A great team: Jacobs University alumnus Christian Angern (left) with his Sympatient business partners, brother Julian Angern (center) and former Jacobs classmate Benedikt Reinke (right). (Source: Sympatient)
A bit of luck, a good idea and especially a great team – these are Christian Angern’s essentials for setting up a successful business. His great team is made up of brother Julian Angern and Benedikt Reinke, former classmate at Jacobs University Bremen. Together they created the startup Sympatient, a digital treatment service for anxiety disorders, which recently received 7.5 million Euros of investments.
In 2013, Christian Angern and Benedikt Reinke started their first startup-like business together at Jacobs University Bremen: the Jacobs Startup Competition which was one of the first competitions for student entrepreneurs in Germany back then. They turned the old-fashioned Business Club into a student-led, application- and technology-driven creative hub. “I was so inspired! That’s where it all started,” Angern, who studied Global Economics and Management at the time, remembers, “we were a team of about 20 people that needed to be led. We had to find donors, set goals and criteria for success – pretty similar to starting a business.”
Today, the 29-year-old leads a team of 60 employees at Sympatient. The young entrepreneurs created an innovative, digital and prescriptive medical product: the Invirto app, which already received many awards. In 2019, they won the Hamburg Startup Prize, two years later the German Startup Award 2021. In the same year, they placed in the Top 3 of the German Startup Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for startups in Germany.
Angern feels that the foundation for the success of their Hamburg-based business was laid at Jacobs University. Not only did he gain leadership experience, but he also learned the basics of programming during an academic exchange at Harvard University. “Those are valuable skills and that I still benefit from to this day,” Angern said. While coordinating the Jacobs Startup Competition, he additionally developed the ability to create a project’s vision and set acceptance criteria.
It is Sympatient’s vision to provide the best treatment possible for anxiety disorders. Christian’s brother, psychologist Julian Angern, came up with the concept of a digital treatment first: patients follow a digital exposure therapy by using virtual reality technology and still being accompanied by psychologists and doctors. In Germany, an estimate of about ten million people suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. The number is on the rise, not just because of Covid, but therapy spots are rare. Only a small amount of those affected, will receive an offer for therapy in time. This is where Sympatient comes in – digital psychotherapy is a valuable alternative. Only three years after the founding of the startup in 2017, public health insurances officially recognized the app Invirto as a prescriptive medical product.
What sounds like a fairytale was not at all an easy journey. “Every year we encounter one or two setbacks which make us question ourselves. Is this really worth all the effort? Why not just work a nine to five job and leave decision-making up to others?” Angern admits. One of those setbacks was in fact the recognition by the health insurances: “It came around two years earlier than we had anticipated and our team wasn’t ready. It was a stressful and challenging time but we pushed through and grew on it. In the end it was all worth it!”
Never boring and new challenges every day, sometimes more than you think you can take – that is the fascination of founding for Christian Angern: “Building a startup means to be flexible in any direction, always wanting to learn, develop and to try new paths. Above all: a focus on togetherness and feedback.”
“Appreciation is one explanation for why startups are so popular among employees. Another one, the socially relevant contents. Recently one of his employees told him that she would be spoiled for any other employer that comes after Sympatient. Why? “The company offers meaningful work. Many people question entrenched work cultures. They don’t want to just make money but also bring about change and help improve society. As founders we share this ambition. Our work is relevant which gives us so much,” Angern explained.
The next step for Sympatient is to develop a Digital Anxiety Clinic: “We believe, that we have to offer patients more than just an app,” Angern said. The Clinic will cover the whole treatment process, including diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care. Their goal is to offer tailored therapy services digitally, personally and in a hybrid format.
And what about the exit, the selling of a business, which many startup founders aim for? “This is certainly a topic for any startup using venture capital at some point,” Angern said. Sympatient has not yet reached that point. They are still working on realizing their vision. “We are on a good way and everything will fall into place,” Angern is sure.
This text is part of the series "Faces", in which Constructor University introduces students, alumni, professors and staff. Further episodes can be found at www.jacobs-university.de/faces.
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