Photo credit: SIMcharacters

published 11 Jun 2015 by Bernhard Katzinger in Austria 4 minutes 49 seconds to read

SIMCharacters: fighting for the smallest people

15 million babies worldwide are born prematurely every year. This is the biggest cause of child death in the world. Austrian startup SIMCharacters, founded by pediatrician Dr. Jens-Christian Schwindt, is working on giving preemies a higher chance of survival.

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Dr. Jens Schwindt is of German origin and has been living in Austria since 1999. He worked as a pediatrician in Vienna's biggest hospital and medical school, the Medical University Vienna. In his job, not only did he fight for the survival of premature babies, but also worked on training medical teams.

"Every tenth newborn needs live-saving measures after birth. The teams who perform these measures need to be trained well to enhance chances of survival for the newborn." Whereas such training is not compulsory yet in Austria and the most other European countries, Schwindt saw not only a need to come up with professional training solutions, but also a business opportunity.

It's all about teamwork

"Taking care of prematurely born infants is a complex task for medical teams. While in other high-risk areas like aviation, simulator team training is mandatory and a core part of the training schedule, this is not yet the case in medicine. It is crucial that medical teams get the opportunities to train rare and complex situations, that can be life-threatening for their patients. Mandatory team trainings would be very effective and helpful," says Schwindt. 

In fact 60 to 80% of mistakes observed in emergency situations are caused by human errors. These includes ineffective team communication, failing team leadership and the absence or failing of other soft skills that are only marginally taught at medical schools. Effective team training is a viable method of preventing such errors, Schwindt is convinced.

An intelligent puppet called Paul

Medical training that is done on simulators – puppets stuffed with technology that are programmed to respond to medical measures in a realistic way –, is nothing new. But especially in the field of premature infants, the existing simulators lack in realism.Dr. Schwindt was looking for someone with experience in the field of special effects and got in contact with later co-founder Christoph Kunzmann. "I actually got the idea of contacting a special-effects guy when I saw a stunningly life-like puppet of a baby used in a medical drama on television. I called the station and asked who was creating their props," remembers Schwindt.

SIMcharacters

The Austrian startup is working on giving preemies a higher chance of survival. The team is also developing the mo

Kunzmann who worked as a special-effects expert in Berlin, is part of the team ever since. Together with experts in the fields of medical physics (in cooperation with the Center of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering at the Medical University Vienna), SIMCharacters today staffs ten people working on their simulator. It will be the smallest, most realistic simulator on the market offering realistic training for pediatric teams. He is called Paul. Paul will come to his future customers together with a laptop and a patient monitor. He is designed to provide medical students and doctors with realistic training experiences.

Forming and financing

The SIMCharacters-team first formed in 2009. In 2012, SIMCharacters was established as a company. According to Dr. Schwindt, the importance of teamwork in emergency situations cannot be overestimated. This applies for the work of doctors as well as for founding a company. "When I started, it became clear very quickly that we needed a multiprofessional team with complementary expertise," he recalls. "As a founder, you have to be able to delegate tasks and focus on your expertise."

To finance Pauls development, Schwindt who is on leave of absence from his job at the Medical University Vienna, founded a second company, "SIMCharacters Training", that offers pediatric team-training sessions to hospitals.In addition, the team applied for a number of grants and, for example, came in second at the Best of Biotech Awards 2012 by the austria wirtschaftsservice. The aws also funded SIMCharacters via their pre-seed grant. "All this helped us a lot through the stages of early development and prototyping."

At the moment, SIMCharacters has taken steps to secure more funds. "We are at the stage where we go from prototyping to full-scale production. As helpful as the aws pre-seed grant was in getting us started, finding additional venture capital is not easy. It looks as if we will have a mix between venture capital, additional grants and maybe also crowdfunding. In the future, we may look for a strategic partner who has strong ties to potential customers like teaching-hospitals."

Going into production

Once Paul is successfully launched, Schwindt and his team want to establish SIMCharacters as a leading company in the field of pediatric simulators. The next product might be a full-term newborn simulator. His long-term goals as an entrepreneur? "At the end of the day, we want to save lives. Economic success and scientific reputation will come as a by-product if our product can successfully achieve that.

After fifteen years in the medical profession, I wished to make a real difference.

"In that next stage of development SIMCharacters will try to get the whole team – development of hardware, software programming and planning – under one roof. "Once we have managed that, we can work together even more effectively."In terms of work-life-balance becoming an entrepreneur did not change a lot. "What doctors and founders of startups have in common are their long working-hours," says Schwindt who is currently working out of his home office in Pressbaum near Vienna. He, however, experienced that the line between his free time and work tends to blur since he is self-employed.

Asked what motivates him as an entrepreneur, Schwindt names curiosity, the opportunity to work creatively, and efficient teamwork. "After fifteen years in the medical profession, I wished to make a real difference, to create something together with a team. As much as I miss working as a doctor, I think that entrepreneurship is definitely the right thing for me at the moment."

This story is brought to you in partnership with aws

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