Case spotlight: Brainlab: Imaging a MedTech Future

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This case was featured in Connect, issue 54, November 2021.

Who – the protagonist

Stefan Vilsmeier, founder and CEO of Brainlab.

What?

Brainlab is at the forefront of medical software and hardware innovations centred around radiosurgery, precision radiation therapy, digital operating room integration, and information and knowledge exchange.

The company, created in 1989, is still privately owned by Stefan, who holds a 50% majority stake.

Such is the impact of Brainlab’s work, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Deputy Minister-President of Bavaria, Ilse Aigner, were in attendance for the opening of Brainlab’s new headquarters in July 2017.

medical software and hardware innovations

Why?

Stefan had much to contemplate as Brainlab’s competitors, such as giant public firms Medtronic (devices sector) and Amazon (data aggregation sector), had far greater capital to work with.

To take the company to the next level, Stefan was considering how to price his new Loop-X mobile robotic imaging device that was being positioned as a disruptive innovation in spinal surgery.

Furthermore, Stefan wanted to devise a competitive strategy to deal with the current dramatic increase in the amount of medical data, which would see Brainlab become a full data repository in conjunction with electronic medical record systems, the digital equivalent of patients’ paper records that typically contain information such as a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, and treatments.

Where?

The company headquarters are in Munich, with further offices in 19 locations across Europe, Asia, Australia, and North and South America.

Right from the outset, Brainlab was an international company, with hospitals in Asia, North America, and South Africa being some of their first customers.

By 2019, roughly 5,500 hospitals worldwide used Brainlab software, while the company had installed about 13,300 systems and 6,100 neurosurgical systems.

When?

Born in 1967, Stefan was only 17 when he wrote a book on 3D graphics, which netted the self-taught computer programmer $75,000 from 50,000 copies sold.

In 1989, Stefan enrolled at the Technical University of Munich to study computer programming and the theory of medical technology. However, while still in his first semester, he decided to follow his entrepreneurial vocation and drop out of university, forming Brainlab.

30 years later and Brainlab was a major player in many fields, and was still owned by Stefan, despite an IPO being considered in 2000.

Key quote

“Three years ago, I’d have said we’re close to an IPO based on the developments I had seen. However, now, I guess an IPO is not an option for another three to five years at least. I believe in this case an IPO is more of a personal decision than a financial one (for Stefan Vilsmeier).”
Rudolf Kreitmair, Brainlab’s Chief Financial Officer.

What next?

Stefan had much to ponder in order to ensure that Brainlab remained competitive.

In the first half of 2020, digital health venture funding hit a record $4.5 billion, beating the prior record of $4.2 billion in the first half of 2019.

With an even greater need for technology-enabled healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital health outfits were snapping up smaller companies to strengthen their market positon.

This is an approach Stefan was weighing up as a means to ensure Brainlab’s platforms were using the most competitive technology.

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

A remarkable protagonist

Regina said: “Brainlab is a remarkable story about a college dropout who created a company that dominates the field for brain surgery.

“It is the story of an extraordinary entrepreneur who used his programming skills to create the dominant company in a field where his competitors are huge established firms like Medtronic.

“The fact that he is German was a plus as it underscores the global nature of healthcare innovation.”

imaging for brain surgery

Complex subject

Regina commented: “It is challenging to explain how imaging for brain surgery is done. I believe we met that challenge in the case.”

Highlighting the business behind technology innovation

Regina added: “Many case studies of innovating healthcare technology are mostly about the technology innovation itself, and very little about the business model that enabled that technology innovation to succeed.

“This case is much more about how Stefan designed and implemented a business model that enabled him to succeed against corporate giants.

“It is also about the challenges he faces – he is convinced that much of these data and apps will be on platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS).”

THE CASE 

The case

Who – the protagonist

Stefan Vilsmeier, founder and CEO of Brainlab.

What?

Brainlab is at the forefront of medical software and hardware innovations centred around radiosurgery, precision radiation therapy, digital operating room integration, and information and knowledge exchange.

The company, created in 1989, is still privately owned by Stefan, who holds a 50% majority stake.

Such is the impact of Brainlab’s work, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Deputy Minister-President of Bavaria, Ilse Aigner, were in attendance for the opening of Brainlab’s new headquarters in July 2017.

medical software and hardware innovations

Why?

Stefan had much to contemplate as Brainlab’s competitors, such as giant public firms Medtronic (devices sector) and Amazon (data aggregation sector), had far greater capital to work with.

To take the company to the next level, Stefan was considering how to price his new Loop-X mobile robotic imaging device that was being positioned as a disruptive innovation in spinal surgery.

Furthermore, Stefan wanted to devise a competitive strategy to deal with the current dramatic increase in the amount of medical data, which would see Brainlab become a full data repository in conjunction with electronic medical record systems, the digital equivalent of patients’ paper records that typically contain information such as a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, and treatments.

Where?

The company headquarters are in Munich, with further offices in 19 locations across Europe, Asia, Australia, and North and South America.

Right from the outset, Brainlab was an international company, with hospitals in Asia, North America, and South Africa being some of their first customers.

By 2019, roughly 5,500 hospitals worldwide used Brainlab software, while the company had installed about 13,300 systems and 6,100 neurosurgical systems.

When?

Born in 1967, Stefan was only 17 when he wrote a book on 3D graphics, which netted the self-taught computer programmer $75,000 from 50,000 copies sold.

In 1989, Stefan enrolled at the Technical University of Munich to study computer programming and the theory of medical technology. However, while still in his first semester, he decided to follow his entrepreneurial vocation and drop out of university, forming Brainlab.

30 years later and Brainlab was a major player in many fields, and was still owned by Stefan, despite an IPO being considered in 2000.

Key quote

“Three years ago, I’d have said we’re close to an IPO based on the developments I had seen. However, now, I guess an IPO is not an option for another three to five years at least. I believe in this case an IPO is more of a personal decision than a financial one (for Stefan Vilsmeier).”
Rudolf Kreitmair, Brainlab’s Chief Financial Officer.

What next?

Stefan had much to ponder in order to ensure that Brainlab remained competitive.

In the first half of 2020, digital health venture funding hit a record $4.5 billion, beating the prior record of $4.2 billion in the first half of 2019.

With an even greater need for technology-enabled healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital health outfits were snapping up smaller companies to strengthen their market positon.

This is an approach Stefan was weighing up as a means to ensure Brainlab’s platforms were using the most competitive technology.

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Author perspective

A remarkable protagonist

Regina said: “Brainlab is a remarkable story about a college dropout who created a company that dominates the field for brain surgery.

“It is the story of an extraordinary entrepreneur who used his programming skills to create the dominant company in a field where his competitors are huge established firms like Medtronic.

“The fact that he is German was a plus as it underscores the global nature of healthcare innovation.”

imaging for brain surgery

Complex subject

Regina commented: “It is challenging to explain how imaging for brain surgery is done. I believe we met that challenge in the case.”

Highlighting the business behind technology innovation

Regina added: “Many case studies of innovating healthcare technology are mostly about the technology innovation itself, and very little about the business model that enabled that technology innovation to succeed.

“This case is much more about how Stefan designed and implemented a business model that enabled him to succeed against corporate giants.

“It is also about the challenges he faces – he is convinced that much of these data and apps will be on platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS).”

THE CASE 

The protagonist

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CASE - Reference no. 9-321-087
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