How did you come up with your business idea/research field?
My interdisciplinary team and I were based at one of the largest cardiology units in Sweden. We experienced first-hand the difficulty in gaining intravenous (IV) access, and researched all variables that were relevant to IV success. Once I had a spec sheet and sound knowledge of relevant physiology, I could start inventing tech. After many iterative cycles and feedback from clinical personnel, we have landed in an intelligent and sustainable new type of tourniquet.
Why did you become an entrepreneur/researcher in healthcare?
Physiology fascinated me ever since I discovered neuroscience back in high school. After a particularly compelling psychology class, I bought Brown University’s Neuroscience textbook, locked myself in my room, refused to go to school for a month and read the book cover to cover. I was hooked.
After probing molecular biology by wet laboratory and genetic engineering, I turned my attention to coding analytical software at Oxford and Microsoft. I loved working as part of a team towards a common goal; it allows you to focus on tasks that you excel at. This way of working is more pronounced in the business world. While [academic] science is dedicated to fundamental research, the business world celebrates when you deliver fully functional, robust products. I thrived on emails from researchers around the world who enjoyed using my software tools.
So when I accepted the Clinical Innovation Fellowship and returned to Sweden for the first time in over a decade, I knew that I wanted to try to make R&D work in my own company, outside of Academia.
How was the process of deciding that you really wanted to do it, what pushed you?
First of all, to me, technological innovation has always been at the forefront of my mind, regardless of the institution where I worked. I wanted to try independent R&D, outside of large corporations and Academia, and my company became a great place to harbour that.
Secondly, while personal determination is very important in a founder, there are economic factors such as market size and competition for evaluating whether the business case holds for your idea.
Lastly, we won a stipend from the Royal Institute of Technology that allowed us to kick-start work on the company, and received coaching from its Innovation Office – that was crucial for success and confidence in our case.
What were the main challenges you encountered?
In my role, I know that innovation requires peace. Peace is not easily found in a start-up. So there’s a natural high friction between IP/tech and business management, which – understandably – values time optimization and rapid execution. One of the largest challenges I encountered was standing my ground and demanding time for R&D when the team wanted to run with an idea that I knew was suboptimal.
You need to stand your ground. In a team with clear roles, which we have, no one else is responsible for your area. It is your responsibility to know what resources you need in order to deliver, and to demand those resources. It is vital to your company’s future.
Several product iteration cycles later, we have landed in a sustainable, cost-effective and functional product that we are all very proud of.
There is quite a high proportion of women working in the healthcare industry. Why do you think there are so few female founders?
Women are given administrative and teaching tasks to a higher degree than men in Academia. I suspect that might hold in healthcare as well. While women make great, attentive teachers, such tasks eat time and you’ll simply end up founding fewer companies.
While there may be few female founders, statistics suggest that female led start-ups achieve 35% higher return on investment, so it is simply a great idea for purely economic reasons.
As for diversity, women have the added edge in female health sciences like maternal health care, since they are the natural end-users. I see great potential for entrepreneurs with clinical backgrounds in such so-called FemTech areas. I also recognise many dire needs in this field – some life threatening – and look forward to more innovation here. Entrepreneurship is a resourceful and economically sustainable way to deliver a solution to a need, and medicine is full of needs that need innovative solutions. I am a proud tech mentor to an all-female Femtech company based in Stockholm, and hope for many more.
What traits do you think you have that made you become a successful entrepreneur?
I deliver novel solutions based on my wide experience in tech and biomedical sciences. I take responsibility for my role, delegate in areas that are not my responsibility, work well in teams, and I am attentive to detail. Besides internal strengths, I have external power in the shape of my team. The team is key in executing concept ideas that I deliver, and in bringing product to market. A company with a product is a true team effort, not solo work.
Do you have a mentor or supporter that helped you pursuing your idea?
The team has close supporters in highly experienced clinical personnel and researchers. They are great sounding boards when we present our progress. And while not a classical example of a supporter, I have worked very closely with our IP attorney over the past year and she has been of great help.
On a personal level, my parents have always believed in my capability and independence. I am the first in our family to hold a PhD, and I feel their pride in me. Likewise, my late grandfather and I corresponded over the past decade and he was always my cheerleader.
I think that gives me core self-confidence, whatever the idea that I’m pursuing.
If you were about to pursue a new idea or venture right now - which field/trend/technology would you look into?
I have a decade of Academia behind me and plenty of ideas to execute on. I use the tech necessary to do the job, whether frugal or high-tech. I don’t keep favourites – that goes for both the field of work and choice of tools. But whatever the tech, I’ll try to incorporate power self-sufficiency and material sustainability. That is a really awesome trend. All credit to Elon Musk for making sustainability cool.
And if you don’t have 15 years of inspiration behind you, check out Gartner’s annual tech trends.
What do you think needs to change in our societies for more women to pursue an entrepreneurial career?
Until you have enough customers to be a self-sustained, profitable company, you need funding support. This is key for both prototyping and reaching your market. The Kaufmann Foundation, Peterson Institute for International Economics and Morgan Stanley and Capital Group International (MSCI) unanimously show that companies with women in leadership positions are more profitable than companies lacking women. And yet, ground-breaking research on government funding applications from over 200 companies conclude that women receive significantly less funding than men – even when all other factors are precisely equal. This kind of study is a sign of the times; both data transparency and mining AIs are on the rise, and it’s going to be really embarrassing for funding bodies who don’t urgently fix their subjective bias. Investment firms who hold on to similar anachronistic ideas don’t just face embarrassment, but falls in profit. On a lighter note, infrastructure such as accelerators and VC firms that explicitly support women-led companies are popping up around the globe and are more than happy to take on women entrepreneurs.
I welcome such data-driven initiatives, and hope that the rest of the world catches on soon. Until it does, you will need integrity, humour and a good support network. A great list of European resources to get you started can be found here.
Do you have any message you would like to share with other women that are thinking about pursuing an innovative idea in the field of healthcare?
There is so much advice to share – too much for the space provided here.
An idea is a fantastic thing. It needs execution in the form of a prototype, and a team to convert the prototype into product, and take the product to market. Don’t let anyone convince you that you have to be all such roles in a start-up. You don’t. That’s a major advantage of the company structure, as opposed to Academia. Clear team roles and a common goal creates a good breeding ground for success.
Also, you are not the first person to go on this journey. There are support networks for you to tap into. If your institution does not host one, check for local meetups. Talk to your local School of Economics about entrepreneurship networks. Ask someone who has done the journey before you to mentor you. You’ll be surprised how many professors and MDs have alternate lives in the form of company advisory board memberships or spinoffs of their own.
Seek groups of driven women who meet regularly where you can talk about where you are and where you’re going, sound off ideas, bring up challenges that you face, and source solutions. If these groups don’t exist, create one. It doesn’t need to be only for people with interest in health care; in my experience it can even help to form a group with very different interests to your own. Trust is key. Cooperate, look out for each other and be each other’s champions.
Keep in mind that as a founder, you are in a rare position of power to create company culture from scratch. Change the world using the means that are available to you. And if you put an all-women team together, let me know! I would love to follow your progress.
Lastly, for inspiration, a fellow Swede and female CTO who also left Academia for entrepreneurship just raised €25 million for her Swedish healthcare company Natural Cycles. FemTech might finally be taking off.
And remember, the only ventures with 100% guaranteed fail rate are the ideas that you never pursued.