"Sharing Knowledge: My contribution at 5-HT"

Katharina Kittelberger


The career of our mentor Dr. Claus-Jörg Rütsch started with an application to the job advertisement for "a broad-based lawyer." He developed from this position in a commercial law firm to a director and international lawyer in the Swiss conglomerate F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, where under his leadership a team of lawyers managed the legal affairs of the diagnostics business worldwide.

Since 2019, Mr. Rütsch has been part of 5-HT's mentoring network. He sees his role here as twofold: "On the one hand, I provide general advice on entrepreneurial topics. But on the other hand, I also provide concrete advice as a lawyer," he explains.

What was your motivation to get involved with 5-HT as a startup mentor?

"I felt I had made quite an interesting career. Now I could have continued as I was or ventured into something new. Not too surprisingly, I chose the latter.

My basic feeling is that, by sharing knowledge at
5-HT, I can make a real contribution to startups.

"Besides sharing knowledge, I find it tremendously exciting to continue to connect with the scientific community. The concept with 5-HT on one side, and young companies on the other, appealed to me extremely well from the beginning."

What is your focus in mentoring sessions? 

"On the one hand, it is important to me that right at the beginning, the wheat is separated from the chaff. By that I mean that important questions are separated from less important aspects. To achieve this, I try to listen carefully and ask a lot of questions during each session. The goal of this is to quickly find open questions and, accordingly, to identify alternative solutions that have not yet been explored. These blind spots are often found quickly.

On the other hand, I make sure to help the startups right at the beginning to find their way in the area of legal requirements, which is new to them. Because if startups know the regulations for their products, their services or their employees and address their compliance, the path to entrepreneurial success can be paved and costly mistakes can be avoided. Because it's especially this area where I recognize an always recurring problem, that is fundamental.”

Lack of legal protection - the basic problem of startups

"This problem is almost always the topic of the first sessions. Since I have supported startups a lot in the past in the area of property rights, such as patents, I always refer to the importance of protecting an idea right at the beginning. Because a good idea that is not protected is quickly taken over by third parties. Thus, it becomes difficult to build up a successful business and to find investors for further expansion if the basis is not secured. 

In addition, many do not think carefully about whether their product will be bought by potential customers. I know that this thinking goes far into the future, but it lays the foundation for the current work of the startup. To avoid any problems later, I draw attention right at the beginning to areas that may not have been fully thought through.

My goal is for startups to also get a different
perspective on things.

"Often, young entrepreneurs don't even approach me with legal questions in their early stages because they simply have no awareness that they are missing something in the legal field. A common opinion is often: "On topic A, my lawyer said that everything is in the green zone. That's why I won't ask any further about topic B". With its mentor network, 5-HT is already on the right track to become even more sensitive to issues that are not immediately obvious. Because only when someone is aware that a problem needs to be addressed, it can be solved.

Ultimately, as a mentor, I strive to reflect with the startup where it currently stands and through which current actions, future success can be facilitated."

What questions can 5-HT startups turn to you with?

"For this, it is helpful to imagine an onion: My core area is to provide legal advice on issues related to business law, the pharmaceutical industry and diagnostics. The layers around, such as business decisions and leadership issues in other markets require more general knowledge, life experience and plausibility checks. In general, I stay out of areas such as financing or tax consulting, because these always require cutting-edge knowledge. In such cases, I prefer to refer a startup to a specialized expert from my network.

Furthermore, I am happy to advise startups over a longer period of time so that we can develop joint strategies. In this scenario, we have one consulting session and the following month, for example, we have the next one. At this one, the startup then enlightens me about the most important events of the past weeks. In that sense, I'm available for anything from, "What do we do next?" to, "We have an appointment about patent rights, can you accompany us to the appointment?" with my support."

What is your goal for mentoring sessions?

"Basically, I have high expectations of myself and therefore also of the end result. I don't want to waste my time or that of the startup. That's why, as a mentor, I make sure to deal exclusively with the startup's questions. That means not acting with my own ideas dominantly in the foreground, but rather in a supportive or background manner. 

There should never be any attempt in mentoring to
tell a startup which way to go.

"Rather, I aim for both parties to benefit from the exchange of ideas. Because in the end, it's more fun that way."

So not only do the startups benefit from mentoring, but you do too?

"Definitely. In the past, I have not only made extremely nice contacts, but also learned about new technologies. Currently, I am observing that many startups are dealing with apps. So far, I didn't know much about this area, which is why I joined a special working group of the German Bar Association. They take care of computer law and technologies, corresponding rules for apps and software programs. I also find other technologies, such as those in the field of solar energy, enormously exciting. 

In my opinion, this is also the core of mentoring, namely to get thought-provoking ideas for successful, future innovations.

5-HT helps nudge those in the right direction.

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