BICO’s Path to Profitability is A Test for New CEO Maria Forss

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Sharing two key announcements that could signal a new direction, bioscience and bioprinting firm BICO (STO: BICO) has appointed Maria Forss as its new President and CEO. As a demonstration of her commitment, Forss purchased 28,000 shares of BICO on August 22, 2023. This news came as the company also released its financial performance data for the second quarter of 2023.

Forss, who has an illustrious career full of leadership roles in prominent medtech and pharma companies like Vitrolife and AstraZeneca, will assume her new position on November 27, 2023, or possibly earlier. This comes after the incumbent President and CEO, Erik Gatenholm, decided to step down, prompting a discussion with the Board of Directors that culminated in Forss’s appointment.

Born in 1972, Forss has proven her ability to grow businesses throughout their entire value chain, showing a skill for navigating various sectors. Before taking on this new challenge, she spent over ten years at Swedish-based assisted reproduction firm Vitrolife, where she most recently served as the Senior Vice President of the Consumables Business Area, preceded by her role as Vice President of Business Development and Global Marketing.

Rolf Classon, Chairman of the Board at BICO, welcomed Forss: “On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to welcome Maria Forss. She has profound leadership skills and life science experience, which will secure steadfast focus during BICO’s further development and create shareholder value. I would also like to thank Erik Gatenholm for his vision and dedication to building a strong life science company. During his tenure, the company has evolved into a Group which is built on a market leading commercial portfolio.”

To ensure a smooth transition, Gatenholm will continue to serve in his current role until Forss assumes her new duties. Gatenholm will also continue to remain involved as a major shareholder and board member.

Lab engineer using 3D bioprinting for life sciences applications.

There is an increased demand from labs for automation, robustness, and accessibility. Image courtesy of BICO.

The announcement of this high-profile appointment was well-timed, coinciding with the release of BICO’s second-quarter financial report for 2023. The company registered a subtle increase in net sales, amounting to SEK 541.1 million ($49.6 million), a 0.7% hike compared to the same period in the previous year. The company’s profit margin seemed to go down, but that’s mainly because they had to lower the value of some of their assets on paper, including asset write-downs and goodwill impairment. This didn’t involve actual money going out; it was more like an accounting move. When you ignore these accounting changes, the profit margin is better, reaching 71.4%.

Adjusted EBITDA for the quarter presented a challenging picture, totaling negative SEK 11.5 million ($1.1 million) with a margin of -2.1%. This was in contrast to the same period in the previous year when it was at SEK 11.1 million ($1 million) with a positive margin of 2.1%. Still, it’s worth noting that the company has worked hard to lessen the harmful effects of the pandemic. When COVID-19-related sales in Ginolis’ units were excluded, the EBITDA margin turned positive, reaching 2.2%.

Additionally, BICO’s performance showed promise in certain areas. The company delivered stable sales growth in its business areas of bioprinting and biosciences (primarily led by subsidiary Cellink) while facing a slow market. One of the significant highlights was the divestment of a property in Berlin for €21 million ($22.8 million), an event expected to improve BICO’s financial position with a positive cash flow contribution in the last quarter of this year.

Yet the numbers that probably turned the most heads were those relating to profitability. BICO reported a net loss of SEK 898.4 million ($82.3 million) for the quarter, affected by a goodwill impairment in group companies and other non-cash flow one-off items. Gatenholm clarified that the one-off items were largely due to increased weighted average cost of capital (WACC), asset write-downs, and revised earn-out estimates as the company continues its transformation toward profitability.

3D bioprinted tissue model.

Cellink’s bioprinters and tissue-specific materials help researchers engineer tissue models. Image courtesy of Cellink/BICO

The company’s stock performance adds another layer to the complex situation. Over the last month, BICO’s stock price has taken a significant hit, dropping 26%, which adds to an already tough year for shareholders who have seen a 65% loss over the past twelve months. The decline began around September 2021 and hit a low point in July 2022. Interestingly, the stock took another dive to a yearly low when markets opened on August 22, 2023, the day of the new CEO announcement and quarterly earnings release. However, it rebounded later in the day, indicating a possible turnaround.

BICO is among the leading firms in bioprinting. Launched in 2016 as Cellink, the company has rapidly expanded its reach, now present in over 65 countries and used in more than 2,000 labs. Recently, it embarked on an aggressive growth plan, focused on a series of acquisitions that target three primary sectors: bioprinting, biosciences, and bioautomation. Operating as the umbrella organization for 11 subsidiaries, including Cellink, BICO employs a workforce of more than 1,000 people spread across various global locations.

Parent company BICO and its 11 subsidiaries.

Parent company BICO and its 11 subsidiaries. Image courtesy of BICO

In summary, the appointment of Forss as the new President and CEO is a strategic move likely to steer BICO into a new phase, especially as she steps in a year after reports of internal turmoil. As 3DPrint.com reported on April 25, 2022, BICO’s co-founder Gusten Danielsson abruptly left his role as CFO and publicly questioned the leadership of then-CEO Gatenholm. The board swiftly expressed their “full confidence” in the existing leadership, dismissing Danielsson’s comments. But there have also been complaints about how Cellink, one of BICO’s smaller companies, is run. This shows how important it is for the new CEO to be good at her job.

Given Forss’ impressive track record, especially in scaling global organizations, and considering her immediate investment in the company, she is ready to work. As she prepares to take the helm, her leadership will be critically observed to navigate the landscape laid out by BICO’s latest financial report and past internal struggles. With the transition to a new CEO and a renewed focus on scaling its global operations, the latter half of 2023 looks to be a pivotal period for the group.

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