Interview with Kuntay Aktas, Btech Innovation

Kuntay Aktas, Co-Founder of BTech Innovation “I am a passionate technology executive, leader, and strategist. I am an expert in additive manufacturing, medical 3D Printing, AM technology implementations, and applications. I am the co-founder of BTech Innovation and currently working as CEO of the company. During my years at BTech Innovation, I’ve had the privilege of working with global companies (USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, France, Belgium, Italy, Latvia, Netherland, Canada) and technology experts as a representative, consultant, and partner all around the World. I have the ability to manage multi-disciplinary projects and to navigate complex challenges. I have always been an integral part of the BTech team who succeed in many global case studies, awards and projects and became leading engineering companies in the additive manufacturing industry. I will be speaking at Metal 3D Printing for Medical Devices. “

Jenny: What was your first encounter with 3D printing?  

Kuntay: I received a job offer in 2011 and I was going to be responsible for the training medical design software and the first metal AM machine in Turkey. Those were dates when nobody had experience with 3D Printing. I was very exciting because it was an area that I can be an expert as an engineer and I quickly realized how fast technology was evolving. I took the job, read a lot, attended trainings and worked hard. Concept Laser M2 was the first 3D Printer I touched in my career.  Of course, it was very stressful, because we used to work with titanium, which had very limited resources. Titanium is also a very tricky material. Yet, it was very experimental and exciting.

Photo Credit: BTech

Jenny: What were some of the earliest projects you did with 3D printing? 

Kuntay: I used to work in a military hospital, it was the very early days of medical 3D Printing and we started with anatomical models. After a couple of months of installation and training, we started to work on a patient-specific implant case. It was a case for the removal of a big chest wall tumor. There was not so much chance for the patient’s survival without a patient-specific implant because a big portion of the chest wall needed to be removed, which would cause problems on the respiratory mechanism.  We designed a patient-specific prosthesis and it was successfully implanted. This had been the first case of us and Turkey in 2012.

Jenny: How did you decide that healthcare will be one of the verticals you focus on with your company? (Was this driven by external factors like patients, or was this driven by more internal reasons, such a fascination with life science? )

Kuntay: When I was working at a military hospital, I realized that how engineering can easily help surgeons and patients. If you understand the problem well and propose a solution, 3D Printing could be a great tool to realize it. So, when the project ends,  I decided to focus on medical 3D Printing and It was the reason we launched the company because I had a history in hospital and medical applications. It is still the most attractive vertical for me. In addition to that, I had a chance to have contact with the patients we helped with 3D Printing. It is very motivating to change their lives and their life quality.

Jenny: What are some of the similarities and differences in being an entrepreneur in Turkey? 

Kuntay: I believe one of the biggest differences is accessing funds. It is much easier in the US or UK however rest of the challenges such as competition, resistance to disruptive technologies, pressure for growth is similar to anywhere else. Yet, there are a lot of economical distraction avoids you to focus on your business. Still, I believe places like San Francisco are more open to innovation and change. So there have been some times we wish to have this startup in California.

Photo Credit: BTech

Jenny: What motivates you to become an entrepreneur? And what motivates you the most for your day-to-day work? 

Kuntay: I think progress and competition motivate me most, but brainstorming on a novel topic, working with talented people and talking about technology in your daily life is the most attractive part of being an entrepreneur for myself.

Jenny: What is the general ecosystem like for healthcare 3D printing in Turkey?

Kuntay: Turkey is a great country to develop medical technologies together with universities and scientist, there are great academicians, engineers and talented business people however there are some certain rules on procurement which does not support the new or innovative products. Medical care of 99% of the population is covered by the government, almost 90% of the treatments under reimbursement. However, when you have a new product it is not easy to get reimbursement, this means if the government is not paying, your market is extremely small. Therefore, growing in Turkey is not easy. It is best to develop, do clinical studies, get certification in Turkey and continue to grow in Europe or the USA.

Jenny: Who or what inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing?  

Kuntay: There are a lot of people inspired me in this journey, some visionary managers from corporate companies, patinate young people from startups, ambitious surgeons. 

Jenny: Can you share with us some of your early successes and failures with your work? How did these shape your work and beliefs today? 

Kuntay: I think one of the failures we faced in the beginning, we were doing some designs in front of the computer by segmenting bones from a CT scan and everything looks smooth and easy. However, when we first joined a surgery, we realized that surgeons are working over a small tiny hole, with lots of stress and it is impossible to implant the prosthesis we designed. After that, we started to join more and more different surgeries and tried to understand their routines. This changed a lot of things in our design process. There is another case I can not forget. It was a suicide case, at the age of 17, a patient lost most of her upper jaw, bone, one eye, and her face was really in terrible condition. We designed a patient-specific implant for this patient, almost half of her face was replaced with a titanium implant. After a long but successful surgery, she was able to breathe and eat again. Of course, there were still some complications but the reconstruction level for this particular case was amazing. Such cases helped us to be motivated.

Jenny: If you can go back 5 or 10 years, what would you have done differently? 

Kuntay: We focused a lot on CMF implants. If it can go back 5-10 years and if I had the resources, I would definitely focus more on orthopedics. Secondly, I would work more closely with material scientists and physics in order to deep dive into Metal AM.

