An Interview with Fabian Alt, CFO of InGeneron, Inc., and #GAmentor Neema Mayhugh
No stranger to the German Accelerator program, Fabian Alt, CFO of InGeneron, Inc., is currently participating in the Life Sciences Access program after successfully graduating from the Life Sciences Prep program in 2017. Supporting the company is German Accelerator mentor and Strategic Lead, Neema Mayhugh, a healthcare innovation and commercialization expert. In this mentor/ mentee relationship, the two work together on general business derisking strategies, navigating challenges of entering the U.S. market, and bootstrapping in resource constrained environments due to the current crisis. In addition to providing guidance, Neema also assists InGeneron by making introductions to potential industry partners.
InGeneron is a clinical stage cell therapy company enabling novel, safe, and evidence-based regenerative medicine therapies. The company is developing treatments that unlock the healing potential of each patient’s own regenerative cells processed at the point of care for same-day application. InGeneron’s focus is on helping patients who are impacted by musculoskeletal indications.
To provide a little background, what prompted you to expand internationally to the U.S.? How did you become involved with German Accelerator?
Fabian Alt: Given that the regulatory framework for our therapy in the U.S. is more straightforward than in Europe, we shifted our attention towards the U.S. market back in 2016. Through a contact, we became involved with German Accelerator in late 2016 when we had started our first Feasibility Study with the FDA in the U.S.
As you successfully completed the Life Sciences Prep program (2016-2017), what were your main accomplishments?
Fabian Alt: German Accelerator taught us a very structured framework to think through our target indications and to evaluate those. Up until today, we have applied this framework to all indications in our clinical development funnel.
As a current participant of the Access Program (2019-2020), what are the main goals for the company at this time?
Fabian Alt: Our main goal for the Life Sciences Access program is to develop a successful market access strategy to be prepared to enter the U.S. market upon FDA approval in 2 years.
Last year, you raised $43M in Series D and received favorable results in a Rotator Cuff Feasibility study. What are the next steps for your company?
Fabian Alt: The most important next steps are: to enroll all 246 patients in our Rotator Cuff Pivotal Trial in the U.S., receive a reimbursement code from the American Medical Association (AMA), and set the organization up for a successful market entry in the U.S.
What has surprised you the most or is there anything you wouldn’t have expected before joining the German Accelerator program?
Fabian Alt: I was surprised by the openness of the mentors. Even though these mentors can look back on very accomplished careers, they are surprisingly open to talk to early stage startup management teams.
Compared to your previous experience participating in the program, how does the virtual German Accelerator program offering help you during the crisis?
Fabian Alt: We (InGeneron) particularly enjoy the virtual bootcamp sessions that are offered by German Accelerator. In addition, we feel the contact to our mentors is as well as it had been before the crisis.
Had you worked with other mentors before joining the German Accelerator program?
Fabian Alt: Our investors and Board of Directors have always been very good mentors. However, it’s especially helpful to receive the perspective of an outside mentor.
Was it different to work with a dedicated strategic lead and if so, how exactly?
Fabian Alt: A dedicated Strategic Lead helped to have one point of contact for our project. In addition, we felt that our Strategic Lead Neema constantly thought about how to solve our main challenges as if she was a part of our company.
While we know just how invested our mentors are in really trying to help support our companies, it is great to hear! How would you describe the relationship with your strategic lead, Neema Mayhugh?
Fabian Alt: Every time we talk, Neema has reviewed our material and is prepared to provide us with constructive criticism and appraisal. She voices her feedback in an open, honest, friendly, and encouraging way, so everyone on our team looks forward to her advice.
In addition to Neema, have you worked with other German Accelerator mentors? And if so, in which areas did they support you?
Fabian Alt: Yes, our Project Coordinator Jacob Pierson has introduced us to several other German Accelerator mentors and more from his personal network. These mentors have supported us to define our target patient population and develop and implement strategies for reimbursement, pricing, sales launch, and marketing.
What are the three things you would recommend to future program participants before they start working with their strategic lead mentor?
- Take time ahead of the program to think about what you want to get out of this program and draft suggested work streams.
- Prepare well for meetings with your Strategic Lead Mentor and send your written project updates and questions at least two days in advance, so your Strategic Lead also has time to prepare.
- Ask your Strategic Lead for help and advice – don’t be shy!
Have you made any changes to your product or business model for the U.S. market due to your participation in the program/ due to working with your mentors?
Fabian Alt: Yes, our envisioned business model, once we are in the U.S. market, has slightly changed due to discussion with physicians, especially around our target patient population and how to secure reimbursement for our treatment.
Shifting to the mentor perspective, what draws you to be a startup mentor for German Accelerator companies, Neema?
Neema Mayhugh: I love seeing new company concepts and helping move them toward successful impact.
How would you describe the relationship with Fabian Alt and the company InGeneron?
Neema Mayhugh: Fabian is smart, quick to absorb mentoring, dedicated, and easy to work with.
Typically, mentoring is a two-way street. What is something that you learned from your mentee, Fabian Alt?
Neema Mayhugh: Project planning and organization!!
Due to COVID-19, the German Accelerator programs run fully virtually now. Has this change affected your ability to mentor at all?
Neema Mayhugh: As I primarily mentor for Life Sciences companies, most of my mentoring sessions occurred via phone or Zoom calls. We do a lot of Zoom. Face to Face meetings through Zoom, while not the same as meeting in real life, can be almost as effective.
What do you recommend to startups wanting to scale internationally? Are there common themes you see from working with German Accelerator companies?
Neema Mayhugh: Make sure you know why you want to scale internationally and have a clear idea of the challenges associated with such a move. Your company needs to be ready, typically this means establishing a good market/ business in Germany first so there are lessons learned before scaling.
Comparing Germany and the U.S. in general – In your view, what are the main differences in doing business in both countries?
Neema Mayhugh: Business in the U.S. is more nuanced (I think). Having a great product that serves an unmet need doesn’t always equal success in the U.S. I also feel companies are faster to fail in the U.S. With such a fertile startup environment in the U.S., it seems like lots of “ideas” get started, but a much smaller percentage ever make it to sales.
What is the one thing you always recommend German startups to be aware of before expanding to the U.S.?
Neema Mayhugh: You must have a good understanding of your product/ offerings and your target customer and this must translate to a need/ consumer group in the U.S.
… time for the lightning round.
In your view, what makes an entrepreneur?
Fabian Alt: Being convinced of your big vision and pushing in different ways to make this vision a reality.
Neema Mayhugh: Grit, dedication, adaptability, accountability – notice how intelligence is not on this list??
How do you personally unwind and disconnect?
Fabian Alt: Meditation, alpine glacier tours, or music production.
Neema Mayhugh: With three kids, a husband, a dog, and my own consulting practice, I like to sleep. I really like to sleep. ???? But I recently began baking bread and really enjoy that too.
What are your three main takeaways from what your strategic lead mentor taught you?
- Talk to as many potential customers as possible.
- Do not analyze your market simply to get a better understanding, but focus only on what’s really important for you to understand so you can act on it.
- Liaise with Key Opinion Leaders – and for Life Sciences companies also Medical Societies and Fellowship Programs – early as they will be key to a successful market access.
What is your top tip for any startup to get the most out of mentoring?
Neema Mayhugh: Be open to feedback!