• Startup Guide
  • 29 — 02 — 2024
  • Veronika Belova
  • Female Founders
Interview with a successful SPG Start-up
11 min read

Lanbiotic has launched last year their first product benefiting people who suffer from atopic dermatitis. After having conducted the clinical study for the first product “Lipid Care” and having won the V-label award, they are now developing the second product and are planning expansion to DACH and other European countries.

Katrin Susanna Wallner, the co-founder and CEO of Lanbiotic, shared with us her insights in the entrepreneurial journey, her motivation to develop “Lipid Care”, as well as the tips for future (female) entrepreneurs.  

Credits: Oliver Wolf

Ines: Katrin, what inspired you to start off on your own? How did it come to Lanbiotic?

Katrin: The idea came in 2020 during the first Covid-19 lockdown. In those days my son suffered from severe skin problems on his hands, and I tried to find a solution, an alternative for cortical steroids. I was reading much about probiotic bacteria that can not only be used in the guts, but also topically on mucosa or on the skin, but could not find any product that uses probiotic bacteria, as most of them only had its fermented extracts.

I could not let go of the idea of developing a product that uses life probiotic bacteria, which colonize the skin and stay for a longer period. When you think of the guts, it makes a lot of sense to use live bacteria, because they live there anyway. There is not only a microbiome in the guts, but also an own skin microbiome, which can be in dysbiosis. In atopic skin, for example, we see a strong correlation with dysbiosis, caused by certain pathogenic bacteria. That was the challenge for us: how can we dissolve this dysbiosis and re-establish a balance on the skin, enhancing the skin flora with beneficial bacteria? 

That was the beginning of the whole story. Together with universities I conducted research projects, spent many hours in the lab and finally managed to isolate this new bacterial strain from Styrian raw milk. It resulted in the effects we wanted to see. It was a long journey until we got to the market in 2023, but it was worth it. We received a lot of positive feedback from our customers, who already after four weeks started feeling much better. We see that we not only solved our problem, but could help other people suffering from such skin conditions to achieve a better quality of life.

Ines: It is amazing that you can already observe how your product makes a difference. Can you tell us how difficult the whole development was, and especially the step from research to market?  

Katrin: I was used to work in the lab and of course it was a different experience moving to the office and starting to plan our roll-out to the market. The hardest part was the long development cycle, in which I did not know, whether this will work clinically, even though the lab results were promising. The pressure was high, but we accomplished not only the proof of concept via prototype, but also the proof of market. We have our first paying customers and have sold around thousand pieces. 

I think that it is important to understand that one cannot stay a scientist forever if you want to go to market, but must develop into a businessperson and fulfill many jobs.

Ines: In your case, you have the best of both worlds in your team. Your co-founder Patrick oversees the business part, and you are more of a scientific mind, right? Do you think such distribution of disciplines and genders is beneficial for your project? 

Katrin: I think it is very important to have a diverse team. Our team is still very small, since we are currently only two people, which will change soon. But for now, everybody must deal with more than one topic. Patrick does marketing & sales, because he is a social scientist and has experience in advertising. 

I have the technical background and experience in product development, so those are my topics. Of course, we talk to each other about every area. We are also a couple, which is not a concept that works well for everyone, but we are a good team both in private and business life. 

...the willingness to learn is for me even more important than having a lot of experience

Ines: You mentioned that soon you might be expanding your team - which aspects are important for you when talking about new hires? Do you already know what kind of people you will be looking for? 

Katrin: This is what I think about a lot at the moment, because we will soon have our first hire. I think that one important thing is flexibility, thinking out of the box and not doing things like they were always done. Being open-minded, able to develop new strategies and to quickly adapt them to the fast-changing real and digital world we live in, is what we are looking for. Finally, the willingness to learn is for me even more important than having a lot of experience.

Ines: I do not know if you are aware of these statistics, but less than 30% of start-ups in Austria have mixed founder teams and less than 10% are all-female teams. Why do you think there are so few women in the start-up world? Was it easier for you to become a founder, because you started as a couple? 

Katrin: I actually started more or less on my own, because it was my research project. Later I asked Patrick if wanted to join, because it was a perfect fit. We knew that we could work well together, because we have already founded our first company in 2017, which is still successful. That was also an advantage, because we could cross-fund some of our expenses and with bootstrapping we did not need a private investor right from the beginning, however, we got a lot of public funding.

I personally feel more relaxed in a team, because it levels up one’s strengths and also minimizes the problems. I think that starting a company is always a big step and the founder has to be the one to want it and not be afraid of becoming a pioneer and doing something new. 

