When Saskia Biskup created her company back in 2009, she knew she had to take matters into her own hands if she wanted to move forward. Despite some initial difficulties, CeGaT now employs over 100people, all driven by the desire to help those who suffer from a disease. Saskia was awarded the EU Prize for Women Innovators in 2014 and WEgate asked some questions to get to know more about this inspiring woman.
WEgate: What can you tell us about your company?
Saskia Biskup: CeGaT GmbH was founded in 2009 by myself and Dirk Biskup. The company specialises in human genetic testing and it offers all genetics tests available so far, and our service includes counselling of patients, supporting clinicians to find the correct testing for their patients and offering treatment decision support, especially for cancer patients.
The tests cover single genes, gene panels, whole exomes and genomes. All methodologies are implemented in the laboratory including Sanger and next-generation sequencing, qPCR, MLPA, microarray, repeat analyses, methylation testing, microRNA and whole transcriptome sequencing. The company also has a focus on cell-free DNA testing (foetal DNA from maternal blood or cell-free tumour DNA).
Today, we employ more than 100 people and we are constantly growing.
What or who inspired you to set up your own business?
At some point, we realised that we can only move forward with our idea by not waiting for things to happen but by doing it ourselves.
What were the challenges that you faced when you decided to launch your company? Did you have any sort of support from organisations?
There were many different challenges and there still are. At the time we founded the company, most people did not believe it would work. The technical challenges were very high, the machines were not really working and we had to put a lot of money into research and development.
We were completely unknown until we won the German founder award in 2011. We had almost no job applicants and no customers and our very first projects were initiated by friends.
By the time we became a little bit successful, competitors tried to get rid of us. But recently, I have the impression that especially through EU-funded project collaborations between universities, small and large companies are being seen as a huge advantage. Small companies are very flexible and can, like we do, translate research very quickly and efficiently to the patient.
We still have many challenges like marketing in a very competitive environment, getting the best to work with us and being competitive. Especially when the US and China are putting enormous amounts of money into personalised medicine, whereas in Germany we seem to be ten years behind.
Entrepreneurship is still often considered a man's territory; what advice would you give young women who want to become an entrepreneur?
For me, entrepreneurship means working in a team and gender does not play a role in it. More importantly, everyone in the team has to be very good at what they do. The expertise cannot rest on the shoulders of one or two people; it has to be a team. We are a fantastic team: very interdisciplinary and diverse. For me, it is not about earning a lot of money but about passion. If you love what you do, I am convinced you can inspire others.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I like most of it, but especially working with highly motivated and very intelligent individuals. I feel happy that our work is helping patients and I am very grateful for what the patients give back to us. That is by far the biggest motivation for me to continue working and to never give up.