In 2015, Roland Rott got wind of a Brazilian doctor who was 3D printing fetal ultrasound images so that blind parents could “feel” their babies. The process of creating the models was cumbersome, but Rott saw its potential. So he challenged his team of engineers at GE Healthcare to come up with a way to convert these images swiftly and easily. The result: the GE Voluson E10, the world’s first ultrasound system to have built-in 3D-printing capability.
Rott, general manager of Women’s Health Ultrasound for GE Healthcare, has always had a nose for opportunity. In his early life, he lived the tech entrepreneur fantasy: In 1992 at age 21, he founded Austria’s first business software company focused on Windows, the dominant operating system for PCs. The company made and distributed enterprise apps for accounting, customer relationship management and other business needs. He sold his startup six years later to a fast-growing mid-cap company, where he could continue flexing his entrepreneurial muscles as managing director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
But 18 years later, Rott began to feel restless. “I wanted to know how a large company having a global impact worked,” he says. So in 2011, he accepted a leadership role in the Ultrasound division at GE Healthcare. “I didn’t just get large,” Rott jokes. “I got extra large.”
It was a somewhat risky move. Rott had never worked in the healthcare industry. But he also believed it was on the cusp of a digital revolution where his entrepreneurial spirit would come in handy. The logic: Stretching the limits of innovation can be a messy business. The key is to learn and learn fast from the mess. It’s a lesson that Rott had applied as an entrepreneur but hadn’t expected to encounter at a big public company. “I was positively surprised that it’s acceptable to say I don’t know and I need help,” Rott says. “Or that I made a mistake and here’s how I’m going to learn from it.”
Nor had he anticipated feeling so personally connected to his work. Following his first years at GE, Rott was promoted to global general manager of Ultrasound’s Women’s Health division. He and his team create products that allow expectant parents to meet their babies in utero — a magical but in earlier days often confusing moment that Rott vividly remembers experiencing with his three children. “Fifteen years ago, when my first child was born, the technician would have to say, ‘Those are the lips,’ ‘There’s the knees,’” says Rott. “The images were in 2D, gray and fuzzy; I had no idea what I was looking at.”
Today, Rott is helping to develop 3D and 4D technology that helps parents clearly see their children and enables doctors to make better and faster diagnoses when there is a problem.
Rott is still flexing his entrepreneurial muscles. Last year, he partnered with Trice Imaging, a cloud startup in San Diego that allows doctors to send ultrasound images directly to patients’ and doctors’ smartphones via the cloud. GE Healthcare was receptive to Rott’s matchmaking because as Rott put it: “My own experience helped me to understand the agility as well as limitations of a startup and connect that with the requirements and processes of GE.”
By working at a company with GE’s scale, Rott feels like even small moves can have a big impact. GE Women’s Health Ultrasound touches about 200 million lives each year with its products. “This number counts every mother and baby going into an ultrasound examination with our products,” Rott says. “We have a huge responsibility to deliver the best possible care at any moment in time. In that sense, my team and I think and act as corporate entrepreneurs with a tremendous impact.”