You must truly believe in yourself and your idea, and be ready for challenges. It is a bit of a lonely path sometimes. Founders’ way of life is something that must be self-chosen, because it includes hard work and big risks. Some studies show that men are more likely to take risks, however, there are also women like me, who are drawn to the idea of founding a start-up and we should focus on them and provide more support. 

Another point is that already from the beginning on, one must think big and be confident about the future of the project. I do not know if gender plays a role here, but for me it was not easy to create a huge financial vision, before I had a proof of market. Especially when talking to investors – it is essential to show where one expects the product to be in the next years, and I was uncomfortable telling people what my revenue in 3 years will be, before I had any results. In my experience men are often much more comfortable making such estimations, and more confident that their project will work as planned.  

Interestingly we also pursue the anti-fragility strategy. Growth is not the only target, but it is about being profitable, and I think that more conservative planning is currently seen as positive. 

Ines: I understand what you mean. There is research related to this topic, concluding that female founded companies are more sustainable in the future and are the ones, that actually survive and continue development for a longer period. Coming to the next question: You were very successful in receiving public funding and have pitched in front of the investors, now you are negotiating with potential buyers – in all these areas, were there situations in which you were confronted with gender bias?

One must remember that...as a founder you are the most experienced person in your field.

Katrin: Not very often. In the field of life science, where I operate, there are many women, and so me being a woman is not that of a big thing I would say. There were situations, when someone tried to explain to me that I cannot do this, and made me feel like a little unexperienced girl. That was not easy for me to deal with. But in the end I did it anyway and did not let them confuse or demotivate me. One must remember that that these are just opinions, and as a founder you are the most experienced person in your field. You should remind yourself that, when it comes to your project, other people are not smarter than you. Experiences are a double-edged sword – in some situations it can block certain flexible thinking and openness, so one must be careful not to always listen to those voices. 

Ines: You slightly touched upon another interesting topic: Currently it has been talked more and more about the culture of failure. Can you tell us about some mistakes from which you learned? 

Katrin : We learned from the first funding that we applied for. Initially, we did not get it and so we started the whole process from the beginning, put again a lot of work into it and submitted our request again. And we succeeded and could start our research project. I think you should stay true to your idea and try again as often as needed. If you have the feeling that it goes into the right direction, you should always continue, even after failing. I did not stop, and it gave me confidence, that even if the next problems arise, I will again not stop doing what I think should be done. 

Ines: Despite of such challenges and failures – what makes you continue your entrepreneurial journey?

The number of people looking for our product is growing, and many customers use it regularly. I feel that we have the duty and responsibility to provide it to them, because they suffer from a medical condition and need special care.

Katarina: I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Maybe it is just a predisposition, but I always wanted to invent something and thought it would be my path in life. What really drives me, is that we can use our own product. So, it is not only about helping others, but if we would not continue, I would be thinking where to get such a product for our son. The number of people looking for our product is growing, and many customers use it regularly. I feel that we have the duty and responsibility to provide it to them, because they suffer from a medical condition and need special care.

Ines: Is there somebody who had a special impact on your entrepreneur journey? Do you have a role model or somebody who inspires you?

Katrin: Yes. Katharina Klausberger – the founder of Shpock. She was my mentor from aws First, which is an incubation project from the Austria Wirtschaftsservice where I participated in 2021. We are still in touch, and I think she is a great example of a female founder, who also had one of the biggest exits ever seen in Austria. She did not only give me good business tips and shared her experiences, but also gave us very good input on a personal level. For me it is some kind of friendship that was established, and it is a special bond for both sides I think. As my business is at the core of my heart, when I share my thoughts about it, I establish a special connection with the person. I think very fondly of other founders, that we regularly meet. We exchange our thoughts, and I think this is a very special friendship, because our start-ups define our personality. I am sure that I am not only speaking for myself, but also for other founders. 

Ines: Since we are in January, I must ask - how was the last year for you? What are you especially proud of? 

Katrin: It was indeed a very successful year for us. We have partnerships with pharmacists and pharmaceutical wholesales, we were sold out twice and have returning customers. We were also very lucky to have received the International V-label Award and got the aws seed funding, which is very important for our next steps. Finally, we got some press coverage which helped us a lot in promotion and advertisement of our product. 

Ines: With such an amazing year behind you, what are your expectations for 2024?

Katrin: We are launching our second product, a bath additive, and I am very excited about that. We already have pre-orders, so we will be able to start selling it soon. We plan to expand not only other Austrian regions, but also to the German market. Finally, we want to continue working on our product portfolio and are looking forward to our first hires.

Ines: In conclusion do you have some advice for women, who want to start their own business?

Katrin: Just go for it, and do not overthink. It simply makes no sense as you cannot imagine the things that are coming. It always turns out differently. So, just do it!


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