"The most challenging thing in my job is to attract the right people with the right mindset so that we can create the right culture," says Kristian Hart-Hansen, CEO Leo Innovation Lab. Photo: Leo Innovation Lab.

LEO Innovation Labs recipe for talent:  Hire someone you’re uncertain about

In healthtech, the right people are crucial to success.  But how do you create a strong international environment when you are a pioneer in the field? Here is the Leo Innovation Lab's recipe for success.

Kristian Schrøder Hart-Hansen, CEO of LEO Innovation Lab, muses on the question of the recipe for success that has made the pharmaceutical company Leo Pharma’s innovation hub home to more than 100 international talents, who currently work in an open loft in the tony Silkegade street in inner Copenhagen.  

“It’s just too early to call it a successful recipe,” he answers, after some consideration.  

“The lab is still experiencing growing pains. The first two companies have already been spun out of the lab, and their next major project, Imagine, is also well into the scale-up phase.  However, it requires more talented employees. And while Denmark is gifted with a strong pharmaceutical industry, talent doesn’t come from within established companies. It is important to not forget people who can do machine learning, data, and AI.  These kinds of people come from the startup environment, both Danish and foreign.”

The Imagine-app is scaling-up. Photo: Leo Innovation Lab

Talent attracts talent

Diversity is key, and Kristian Schrøder Hart-Hansen repeatedly emphasizes it during the interview. Diversity is a requirement to create a highly innovative environment. Therefore, there are now 21 nationalities represented among the more than 100 employees.

Good people hate to work with bad people.

“The first international employee is the hardest. It is a slow process, which may take one to two years. And maybe you have to hire someone you’re actually unsure about when they get started. But afterwards, you have access to an international network,” says the CEO.

His experience is, that once you get good people on board, their network is worth its weight in gold.  The company is offering DKK 10,000 to employees who bring on a new employee from within their network.  Good people tend to know good people. Or as he expresses it:

“Good people hate to work with bad people.”

In other words, a talented employee will never bring in an average acquaintance. So even though both headhunters and the internet are generally used to find the next hire, word of mouth is the method that has worked best for LEO Innovation Lab.

“Not that it is necessarily easier now,” says Kristian Schrøder Hart-Hansen. For example, it has taken a year to find the current Chief Technology Officer. But with him on board, it is easier to find the next talented employee.  

Pioneering Leadership is Difficult

Not surprisingly, those with technical skills are the hardest to get a hold of within the EU, in Kristian Schrøder Hart-Hansen’s experience. To find super-sharp people with skills within fields like machine learning, computer vision, and programming, there is more talent in Russia and Eastern Europe, who would prefer to start a company in Silicon Valley than work in Denmark.

Although LEO Innovation Lab can offer jobs that make a difference around the globe in a country that is known to be a haven of advanced health data that innovative startups can work with, competition is hard.

The most challenging thing in my job is to attract the right people with the right mindset so that we can create the right culture.

Kristian Schrøder Hart-Hansen says he does not compete by paying the highest salary, although he is privileged to have strong financial support backing the lab, because it will destroy the startup ecosystem, that he relies on to tap into the employees.  Rather, the struggle is around offering the best work environment, with the most exciting projects, responsibilities, and professional development opportunities. It sounds beautiful, but it’s not easy, he acknowledges.

“The most challenging thing in my job is to attract the right people with the right mindset so that we can create the right culture. No one else in our industry has done this before. I’m constantly thinking about what we can do better, whether we need to hit the breaks, or whether we’re on track. To be honest, the management tasks around building a corporate lab can be confusing as you not only have to optimize the parent company’s already well-functioning business model, but constantly make radical innovations and new business models as well.”

“It takes between 4 and 7 years to build something successfully. We need to be built up slowly, while maintaining our commitments and engagements, despite the fact that we innovate in a field that is deeply regulated. Healthtech does not consist of super fast disruption,” says Kristian Schrøder Hart-Hansen.

Opening the black box in China

In terms of talent, he finds that DTU has become strong in securing a world-class pipeline within machine learning and computer vision, among other things. But it is still an uphill battle, despite the fact that Denmark actually has such excellent health data that the country should be destined to be a global health hub.  

When asked what to do to to ensure the right minds are onboard to unlock the future of healthtech at LEO Innovation Lab, Kristian Schrøder Hart-Hansen points to himself.

“If we could get a little more success with our products, it would affect the desire of people to work towards our vision. We are among the top 3 in the world within our field, but the more we can show, and the more we make a difference, the easier it becomes to attract the right people,” he says.

There is to refocus within the rapid growth of the lab and  demonstrate that LEO Innovation Lab is actually working on major cases that can engage, motivate, and attract new talent.

One of the markets that is still unknown is China, where LEO Innovation Lab plans to set up base in the near future. The company already has satellites in Israel and Toronto, Canada.

But Kristian Schrøder Hart-Hansen sees no obstacles to Denmark becoming a hub for healthtech. And he believes that if he wants a political headwind for that ambition, it’s critical to create an attractive investment environment, where it’s interesting to invest in the new upcoming startups.

“If we are going to attract and support the best talent, it can best be done by ensuring a strong cash flow. For example, by giving tax rebates to invest in startups,” he says.

Work-life Balance

Raluca Jalaboi, who is from Romania and works as Data Scientist at LEO Innovation Lab, is one of the kinds of talents that the Danish startup community wants more of to grow stronger. Her journey into LEO Innovation Lab started with her studies at the University of Copenhagen, where she grew fond of Denmark.

“It is expensive to live in Copenhagen. But it is not impossible, and there is a working environment where everyone is being listened to as well as a good balance between work and leisure,” says Raluca Jalaboi from Romania working as a data scientist at Leo Innovation Lab. Photo: Leo Innovation Lab

“Yes, it is expensive to live in Copenhagen. But it is not impossible, and there is a working environment where everyone is being listened to as well as a good balance between work and leisure. For example,  we are free to attend courses and events in our subjects, ” she says.

Manita Dosanjh, a PR and Communication Manager at LEO Innovation Lab who relocated from London, nods and adds that in Copenhagen, there is actually a balance between your salary and living costs.  For example, in London, it is expensive to live and work, and most people are paid relatively low wages to the cost of living. She also puts the working culture in perspective to what she knows from London.

“Here I have the opportunity to have a life besides just my work. This is not the case in London. Here, there is a flat hierarchy where employees are encouraged to mix, and when when we say things are opinions are listened to.  You are allowed to grow professionally and as a human being,” she says.

Manita Dosanjh, PR and Communication Manager at LEO Innovation Lab relocated from London. Photo: Leo Innovation Lab.