Jenny: Software, materials, or 3D printers. It has been an ongoing debate in the industry forever as to which is the most important player. What do you think is the most important player in healthcare 3D printing? 

Kuntay: User! If you find the right application others will work some way. 

Jenny: Can you share how BTech differentiates itself from other companies that also produce 3D printed spinal solutions? 

Kuntay: BTech is trying to become a platform company who is focusing on material sciences. This means we are working hard to improve the mechanical properties of Metal AM Implants and our target to develop fatigue critical parts such as stems, bone plates, bars in the near future. We have a long history of EBM and DMLS technology. Therefore, in addition to advanced applications such as organ transplants, cardiovascular cases, and reconstruction surgeries, we developed a hip implant system (TraBtech) which is under the CE process at the moment. This product is developed after serious studies about mechanical properties, lattice structures, bone ingrowth, nano roughness, and post processes. Besides that, we are also doing some research together with well know scientists about biodegradable materials. This 3D printable material can avoid the risk of infection or the thermal effects of metal implants. Meantime, we have a long history with Materialise and Materialise software as well, this gives us the opportunity to develop our design know-now internally.

Photo Credit: BTech

Jenny: What was your biggest victory in 2019? Please share that story with us.  

Kuntay: We have completed the R&D of our first serial production product TraBTech Hip Implant System. After long research and detailed in vivo and in vitro studies, we finalized the product and started the CE Certification process. Hopefully, we will start FDA process as well. This was a historic point for BTech, because our expertise was mostly on Patient-specific implants which are exempt from CE and FDA and requires only specific documentation. However, when you develop a CE certified Class IIIa product, you need a lot of validation, documentation, and tests which is a very challenging yet instructive process. We expect growth in the upcoming years together with TraBtech and our new products. 

Jenny: What is the biggest challenge you are facing in 2020, and how do you plan to overcome this?  

Kuntay: Until today, it is definitely Covid19. We have some investment plan and new project which will require funding. This process prevents travel, thus we cannot talk to investors, manufacturers, customers and therefore we are behind our schedule at the moment. Also, we have an ongoing CE process, there is a lot of slow down there as well.

Jenny: How is COVID19 impacting your life and work? 

Kuntay: There are good and bad sides. Of course, we do not feel good when people are suffering around, there is a big health problem globally, countries closed the borders and every country almost fighting alone. In addition to that, businesses almost stopped, people, are worried about the future. But, I not a pessimistic person. I believe there will be lessons to be learned for countries, governments, healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs literally for everyone. 

But when you look at the positive side our families and friends are okay so far and we keep working from home. Meantime, we had a chance to focus, read, write, think about ideas, spend more time with our families and belongings and we are forced to learn managing teams remotely. We also noticed how valuable to work at our offices together with our friends and teammates during this epidemic. 

Jenny: What good advice would you give to a smart driven student to succeed in the “real world”? What bad advice they should ignore? 

Kuntay: I believe those should find a method to motivate themselves continuously. Usually, successful students do not often face failure, but when you are an entrepreneur you will face failures more. In those times, you need to remotivate yourself and start over. Usual people will try to give you the advice to stop trying but if you believe your project, your vision and you have a systematic method, you can ignore them.

Jenny: What was the best investment you made in 3D printing? 

Kuntay: I had a chance to involve in the 3D Printing ecosystem from the very early days. Since the network is so small back in days, I had the privilege to work with many companies CEOs, top managers, get trained on their software, technologies, materials and also had a chance to work with visionary executives. So, my biggest investment is my network and training I received from the top leading companies and technology developers.

Jenny: What was the biggest risk you took in your career? How do you overcome your fear? 

Kuntay: When we first launched BTech in 2013, 3D Printing was not very well know neither on Medical nor in other fields. People used to believe it is a science-fiction and cannot be a part of manufacturing. As one of the pioneer companies in the market, you take all the risks of a virgin market. You have to learn, teach and generate revenue and this is not easy for a small company with limited resources and trained people. Luckily, I did not have so many business skills back in 2013 and I did not realize the size of risk ☺ . However, we worked hard, we collaborated with right people, grow our team with passionate highly skilled teammates, invested a lot on education and training and this helped us to do many leading studies and succeed medical firsts. Of course, we fought against a lot of economical, bureaucratical and engineering challenges but we were able to overcome our fears and barriers.

Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing? Do things you like outside of work relate to things you like at work? 

Kuntay: I like to work a lot in the field I enjoy, so I never complained about being overload and working hard but I am also quite a social person outside of the work. I am interested in music a lot, photography, technology and I like to spend time with futuristic people and communities. As an engineer, I like to deep dive into musical equipment, earphones, cameras, etc. I also like to spend time with my little family (with two babies) and one of our favorite activities is biking together.

Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why? You can also give us your own quote. 

Kuntay: I always fight against narrow-minded, conservative people, therefore I like the quote of Steve Jobs. “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones do”. This is a great quote for entrepreneurs. 

Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you?  =)

Kuntay: Medical 3D Printing is a big transition and a journey and I believe 3DHeals is one of the most important guides in the path. They show people what is going around, what is the future and how they can implement Medical 3D Technology to their daily life, routine or workflow. I really appreciate 3D Heals’s effort and I am very happy to meet with Jenny in a Starbucks at SF in 2014 ☺

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