achieve your vision?
We have an ambitious agenda at cellvie, seeking to bring about a new treatment modality. To achieve this objective, it will take a strong network of partners who believe in the potential of mitochondria and help us succeed. I hope to expand this network during the Venture Leaders program and learn from and with the other participants.
What is one thing not many people know about you?
I wanted to build a skyscraper when I was in primary school.
What would be the title of your biography?
I’d like to think that most things are not rocket science and can be learned. If my biography were ever written, I would hope that it reflected that I learned a lot along the way. So maybe, my biography would be called A Learner’s Guide.
What is the one talent you wish you had?
To flawlessly play a musical instrument—preferably the piano or saxophone.
What is your favorite movie or show?
The Big Bang Theory! Sophisticated humor, consistency in quality few shows can match, and a cast of characters and plots that are humane and emotionally enjoyable rather than “drama.”
What is your favorite book?
The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling! Such an immersive world and intricate plot, nicely tied up in the end.
What is always in your fridge?
Milk to make a cappuccino.
What are you most proud of?
My path to and the success of my first venture.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
Doing beats thinking, and very few things beat hard work and paying it forward; be confident and not afraid to speak up or live up.
How did you come up with the name of your startup?
It needed to be something short, memorable, and ideally related to our technology. The cell is our target, and what we seek to do is to keep it alive (vie means life in French).
What is your favorite productivity tool?
I am probably behind the times: Outlook—it is my to-do list and document repository.
Where and when are you most productive?
In the morning, at the office.
What are your three favorite apps?
1. LinkedIn—the most powerful network expansion and exploitation tool
2. PowerPoint—it enables storytelling
3. CARTA—it allows me to keep my investors and board organized and save on lawyers’ fees through their board consent templates
What do you do when you are creatively stuck?
Stop and get back to it. Or if I expect they can help, pick the brain of others.
How and where do you clear your mind?
During exercise, preferably in the morning.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a founder?
Being responsible for far-reaching decisions under ambiguity: the decision’s accuracy will not be discernible for a long time, and possibly only at a time at which it may be too late to turn back. These decisions do not just affect me but also my co-founders, team, investors, and eventually patients.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a founder?
Seeing the progress you and your team can make and the impact you can have when all that matters is progress.
What is something you wish you had known about being a founder?
That it is much harder to raise money than you think, while everything seems to take longer and cost more money than you had imagined.
What is the most important lesson you have learned as a founder?
One of your most critical tasks is to pick the right team and then help everyone to perform at their best.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
“Don’t sweat the small stuff” and “Never delegate success”—from one of the primary investors of my first company, Adhesys.
What is your greatest professional failure, and what did you learn from it?
I accepted an at-hand conclusion of our group’s expert without sufficiently and critically questioning the rationale—against my gut feeling. We lost months. Today, whenever a matter is important, I insist on sound reasoning and hard evidence. I won’t take just anyone’s “word” for it.