A disease-fighting man in lycra
A Polish med-tech CEO finds a new sense of adventure in Stockholm.
Lech Ignatowicz’s first years in Sweden were spent doing lab research for his PhD work. “I looked most of the time like Dustin Hoffman in The Outbreak. Chasing rogue mice in an isolation chamber is not a sport, but gives you a great workout,” he joked. Lech received the Marie Curie Fellowship from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm in his final year of master’s studies at the University of Warsaw, which urged him to pack his Polish roots into a suitcase and fly them over the Baltic Sea to Sweden. In addition to Poland and Sweden, he lived in Belgium for a year as an Erasmus Exchange participant, where he was an active underwater hockey player (which is, indeed, a real sport).
Currently a long-term Stockholm resident, Lech is the CEO and co-founder of Biopromic, a med-tech company that develops low-cost, fast-diagnostic tests for infectious diseases. “Imagine a pregnancy test but for tuberculosis, malaria, or pneumonia — that’s what we do,” Lech explained. “I’m also involved in a few other biotech startups as a founder, investor, or board member, but everything revolves around technologies focusing on disease eradication, especially in a low-resource setting. Other ventures included mosquito traps using chemical compounds produced by malaria parasites, a human milk bank system, veterinarian tests, and placenta-derived stem cells. Sounds crazy, but has very solid science behind it — it’s geek fun.”
One of the most noticeable changes for Lech was the difference in work culture between Sweden and Poland. “Sweden has a very flat management structure, which I think is probably the biggest advantage the Scandinavian economy has over the rest of the world,” he said. “The roundtable discussions with all the members of the team are the norm where everyone has the opportunity to speak. It does sometimes lead to indecision (‘let’s have a meeting to discuss the next meeting’ is a common phrase), but in the end it leads to better teamwork.”
Another surprising aspect of Swedish life is that you are expected rather than encouraged to pay your share of a bill — “forget about buying rounds of beers and don’t be surprised to see the bank account number and an expected contribution on the invite to a graduation party.” Aside from that, Swedish life was relatively easy for Lech to adapt to, and he approached the small differences with a positive mindset. “Lack of sunlight in winter and trivial things can be a nuisance, but if you live by the Swedish saying ‘there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing,’ you’ll be okay.”
When asked about his strangest or most surprising experience abroad, Lech replied, “Being almost hit by a jumping deer in the middle of the city while cycling from work in the winter at -20°C. The deer was scared by an 80-plus-year-old lady who was cross country skiing in the woods with her tiny dog. Just another day in Stockholm!” In his free time, Lech is quite active. “I love cycling, and Scandinavia is a road cyclist heaven. During the winter we switch to long Nordic skates and hit the lakes. I used to dance a lot, a bit on the stage. I cycle fully embracing the MAMIL stereotype — a middle-aged man in lycra. I can jump into freezing water.”
Although Lech misses his family and friends, he’s grown attached to life in Sweden. “I can call Sweden my home now and I don’t plan to relocate soon. Sweden broadened my horizons and taught me to think about tomorrow rather than yesterday.”
Lech Ignatowicz has lived in Sweden for 12 years and is the CEO and co-founder of Biopromic, a med-tech company that develops low-cost, fast-diagnostic tests for infectious diseases. He has a Master’s degree in microbiology from University of Warsaw and a PhD in infectious disease immunology from Karolinska Institutet, Sweden’s largest institution for medical academic research.