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Bentley Managing Director Sebastian Büchert: "We see ourselves as an innovation leader"

Photo: Anna Ziegler / manager magazin

Gown, hairnet, gloves – this is the gap in which a man weighs filigree stents. The weight of the polished cobalt-chrome tubes, into which a laser has previously milled a diamond pattern, must be right to the thousandth of a gram. Four other employees sit next to him, bent over microscopes, and put a Teflon tube over the stents with tweezers and needles – the so-called cover. At the medical technology company Bentley InnoMed in Hechingen, high-tech is created by hand. The type of fastening has been patented.

The stents developed by Bentley are 1.5 to 5 millimeters thick. When inserted into the patient's blood vessel, they can be expanded to a diameter of up to three centimeters with the help of a balloon. "There are only five companies in the world that offer such balloon-expandable, covered stents. Among them, we see ourselves as an innovation leader," says Managing Director Sebastian Büchert (50). Covered stents can not only keep clogged blood vessels open. They also seal them and protect them from bursting. That's why Bentley stents can also be used to treat aneurysms, i.e. bulges in the vascular wall. "The market is a niche that is too small for large corporations," says Büchert.

Market leader in many countries

Today, Bentley is active in 80 countries and produces 100,000 stents per year. "We are the market leader in many countries," says Büchert. Sales grew to just under 2022 million euros in 69, with an average increase of just over 20 percent for four years, according to the company.

Bestsellers are the balloon-expandable stents with Teflon covers, which can be gently inserted into kidney or pelvic arteries using catheters, for example. "In the past, you had to open the patient and put the organs aside to get to a damaged artery in the abdomen. These were extremely risky interventions," says Büchert. It is only in the last 15 years or so that stents have been able to be used endovascularly in the abdominal cavity (i.e. within a blood vessel without open surgery), explains the marketing expert.

The news has been pouring in for months at the implant manufacturer: In September 2022, it bought the rights to an innovative catheter from an Israeli start-up. And since July, Bentley's most important supplier has also been part of the company. The acquired Qmedics from Switzerland manufactures 80 percent of the balloon catheters used to insert the Bentley stents. "With the acquisition, we can secure our supply chain," explains Büchert, who had a good 400 instead of 300 employees in one fell swoop. In June, the go-ahead came for a pivotal trial in the US. From 2027, Bentley's most important stent will also be available there. In China, sales are scheduled to start as early as 2025. And then Bentley also announced plans for an IPO in the spring.

Entrepreneurs Lars Sunnanväder (83) and Miko Obradovic (55) founded Bentley in 2009. Actually, the story begins much earlier. The Swede Sunnanväder came to Hechingen in the 70s, a town at the foot of Hohenzollern Castle between Stuttgart and Lake Constance. He was only supposed to set up a site there for Gambro, a Swedish manufacturer of dialysis machines. But he remained loyal to the Ländle. A stroke of luck for Hechingen. Since then, Sunnanväder has founded 13 medical technology companies in the region – and created hundreds of jobs.

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In 1994, Sebastian Büchert's career began in Sunnanväder's first company, Jostra. As a dual student in business administration and international marketing, he joined the company as a trainee – and only left the company nine years later after its sale. After that, the two did not hear from each other for ten years. Sunnanväder was friends with Büchert's parents, and in 2014 he called them: "I need Sebastian again." He worked as Sales Director Europe for Carl Zeiss Meditec. A change to a company with 25 employees at the time? Didn't seem very attractive. But Sunnanväder didn't give up.

From scratch

What convinced Büchert was the prospect of being able to shape a company from the ground up according to his ideas – first as marketing and sales manager, and since 2018 as managing director. So Büchert gave Bentley something he knew from working in the company: a strategy. "We used to ask ourselves: What can we do?" Bentley had developed stents for different parts of the body, from the stomach to the brain. "We stopped almost all of that and said: We are focusing very strongly on the driver of our success." And that is the insertion of stents in the aorta with vessels that go off to the kidneys and in the hips in the direction of the legs.

Sunnanväder is also highly satisfied: "None of the companies I founded has grown as quickly and at the same time as profitably as Bentley," he says. Bentley has also become a popular employer. "This makes it relatively easy for us to recruit the skilled workers urgently needed for expansion." One third of the people in Hechingen work in development or approval. Both are extremely time-consuming. A stent has to withstand enormous loads for years, as blood vessels move with every breath and heartbeat. Since it cannot simply be tested in the body, 400 million simulated heartbeats ensure that the stent is resistant to breakage.

Relieving the doctor of responsibility

Bentley supplies the six stent families in up to 100 different sizes. "None of our competitors have that many sizes," says the CEO. Vascular surgeons can order stents for a specific surgery date via its own app, and Bentley usually delivers the next day. In 2025, a stent is to be launched on the market that reduces operating times for complex aortic procedures by up to 20 minutes by simplifying surgeons' work steps. In addition, three studies are currently underway to approve three stent families from Bentley for further applications. "Surgeons like to use our stents in combination with implants from other manufacturers. However, as soon as our stent touches another, it is no longer approved for it," says Büchert. Eight out of ten Bentley products are used by doctors in such off-label use. "We have the ambition to become the first manufacturer to relieve doctors of this responsibility."

A challenge for Bentley: Bringing new products to market takes a very long time. "We need seven to nine years due to new EU rules," says Büchert. His team has to anticipate what might be relevant for doctors. Renowned vascular surgeons such as the Frenchman Stéphan Haulon help you look into the crystal ball. "This close collaboration allows us to be so innovative."

Büchert has no problem standing out, not only with its products. He likes to celebrate parties with his team and is happy when others say: "Once again, they don't have all of Bentley's." In the late summer of 2022, the managing director walked through the corridors in a tuxedo with a megaphone: "Fire alarm, everyone in the parking garage, please." There, a laser show awaited the staff as well as an Arnold Schwarzenegger double. Büchert had arranged the show to announce the acquisition of the catheter from Israel, which can open calcified blood vessels. "We sometimes see things with a twinkle in our eye and at the same time live up to the high level of responsibility," says Büchert, describing what he calls the "Bentley style".

The trip to a musical theatre in Stuttgart was also a surprise. There, the team learned in April that the company wanted to go public, with the target date for winter 2023/2024. Everyone is to receive a share package – worth at least 400 euros tax-free for each month of service to the company. "We owe our standing to our employees," Büchert emphasizes. "Now we want to turn words into deeds and express our gratitude."

The planned IPO on Nasdaq Nordic in Stockholm is also intended to secure Bentley's independence. Lars Sunnanväder and his family own 70 percent of the company. Even at the age of 83, the Swede is not tired of founding companies, reports Büchert. Until now, Sunnanväder has often financed its start-ups through the sale of existing companies. In any case, Büchert does not want to bow to the short-term performance pressure of the stock market. "A bad quarter and you lay off employees? There won't be anything like that with me. I have a broad cross."