Never forget that humility is the mark of greatness

Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment.

Hans Cobben is the CEO of Bluebee, he is a serial entrepreneur, seasoned executive, investor and enabler of start-ups. 

Hans Cobben, CEO, Bluebee

He has co-founded a number of globally successful companies in the technology domain and has held senior executive roles at Alcatel, SunGard and SWIFT. Driven by his experience in technology and excited by the potential of genomics, Hans took on the role of CEO at Bluebee in 2013. 

What are you working on right now?

 

In a company that’s in the process of scaling-up there are always many key issues that need the CEO’s attention and require active ownership. The most important things I am currently working on include (not necessarily in order of importance): negotiations for Bluebee’s next funding round, at the end of 2018 and our key product roadmap for 2018, as well as a number of strategic alliances with global players in the field that we are actively building joint solutions with. But I spend most of my time bringing together, driving and supporting my very richly diverse team of computer-scientists, bio-informaticians, bio-technologists and geneticists. Covering different corporate roles from the management of product development to marketing and sales, this group can only be as effective as I enable them to be and I want them to work together as if in a clockwork.

Whenever I have some spare time (although that mostly means the weekends), I like to tinker with deep learning neural networks. One of the very promising tools for the genomics domain we are working on in Bluebee.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?

In the larger scheme of things, it is definitely the sheer immaturity of the domain of genomics. This field makes me think of internet technology in the 1990’s. Literally all parts are moving: the basic scientific insights, the lab equipment, the computational tools, even the interpretation of what we are staring at if we find some outcome we think is relevant but unexpected. Tying it all together, not just scientifically or clinically, but also in terms of finding the people with the right competences, backgrounds and state of mind is a daunting challenge. But a great and exciting one to take on.

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.

Low cost wet lab sample prepping and sequencing, including miniaturisation, would be a blessing for all those new therapeutic and diagnostic applications that are in the making out there. It would be a great windfall for all these researchers developing new insights if they could then be brought faster, better and cheaper from the lab to the clinic. I am not sure whether we will get that game-changing development in the next 18 months, but a breakthrough is close for sure.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I have spent the larger part of my professional life developing financial transactions software. It was a great experience and we built great (and complex) stuff. But having chosen to move into the genomics field (arguably somewhat different than finance), is the best professional decision I have ever taken. I am able to use the tremendous experience and knowledge gained from the financial sector in the vital, life changing healthcare and life science sectors. With Bluebee we now literally help society conquer formidable challenges in the fields of cancer, infectious, inherited and rare diseases, and reproductive health. And since ultimate success is defined by the quality of people you can surround yourself with, I am most proud of the very competent team I have been able to bring together at Bluebee. I feel humbled and privileged to work with them.

Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?

It would be enticing to throw a crowded dinner party for sure. But I would start with Erwin Schrödinger, as he might show up or not, and thus possibly save a spot at the table for an extra invitee (which then would be Plato). Apart from him, I would also invite Niels Bohr, because then Albert Einstein would definitely be tempted to come along as well. They were good friends and understood the value of an unbiased scientific conversation about the extremely abstract and composite domain of chemistry, physics and mathematics. And finally, I would add Karl Popper to the equation: he would be throwing in the bait to drive the discussion into meta-physics and lure Erwin, Albert and Niels into sharing their insights on the formal logic of scientific discovery. That won’t ask for too many bottles of burgundy to get the conversation going until the early morning.

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career? 

I would like to quote Henry Ford for this one: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”.

Young scientists and entrepreneurs really should not be afraid to boldly venture in uncharted territory, that’s where the opportunities and new and thrilling ideas lie, and with the right amount of self-confidence great things can be achieved. Don’t wait too long, restlessness is a great trait to have. And, never let anyone scare you away with the message that you need to be of a certain age or more experienced. In general I would even say “experience” is an overrated attribute, it more often indicates “business as usual” rather than the willingness to move the fences.

And if – at the end of your career – you haven’t failed dearly a couple of times, you haven’t tried hard enough. (And since we all know happiness is a choice, you’ll get over it soon anyway)

Opinions and views expressed in The Short Read are the interviewee’s and not those of the home institution


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