Founder interview

Johann Gudbjargarson, PLAIO's Co-founder & CEO.

Johann Gudbjargarson, PLAIO's Co-founder & CEO.

Johann Gudbjargarson, PLAIO's Co-founder & CEO.

It’s time for a change in pharma

“We're a tech company on a mission to shake up the pharma world, with innovative software solutions for manufacturing and planning” says PLAIO’s founder/CEO Johann Gudbjargarson. “Did you know most pharmaceutical producers are still using Excel for this stuff?”

“We noticed that, too,” he adds “and thought it was time for a change”. Our solutions utilize AI and other cool, emerging technologies to make the manufacturing process easier and more efficient, all while helping companies minimize waste and optimise their resources.”

So who are these PLAIO people, and what makes them qualified enough to revolutionize your planning process?

Two of the co-founders, Hlynur Stefansson, PhD and Eyjolfur Ingi Asgeirsson, PhD, are employed at Reykjavik University (RU). This connection to academia allows PLAIO to stay rooted in the research and continuously improve its products by incorporating cutting-edge ideas. PLAIO also collaborates with master's students at RU to further enhance product development. In addition to their academic expertise, the founders, executive team and board members have extensive applied experience in the pharma and software industry.

The Founder

During a career that spans more than 25 years in the software industry, Johann Gudbjargarson, the Founder/CEO, has worked on supply chain enterprise solutions in various sectors. He’s been a development manager, a business development manager, a consultant and now, a disruptor. “Well,” he says, “I’d like to think so. But seriously,” he adds, “my passion is building things and helping people and companies save time and money by improving their efficiency and reducing waste.” That's why Johann founded PLAIO, and why he’s so excited to provide solutions to the pharma industry.

Johann with his family on a vacation in Morocco in 2022.

Johann with his family on a vacation in Morocco in 2022.

The family man

Johann is a family man who lives in Reykjavik with his wife Sonja, and two “awesome (if I do say so myself)” sons, and a “naughty Finnish Lapphund.” He likes to get creative with photography, art, and woodwork in his free time. If it involves building or creating something, he’s all in. “Yes, I am committed to growing PLAIO into a company we can be proud of, making a real difference in the world, with a strong team that’s empowered by the right values. To create something that has a real purpose!”

The published author and photographer

Travel, photography and music has played an important role in his life. Sonja and I travelled the world to photograph and experience different cultures. Our travels throughout the world have really shown us that we are one global village, and all in this together, also when it comes to sustainability.”

The couple’s travels have included the trans-Siberian rail through Russia, Mongolia and China. (“We spent a lot of time on that trip”). They also travelled extensively through Eastern Europe, Russia again, Romania, Poland and Ukraine. Their longest trip was four months in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Johann and his wife published books (first, second and third) around these trips with an emphasis on their experiences and photography. “My interest in photography has recently evolved into more abstract photography,” Johann says, adding that his  work has been published in luxury hotels such as the Reykjavik Marriott EDITION, in articles (i.e. MET) and on albums like the cover of BJARMI, a collaboration work by Stereo Hypnosis and Christopher Chaplin (yes, Charlie’s son), Icelandic rock band Solstafir and others.”

So, there you have it, a little bit about the founder and CEO of PLAIO, and how we're bringing together real-world industry experience, academic expertise, and a passion for building and creating something that can have real impact in the world.

Johann talking about the benefits on using PLAIO in Pharma Manufacturing

Johann talking about the benefits on using PLAIO in Pharma Manufacturing

Why PLAIO? Because there’s a better way!

Our team had initially planned on creating a platform to manage the supply chain complexities associated with aviation and retail, but soon realised there was an even greater need and opportunity within pharma manufacturing.

We noticed that most pharma companies were still using spreadsheets for planning and thought to ourselves, ‘there has to be a better way!’ spreadsheets have its limitations, and noticed a gap in the market for solutions that could take advantage of emerging technologies like AI, with the intention of making the planner’s job easier and more efficient.”

“You might ask: ‘What’s wrong with using spreadsheets?’ Nothing...if you don’t mind juggling multiple sheets and dealing with data integrity issues, lack of connection between various workflows and data, and the inability to utilize AI and optimization to come up with better plans in a constantly evolving world of supply chain management. Who has time for all that? Why not use the best available tech to create better plans and reduce waste?”

