Spotlight Series: Interview with Dr Katerina Spranger, CEO and Founder of Oxford Heartbeat

01 Jul 2020

Spotlight Series: Katerina Spranger

Who are you?

My name is Katerina Spranger and I am the founder and CEO of Oxford Heartbeat, a startup that is making minimally invasive cardiovascular surgeries safer. Our medical software, PreSize Neurovascular, is used by clinicians to plan high-risk brain surgeries.

What inspired you to come up with the idea of Oxford Heartbeat?

During my PhD in biomedical engineering, I had the opportunity to observe a number of complex surgeries. I realised that minimally invasive, high risk procedures could be made safer and more efficient through the strategic application of AI technology.

I started thinking about what kind of product could help with performing these surgical procedures more safely and accurately. I began talking to clinicians, and after nine months and interviews with 34 surgeons, I felt like I had enough insight and feedback to take the leap and develop something innovative in this space.

How does it work?

Our first product, PreSize Neurovascular, was designed to bring accuracy and efficiency to brain stenting procedures. It allows clinicians to simulate the placement of a prosthetic device called a stent inside a patient’s blood vessels, rehearse different surgical scenarios, and ultimately decide on the optimal stent implant and its position for each individual patient. More importantly, PreSize enables clinicians to plan procedures in real time within a safe virtual environment before going into the operative theatre.

Currently, 20% of brain stent surgeries are unsuccessful and require further surgical intervention due to poorly fitted stents or other surgical complications. We’re very proud that our software has an excellent accuracy rate of 96.6%, improving patient outcomes on the whole, while reducing strain on the NHS.

What are the best things about working at Oxford Heartbeat?

I feel very fortunate to be working on something groundbreaking and meaningful. My colleagues are smart, inquisitive and friendly – we inspire one another through our everyday interactions, creating an invaluable sense of positive energy as the company grows. Lastly, it is invigorating to be working on a product that will help shape the future of healthcare.

What‘s the hardest thing about working at Oxford Heartbeat?

Like any other startup, we’re rowing ahead into an unpredictable future, which means we have to be prepared for any surprises that come our way. The industry we operate in also requires us to work and innovate at high speed, with immense pressure to deliver effective outcomes promptly. In addition, creating new markets can be a lengthy and arduous process, especially since nothing like our product has existed before.

What’s the biggest thing your company has achieved so far?

We are thrilled to have been awarded a CE mark for PreSize Neurovascular, which means that it can be used at hospitals across the European Economic Area (EEA) as well as the UK. The certification takes us one step closer to our goal of making thousands of brain surgeries radically safer.

What does the future hold?

We plan to launch a pilot of PreSize at several hospitals in the UK and Germany by the end of the year. This will allow us to gather enough data about how brain surgery patients benefit from surgical efficacy brought about by PreSize over an extended period of time. Using this data, we will continue developing PreSize to the highest possible standard, because we believe that it can make digital medicine a more equitable reality for healthcare providers and patients alike.

In addition, we want to use the PreSize brand to keep exploring and creating solutions that address the complexities of other high-risk surgical procedures.

What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?

  • It is useful and essential to be in constant dialogue with future users or customers from day one. If possible, it is always best to co-develop your product with your end users, because it’s ultimately for them.
  • Brace yourself for uncertainty and drawbacks – they are part of the game, and it is better to develop resilience to these roadblocks early on in your journey!
  • Give your dream a chance. If you don’t, you may come to regret it. Conversely, even if you don’t succeed, you will learn a lot along the way, and if you do, the journey is more rewarding than you can imagine. 

What impact has the Enterprise Fellowships Programme had on your business?

I have a soft spot and only praise for the Enterprise Hub. Without its backing and the access it has offered to inspiring events and people, Oxford Heartbeat might not be what it is today. The courses, practical advice, mentorship and peer-to-peer learning offered as part of the Enterprise Fellowships Programme were all hugely beneficial to us.

Most importantly, the programme has offered me, and Oxford Heartbeat more broadly, ample encouragement and tailored advice when we needed it the most. Knowing that we have the support of some of the most talented people working in engineering is a real boost to our confidence.

What advice would you give to potential applicants?

Be passionate about what you are trying to do and be yourself – these are qualities that will stand out during the interview process. It is also good to keep in mind that timing is important: your technology needs to be at a certain stage of development, so it might be that you need to continue working on your product and apply later at a more mature stage. I received the fellowship on my second attempt, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get it the first time!

Quick fire questions

Who is your role model? Catherine Mohr from Intuitive Surgical

What is your secret talent? Dancing

What’s your guilty pleasure? French fries

I don’t understand why… Humanity doesn’t learn from its past mistakes

When I’m not working at Oxford Heartbeat, I am… Spending time with friends and family

What makes you happiest in business? Getting feedback on how much our technology is needed

Do you have any business regrets? That I didn’t start earlier

If I could have a superpower, it would be… To live much longer (with health on my side) to do all the things I want to do

If you could switch places with any famous entrepreneur, who would it be? Probably Elon Musk because his businesses are so multifaceted 

The tech that I could not live without is... My laptop with internet access

Ever told a white lie to get what you wanted in business? Who hasn’t?

Which fellow Hub Member are you most impressed by? Dr Enass Abo-Hamed. She is an extremely strong and admirable entrepreneur, and I wish her all the success in making her vision at H2GO Power a reality.

If you had to choose another sector to work in, what would it be? Probably FemTech

And finally, if you could invent a new piece of tech, what would it be and what problem would it solve? Exchangeable battery for humans to substitute sleep. 

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