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Taking small steps toward grand ideas

The Freiburg alumnus Michael Lauk has co-founded eight start-ups and now seeks to motivate others to work independently

Freiburg, Aug 23, 2018

Taking small steps toward grand ideas

Photo: Patrick Seeger

In the mid-90s he rode the first large start-up wave. Ever since then, physicist Dr. Michael Lauk has co-founded eight companies – and also works with many organizations for students with grand ideas, but with few financial resources. One would think a jack-of-all-trades might get a bit tired. Well, sometimes he does. But that is when he trains for the Iron Man.

Busy, but relaxed: Michael Lauk has always felt the drive to promote several projects simultaneously all his life
Photo: Patrick Seeger

It is not easy to find an interview appointment with Michael Lauk. It is no wonder when referring to someone who has co-founded eight medical technology companies over the past 20 years and is active in a number of nonprofit organizations. The meeting is slated to take place in the Freiburg industrial park in the premises of the neuroloop GmbH, which Lauk helped to launch. Start-up number six. A macro shot of the neuroloop product decorates his office: an electrode used on the vagus nerve to lower blood pressure via electrical stimulation. The atmosphere is relaxed. Lauk is not the type who exudes the hustle and bustle of a busy person. With his athletic appearance and open smile, he could also give young entrepreneurs a winning appearance in a training video.

His entrepreneurial endeavor has a two-fold intention: Not only does he want to launch his own companies, but he also wants to motivate young people to consider this path for themselves. Lauk is a volunteer on the board of the business initiative bwcon and the first chairman of the  “Verband der Freunde der Universität Freiburg,” a friends’ association for the University. “Together with the association, we recently promoted the idea of a self-sufficient autoclave. A great thing to be able to sterilize medical devices in third world countries without a regulated power supply,” he enthuses.

The association is important to Lauk for another reason: “I grew up in a non-academic family with five siblings. That is why I am particularly involved in helping people who require financial assistance to study, even if our limited funds can only provide an impetus, for instance, to take an excursion to Africa.” 

The company neuroloop has developed an electrode that is used on the vagus nerve and lowers blood pressure via electrical stimulation.
Photo: neuroloop

Riding the start-up wave

Lauk studied physics. But only because back in the 1990s Freiburg did not offer the only subject area that would have interested him: process engineering. Much to his fortune, he secured an assistant position in neurology his first semester. Physicists who were able to program and attend to complex technology were in high demand. “I immediately began conducting research and participated in over ten publications by the time I graduated.”

His second impetus was the year abroad at Boston University in the USA from 1996 to 1997 during the first major start-up wave. “It was contagious, especially since at the time we had many commercial projects in the clinical area and in quality assurance at the Freiburg data analysis center.” In 1998 Lauk founded his first company during his doctorate.

Eight companies, a high level of social commitment – It could indeed wear a person down. “I have felt the drive all my life so it is not burden me,” he brushes off the question. “On the contrary: I would be mad if all I did was sit around at the beach on vacation.” Of course, there are also times when things go awry. “Then you have to push through and be tough.”

In general, stamina is a definite requirement for start-ups. Lauk’s motto is to think big, but to divide the goals into small steps. He compares that to extreme endurance sports. “You will inevitably fall into utter hopelessness and want to give up. In order to avoid that, you have to stick to small goals: even to the next food station, which is still a curve away. Then the next stage becomes a success and that is highly motivating.”

Intensive hours without distraction

Sport plays an important role in Lauk's life, but not as a hobby to balance out his work life. “I am an extreme person. I want to be competitive and do things right or not at all.” For example, participating in the Iron Man in the US State of Hawaii. In only one and a half years he went from those typical paternal pregnancy pounds to competitive hardness. But it’s not just about ambition: “I'm not available when doing sports. It affords me intense hours without distraction, in which I can think about important decisions in peace. Sport makes my professional life more efficient.”

Is this how he manages his family too? “That’s not possible, and I do not want that either. Family is my number one priority and is the only solid constancy in my life.” According to Lauk, it only works because his wife is involved, not just in sports. “We are also a work team. Otherwise it would not work. The impact of the work is so high that we can only handle it together.” Maybe the next generation will join the team soon. At least the two almost grown-up children are already talking about start-ups.

Jürgen Reuß