News : Believe in your idea and do not lose confidence!

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As an expert of the Saxon transfer landscape and founder of Riboxx, GWT managing director and TUDAG board member Prof. Jacques Rohayem looks back and into the future in an interview with futureSAX.

futureSAX: Pro­fes­sor Rohayem, more than ten years ago you foun­ded Riboxx GmbH and took part in the futureSAX ideas com­pe­ti­tion in 2008. If you look back at that time and com­pare it with today, what has chan­ged in Saxony’s inno­va­tion land­s­cape since then? How do you per­ceive the inno­va­tion eco­sys­tem today?

Pro­fes­sor Rohayem:Riboxx was foun­ded on May 7, 2009 as a spin-off from the Medi­cal Faculty of the TU Dres­den. Perhaps as a remin­der, 2008 was the year of the glo­bal ban­king cri­sis cau­sed by the Leh­mann Bro­thers affair. Sax­ony was also affec­ted, e.g. by the insol­vency of Lan­des­bank Sach­sen and the resi­gna­tion of the then finance minis­ter. Star­ting a busi­ness see­med like a high risk in those years and I was advi­sed against it. I did it any­way because I think and act coun­ter­cy­cli­cally. And as an entre­pre­neur I took the full risk, left the uni­ver­sity and took over the manage­ment of Riboxx, alt­hough as a civil ser­vant I had recei­ved a call to a pro­fes­sor­s­hip at a renow­ned uni­ver­sity, with very com­for­ta­ble con­di­ti­ons. The Riboxx tur­ned 12 years old on May 7, 2021.

Why am I tel­ling you this? Because I am con­vin­ced that the essence of inno­va­tion is the foun­ders. They are the ones who get up one morning and think: I have a solu­tion to this pro­blem – and I want to imple­ment and mar­ket it. And for that, I’m wil­ling to take a risk, because I have to believe in this solu­tion and believe that I can solve this pro­blem with it. And help cus­to­mers solve their pro­blem. And we need to pro­mote these cha­rac­ter traits more stron­gly – we need to sup­port people from the inno­va­tion land­s­cape of Sax­ony to sum­mon up the cou­rage and take the risk. It’s worth it!

futureSAX: What was your incen­tive to par­ti­ci­pate in the Ideas Com­pe­ti­tion (today: Founder’s Award) and what do you recom­mend to aspi­ring foun­ders who want to apply for the Founder’s Award today?

Pro­fes­sor Rohayem: I wan­ted to have my idea reviewed by experts and expe­ri­en­ced com­pa­nies and busi­ness people to gain visi­bi­lity for inves­tors. I was able to do that because that’s how TGFS took notice of me.

futureSAX: What added value were you able to gene­rate for yourself from participating?

Pro­fes­sor Rohayem: 
In my opi­nion, the added value lies in the oppor­tu­nity to review the busi­ness model of the future com­pany. Because it is indis­pensable to have this model veri­fied by third par­ties (who are more objec­tive than you). In my opi­nion, this is the first step in mini­mi­zing entre­pre­neu­rial risk. And thus incre­ase the pro­ba­bi­lity of making money with the busi­ness model. Why money? Because the main pro­blem for a startup in the first 36 mon­ths is liqui­dity. And the solu­tion to this pro­blem is: posi­tive cash flow through a valid busi­ness model.

futureSAX: Your social and eco­no­mic com­mit­ment is remar­kable: As mana­ging direc­tor of Riboxx GmbH, GWT-TUD GmbH and board mem­ber of TUDAG TU Dres­den Akti­en­ge­sell­schaft, you are active in com­pa­nies that sus­tainably enrich the Saxon inno­va­tion eco­sys­tem. As a pro­found expert on the scene, what do you recom­mend to young and estab­lis­hed com­pa­nies in terms of inno­va­tion management?

