Researchers shouldn’t have to worry about things like that right now.
This is what Arne Schlenzka, doctor and entrepreneur, thought when reading the interview of his former teacher Anu Kantele in the Helsingin Sanomat on 17 March. Kantele, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Helsinki, was explaining that while Finland had been able to quickly launch its coronavirus research, funding was still urgently needed.
–It was incomprehensible to me that at a time like this, during an acute crisis, a researcher would have to think about things like that. She should be able to focus on doing and running the research, Schlenzka says over the phone.
After reading the interview, Schlenzka immediately emailed the University of Helsinki. Could he help and spread the message of fundraising in his entrepreneur networks?
Schlenzka wanted to do something tangible to help in the crisis. He knew that the University employs an extensive researcher network and that it has the relevant permits for fundraising.
The desire to act was also motivated by a more general concern over dwindling research funding.
– A crisis like this can make us realise that cutting research funding is incredibly short-sighted.
Looking for solutions
Finding solutions for medical problems is Arne Schlenzka’s job. A doctor by training, he originally intended to specialise in orthopaedic surgery. In 2016, his friend who worked at the software company Reaktor invited Schlenzka to come look at a virtual model of a human leg that the friend had created.
The experience stuck with him. In 2017, Schlenzka decided to put his medical specialisation on hold, founding instead the Osgenic startup which is developing a virtual technology app for training surgeons.
With the app, surgeons could practise certain procedures more extensively and systematically before embarking on patient work. It would reduce accidents.
– The more surgeons can practise outside the operating theatre, the better for everyone, Schlenzka says.
In the ongoing corona crisis, establishing the company has also proved to have more extensive benefits.
– I’m still a doctor, of course. But the fact that I now also have an understanding of what’s going on in business and technology, along with the associated networks, opens up completely new opportunities for solving problems.
Only research can beat this pandemic
According to Schlenzka, research will play a central role in solving the corona crisis.
– If it’s possible to solve the corona pandemic at all, it will be done through research and cooperation that crosses faculty boundaries as well as the boundaries between the private and public sector, he says.
– We have to work together. I think that’s one of the most important things.
According to Schlenzka, companies have reacted very positively when he has reached out to them about funding the University of Helsinki’s corona research.
– Everyone has wanted to join in. The situation is good in the sense that we all have the same goal: to get through this crisis as well as possible. That means that it’s easier to get people to participate.
In addition to fundraising, Schlenzka is tackling the corona crisis in another project. He is a founding member and coordinator of a network of experts and entrepreneurs. Its goal is to help healthcare services cope with the challenges of this crisis as effectively as possible by solving bottlenecks through methods such as information gathering and software development.
Research progress brings hope
Like many Finns, Schlenzka is currently at home in voluntary quarantine with his family of five. With no work trips in the calendar, a silver lining has emerged: more time with the family.
Emotions can be volatile during a crisis, but taking action has helped him cope.
– It’s good for my own mental health to be able to help and move things along. It takes my mind off the negatives.
The leaps in medicine are another source of hope.
– It gives me hope to see how actively many countries are funding new research, both for vaccines and various medications. It’s hopeful to see so many things happening.