Dr. Stephanie Willerth, a Full Professor in Biomedical Engineering, holds a Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Victoria where she has dual appointments in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Division of Medical Sciences. She also holds an appointment with the School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of British Columbia.
She recently founded the start-up company – Axolotl Biosciences that sells high quality bioinks for bioprinting human tissue models. She is an active member of the steering committee of the B.C. Regenerative Medicine Initiative and the Stem Cell Network. She also serves as a staff scientist at Creative Destruction Lab.
She served as the Acting Director of the Centre for Biomedical Research and the Biomedical Engineering undergraduate program at the University of Victoria from 2018-2021 and as the President of Canadian Biomaterials Society from 2018-2019. She was elected to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars and Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. awarded her their Teaching Award of Excellence in 2021.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Stephanie Willerth: My name is Dr. Stephanie Willerth and my day job is being a Full Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Victoria where I run an internationally recognized bioengineering lab that focuses on engineering neural tissues from stem cells.
We spun off Axolotl Biosciences from my research group due to the demand for our high quality bioinks that can be used for bioprinting human tissue models. Our first product – TissuePrint – has been used by our beta testers and customers to print all sorts of tissues from brain to blood vessels to skin.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Stephanie Willerth: We incorporated Axolotl Biosciences in March 2020 during the week when the pandemic shut down society. We have managed to keep going through the use of remote meetings and Slack. My team is young, but they work together quite well to ensure that we meet deadlines. Flexibility and trust are important to maintaining team morale in such trying times.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Stephanie Willerth: I have been excited to see some of the innovative biotechnology solutions that have arisen during the pandemic. I would suggest focusing on developing novel core technologies along with your target customers to ensure that your business remains sustainable.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Stephanie Willerth: There has been a shift towards using new ways of evaluating therapeutics to speed up the drug discovery process. Axolotl Biosciences is happy to help contribute to this process as our novel bioinks make it easy to produce relevant human tissue models as a tool for drug screening.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Stephanie Willerth: I do not recommend starting a company during a pandemic as it was difficult to get our corporate accounts opened when society was closing down. We are excited to start attending trade shows and industry events in person again to spread the word about our novel bioinks.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Stephanie Willerth: I think people are ready to get back to in person events like conferences and meetings.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Stephanie Willerth: Probably too many, but it is the nature of the job. As the C.E.O., I write a lot of our funding applications and make our pitch decks – all of which requires a computer.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Stephanie Willerth: Our social media team does an excellent job of showcasing how our inks work with 3D bioprinters to produce tissues. They also keep all of our followers updated on what is going on at Axolotl, including some of our recent successes like being selected a winner of the 2022 Falling Walls competition!
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Stephanie Willerth: I think everyone is experiencing issues with supply chain – it’s been difficult especially given the increasing interest in biotechnology companies.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Stephanie Willerth: I have been learning a lot about fundraising as Axolotl is currently raising its seed round.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Stephanie Willerth: The majority of the team at Axolotl has been around since the beginning and has stayed. We have an open communication policy and every quarter – our employees pick out the skills they want to develop over that time period. We also have flexible scheduling and our technology is really exciting!
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Stephanie Willerth: It would be great to be a super fundraiser since we are currently in the process of raising our seed round! It would be excellent to have a strong lead investor with experience in biotech in practice.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Stephanie Willerth: Success to me is when our beta testers and customers use our bioinks to generate amazing science! I’m a science nerd at heart and seeing the incredible work our technology enable is the best part of being a C.E.O.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Stephanie Willerth for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Stephanie Willerth or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.