Pro­fes­sor Rohayem: 
Believe in your idea and don’t lose con­fi­dence that one day you will launch a pro­duct or ser­vice that will help people solve their pro­blem. The other day I was sit­ting at home having bre­ak­fast and loo­king at the objects in front of and around me: Pla­tes, kni­ves, forks, glas­ses, the table, the chairs, the lamp, the walls, the win­dows, etc. … Many things that are the foun­da­tion of our lives were crea­ted by inno­va­tors. People who thought: How can I solve this pro­blem? And have deve­lo­ped a solu­tion that helps us make our lives easier. That is the dri­ving force of an inno­va­tor. Inno­va­tors have a deep friendship with their peers. The­re­fore, my recom­men­da­tion: If you believe you can do some­thing good for your fel­low human beings and have the strength to see it through, then you are on the right path. It’s worth it.

futureSAX: You once said »Riboxx is meant to trans­form: turn tech­no­lo­gies into pro­ducts that make money and then crank the wheel of inno­va­tion again.« Why is this so important from your point of view?

Pro­fes­sor Rohayem: 
This is very important: money is only the means to achieve the goal. But without these means, not­hing is pos­si­ble. And the price a com­pany pays for stay­ing in busi­ness through inno­va­tion is reve­nue (or pro­fit). You can only drive inno­va­tion if you gene­rate enough pro­fit from the busi­ness to spend some of it on it. As Peter Dru­cker once said, pro­fit is the price you have to pay to stay in business.

futureSAX: How did you expe­ri­ence the trans­for­ma­tion for com­pe­ti­tive advan­ta­ges of Riboxx or what con­crete bene­fits were you able to gene­rate from it?

Pro­fes­sor Rohayem: 
Riboxx means RNA Ina Box. All of our tech­no­lo­gies focus on RNA with the goal of pro­du­cing a drug from RNA. When I foun­ded Riboxx, I had a vali­da­ted busi­ness model, ple­nty of money, and one of the lar­gest indus­try part­ners who publicly announ­ced that they had a very strong inte­rest in our inno­va­tion. Two years later, the mar­ket disap­peared. The indus­trial part­ner has clo­sed its branch in Ger­many, and all other pos­si­ble part­ners have with­drawn from the mar­ket. It was devas­ta­ting and that meant the end of Riboxx. It went from 100 to 0. I could not and would not give up.

That’s why I went back to the drawing board and worked hard on how to open up new mar­kets with our inno­va­tive tech­no­logy. And found the mar­ket for immune boos­ters to fight can­cer and boost vac­ci­nes. That was in 2011. Since then, Riboxx has been sel­ling its pro­ducts and tech­no­lo­gies world­wide. This trans­for­ma­tion has enab­led us to think for­ward, but also glo­bally. Future-ori­en­ted because we are taking advan­tage of RNA tech­no­lo­gies today, in 2021. Many of us have recei­ved the mRNA vac­cine against COVID-19. In 2011, when the RNA mar­ket disap­peared, a renow­ned sci­en­tist told me: You can’t make drugs from RNA.

When the mRNA vac­cine against COVID-19 was deployed world­wide in 2020 and 2021, I cal­led him and asked, »So, have you chan­ged your mind?

And glo­bally, because I mar­ke­ted the tech­no­logy from Sin­g­a­pore to San Diego. That’s the advan­tage of a trans­for­ma­tion: You grow with it.

futureSAX: As mana­ging direc­tors of GWT-TUD GmbH, you are part­ners in the Saxon Trans­fer Net­work. Prof. Rohayem, why is net­wor­king important in the area of know­ledge and tech­no­logy trans­fer and what untap­ped poten­tial do you see for trans­fer in Saxony?

Pro­fes­sor Rohayem: 
Net­wor­king is very important, because in Sax­ony we only have a chance to make a dif­fe­rence tog­e­ther. The world is open, you get com­pe­ti­tors from China, Rus­sia and the USA. Some pro­jects can only be tack­led tog­e­ther sim­ply because of the com­ple­xity of the issues. To do this, Sax­ony must become more inter­na­tio­nal and address all poten­tial mar­kets, in the EU, in Asia, in the Middle East. And the Saxons can do that. Just look at the long history of Saxon inven­ti­ons, from the Melita cof­fee fil­ter to the sin­gle-lens reflex camera. It was Saxons who inven­ted these solu­ti­ons at the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury. That’s why I say: Let’s fol­low the example of these people who lived in this coun­try 100 years ago and drove innovation.

futureSAX: Thank you very much for the interview!

The ori­gi­nal arti­cle can be found at futureSAX.

You can find out more about Riboxx Phar­maceu­ti­cals GmbH on the web­site.