From Würzburg into the world11/30/2018
Dr. Simon Bungers studied biology at the University of Würzburg. After exporting cars to Finland and selling custom boxer shorts, he started his own business that develops science software.
Which jobs do graduates from the University of Würzburg work in? To present different perspectives to students, Michaela Thiel, the director of the central alumni network, interviews selected alumni. This time, it is Dr. Simon Bungers's turn.
From 2000 to 2006, the alumnus studied biology in Würzburg and graduated with concentrations in neurobiology, cell and developmental biology and biochemistry. Bungers is the co-founder and CEO of labfolder. He envisioned labfolder while doing his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Göttingen. Starting out as a strategic consultant, he soon became a "passionate entrepreneur" as the labfolder website puts it. Today, he focuses on business development and on continuously improving the product, taking it to new levels.
Why did you start your own business? The idea to establish labfolder was sparked while doing routine work in the laboratory in Göttingen. We realised that paper-based lab notebooks used by individuals are inefficient. The data is difficult to exchange, confusing at some point and difficult to use.
So you started your own company straightaway? No, I went to Munich first as a strategic consultant and then started a small company that sold custom-embroidered boxer shorts together with my brother, with whom I had already exported used cars to Finland while studying, which we sold later. In 2013, the proceeds were invested in the establishment of labfolder after I had found the ideal partner for the undertaking in Florian Hauer, a colleague during my PhD time in Göttingen.
What does your company do? We put all the data of a research or analysis lab on a central platform and process them so that the results can be searched more efficiently, allowing relevant data to be edited and validated more effectively later on.
What's it good for? Our goal is to help the staff in a laboratory to network and exchange their knowledge and research results more effectively and collaborate better. Our platform is a kind of data, knowledge and collaboration database designed as an electronic lab notebook which the individual scientist can use to analyse and process heterogeneous data.
And this was a novelty? We have created a highly flexible tool. That is what makes us special. Our interfaces enable us to link to every laboratory device and software throughout the lab. Imagine labfolder as a data hub in an industry that produces data in its factories. Labfolder operates as a smart data manager in a manner of speaking.
Who inspired you while studying in Würzburg? I am very much impressed by polymaths. I studied under Professor Martin Heisenberg among others who said such things as: "Imagine that the brain is the only mass in the universe that tries to understand itself". It was this idea which ultimately inspired me to pursue a PhD in neuroscience.
Which qualities should a startup founder have in your opinion? I think you have to be willing to take some risks. At the same time, you should refine your willingness to take risks to avoid unnecessary risks as much as possible or mitigate them, or rather you should be able to assess risks carefully (laughs). Of course, discipline is also crucial as is the ability to handle freedom. By this I mean the freedom to make your own rules about how to approach certain things. I firmly believe that this is the only way to achieve the kind of sustainable productivity you need as a startup founder.
And what else? Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and harnessing them for the benefit of the company is also important in my opinion. What's more, you have to be very resilient and be able to get up again after you have slipped up.
What motivated you to become self-employed? Generally speaking, I am driven by a desire to create something which generates a certain sustainable value.
What are your thoughts on leadership? Fortunately, we were able to build a happy team – your excellent crew is decisive to our success. We continuously try to create incentives for our employees; we have a very transparent and open employee participation programme, for example.
And what is your role as the CEO? My job is to initiate and push things. I had to learn to delegate. Of course, this also about your own ego.
What would you recommend to students who want to start their own business? Start small with a self-employed activity of their own choosing. And commit yourself to helping others and organising things for other people. For instance, my business partner and I were both representatives of the doctoral students at our respective Max Planck Institutes. In Würzburg, I found my active time in the 'Wingolfsverbindung Chattia zu Würzburg' fraternity very helpful. You do organisational and management stuff, you have to recruit. And if you have ever attended a convent, a kind of regular "management" meeting of the active members, you are well-prepared for a shareholder meeting.
And success is guaranteed then? Not necessarily. This is also the reason why it is so important to learn from failures. You failed an exam? Try again. Learn better. Networking with others is also very important for us today. All big deals in industry – and this applies to science, too – are based on personality, building trust and people who can help you.
How do you achieve a work-life balance? I have two children; my wife is also self-employed. On the one hand, this is a huge challenge but on the other, we share similar goals and motivations. But our life is not all about work. On weekends, we often go hiking and we are generally active in our free time. Of course, making agreements and a clear communication style are crucial or things can become tricky.
Thank you for the interview.
If you want to learn more about the alumni network of the University of Würzburg or to register, follow the link below.