“That’s where we come in. Our solutions streamline the planning process and help companies make more informed, data-driven decisions. No more spreadsheet headaches, just smooth sailing from here on out. Stay in control while getting advanced improvement suggestions and use automation to make better and faster plans.”

And that’s how PLAIO was born.

The founders of PLAIO, from left: Johann Gudbjargarson, Dr. Hlynur Stefansson, Arni Hrannar Haraldsson & Dr. Eyjólfur Ingi Ásgeirsson.

The founders of PLAIO, from left: Johann Gudbjargarson, Dr. Hlynur Stefansson, Arni Hrannar Haraldsson & Dr. Eyjólfur Ingi Ásgeirsson.

The Reykjavik University connection

The first touch point with the university was when I graduated there, long ago. My second job after graduation was for AGR Dynamics a supply chain software firm. That’s where I met Hlynur Stefansson and Eyjolfur Ingi Asgeirsson. We worked together and became friends, around 2000-2005. Hlynur and Eyjolfur both left AGR to pursue their PhD. degrees abroad, but we stayed in touch. After graduation, they both started their academic careers at the RU and are still there.”

Hlynur and Eyjolfur are two of the most brilliant minds in the field of engineering and AI you will find here in Europe. Hlynur received his PhD in Engineering from Imperial College London. He focused on optimizing production planning and scheduling for the pharmaceutical industry in collaboration with Actavis. He's now an associate professor at Reykjavik University and the director of the Sustainability Institute. Hlynur has also been a visiting scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the University of Genoa.

As for Eyjolfur, he earned his PhD in Operations Research from Columbia University, where he worked on research in scheduling and optimization with some of the top academics in the field. He's a professor at Reykjavik University. Eyjolfur specializes in AI, teaching graduate-level courses in data mining, machine learning, and AI.

“Having them onboard equips us with the talent we need to become industry leaders in AI and automation software development”. We plan to have a significant impact on this sector,” “utilizing research and academia in practice - blending theory, research with practicality. This has benefited PLAIO tremendously in the past, and will do so in the future.”

In the past year, three students who did final thesis work in their MSc studies in RU in collaboration with PLAIO have now become full-time employees. Sara Arnadottir was hired to lead PLAIO’s Coplanner program; she did her final thesis in collaboration with PLAIO on AI assistance in planning. Andri Sveinn Ingolfsson, who was hired as a developer, did his MSc program in collaboration with PLAIO on plan optimization. Hildur Guðjónsdóttir did her MSc thesis in plan optimization in 2021 and graduated that spring. She did a stint at Deloitte as a manager but became part of the PLAIO management team in January 2023.

A developing company

Frumtak Ventures is the first VC to invest in the company. Frumtak have a strong portfolio that includes life science companies like Controlant, which played a pivotal role in helping Pfizer distribute the Covid vaccine by providing the necessary temperature control and monitoring to ensure that the vaccine is properly transported and stored; and Sidekick Health, a digital health company that offers personalized, evidence-based health coaching and self-management programs to help people improve their health and well-being. “Getting investors on board with such experience and connection allowed us to get even more laser focus and drive on our journey,” Johann says.

PLAIO’s product and vision has mostly stayed the same since the company was funded. “We started the company on a solid foundation of technology and domain knowledge regarding how and what needs to be done to help pharmaceutical companies. However, we have put even more emphasis on our PLAIO Coplanner, our AI functionality, which we consider a game changer,” Johann adds.

In terms of customers PLAIO started building traction in Europe and has now started building its US operations. “The problems we are addressing are universal,” says the CEO, “and Iceland, our home, is strategically positioned between these two continents.”

“We are positive that we are in an incredible position to make a real difference for pharma companies,” Johann says.

What next?

There has been momentum in the pharma industry to gain control of the supply chain. Studies have shown that from now on to 2030, pharma companies will invest a lot of money and resources in this field. Some have said that companies that will miss the wagon will be the companies that will disappear. This has been summarized as Pharma 4.0 and is aligned with PLAIO’s vision and plans for 2023 and beyond.

“Our main product has proven itself, and we will use the continuous feedback from our existing pharma customers to continue to improve it. In parallel, we will focus on innovation, such as our Coplanner module, which further unlocks the value of AI in creating optimized plans with minimal manual work – resulting in savings and less waste,” Johann says. “We are in advanced talks with many pharma companies, so we expect a busy and exciting year. We are also expanding our network, concerning sales, and also for our advisory board.”

Says a CEO who’s on a mission to build a better future for healthcare, manufacturing, and the world.

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