"Many women think they have to know everything to pursue a business idea. That is not the case. What you need is drive and perseverance"

Our project is about “Empowering Women Entrepreneurship in Health Innovation”. How do you relate to that?

I am supporting/coaching many women and their innovation projects in this area. Besides coaching women on their entrepreneurial journey, I will launch an educational program for women on AI. It will contain deep technology, AI/machine learning and business. The program is organized in 3 intense modules formed to cram the participants and prepare them for the future. They will learn emerging technologies as the art of innovation, the entrepreneurial learning and how it is coupled to business model development. The participants will also learn how to disrupt new markets and create new solutions. My wish is to bring machine learning to a wider majority to ease innovation using the technology. I am deeply concerned about the speed of the tech-development and how this will impact those who are not involved - women, people living in the countryside and minorities. They will be the new working class who aren’t able to participate in society due to lack of knowledge. The participants don’t have to have a business idea in order to join the program. The program includes access to my innovation team including innovation coaches. Despite focusing on technical aspects, the program welcomes women from all backgrounds.

In health care there are a high number of female workers and researchers but these numbers are not mirrored in who receives ventured capital. The same trend favouring men is seen in other supporting resources, such as provided coaching to those that want to explore their business ideas and create start-ups. To ensure Sweden’s international competiveness in business and continued growing labour market for all citizens is a great inspiration for me. At the moment Sweden is the world’s third innovative country. In order to maintain this place, we need to support more women to take part of the entrepreneurial journey, they are necessary for Sweden’s continued economical evolution.

 

How did you come up with your business idea/research field?

I came up with my business idea while writing my master thesis. I realized how few interactions there are between industry, state and academia. In 2010 I started an online platform called “Student competence “, a match-making service between students, PhD students and researchers and society. Thus, I was an early tech/digital entrepreneur. This was my first company, five would follow. Prior to that I had never been interested in entrepreneurship, and I want to emphasize that your area of study does not have to form your future career. That is “old school thinking “- it is outdated to believe that you know everything you need to know after 3-4 years at university. We have to read up and reflect every day. The learning process is continuing throughout life, that is how we keep up with an ever-changing world.

 

Why did you become an entrepreneur/researcher in the healthcare industry?

I am an idealistic, my strong ideals are the source of my inner drive. I want to make a difference in society, to do my part. I consider myself as privileged for being a Swedish citizen. Here I received my education for free and had the opportunity to create what I want. My desire to conduct research originated from a desire to give back. I thought research would have deepest impact on society. Then I realized that I would give even more back to society through entrepreneurship. I give back every day through my projects, for example those focusing on AI in health care and so forth. It is all connected.

Compared to many other efforts, technology is bringing better solutions to meet the current challenges in our societies. For example, my team and I are managing projects to, using AI, create preventive and predictive solutions for challenges like social exclusion in various target groups. These challenges include problems like narcotics, criminality and violence.

 

How was the process of deciding that you really wanted to do it, what pushed you?

The first step was realizing that I was an entrepreneur rather than a researcher. I push myself through my idealistic personality, wanting to have an impact on society and to give back. This is of outmost importance to me. Also I am a person with an immensely strong drive, it is a personality trait. I never give up! I focus on getting things done instead of the problems I meet. Something that helps me stay focused is not comparing myself to other people. I don’t care how people are, as long as they are nice and including.

 

What have been the main challenges you have encountered?

I am a young woman and a second-generation immigrant. If I look at these parameters I think my age has been my greatest challenge second to my gender. I like to use feminine accessories and as it underlines my gender it has also been a challenge as I entered a male dominated business area.

I have confronted this by being extremely well prepared before every meeting I had. I have educated myself in each area that I have entered in order to prove my value again and again. That has been my way to be taken seriously by my male peers. I have proven my competence again and again. That is why I am respected today. It was tough but I got through it due to my drive and my perseverance. I have also been told that I am masculine like it was a compliment, when I am just being straightforward and showing my knowledge.

 

There is quite a high proportion of women working in the healthcare industry. Why do you think there is so few female founders?

When I bring up this problem I often get the explanation that women are not interested in entrepreneurship or business. But this is not true. The low representation is a structural problem and not “a pipeline problem “, as they call it “in the Valley “.  We see it all over the globe. In Sweden (a global leader in equality) the most unequal area in society is start-up and venture capital. Crazy numbers to exemplify this problem are that approximately 95% of state financed venture capital is given to men. Also, approximately 80% of those who transform a business idea into a real business are male; and this is consistent from exploring an idea and raising venture capital. Founding teams who raises venture capital are almost 100% males. The figure varies between 94-98% depending on whether the funding comes from state-owned or private venture capital funds. Thus, it is not strange that mostly men will bring their ideas to the market. The support is adapted to men. In the end, Sweden will suffer from this economically. It is my drive to change these figures and improve Sweden as a country of innovation.

 

What traits do you think you have, that made you became a successful entrepreneur?

The strength I have relied the most on is my drive, which runs on energy fuelled by my ideals. I don’t do this for myself but for women and for Sweden. I want to give back. It is also about my gratitude and insight on how fortunate I am to have the possibility to pursue this path of self-realization.

I have realized that perseverance is extremely important. You have to trust that you are following the right path despite not having all solutions when you take the first step. If you keep at it, they will come. Perseverance requires a lot of discipline and confidence.

Another strength I have is that I am nice and fair (but can also be demanding). I accept everybody as they are as long as they are nice and doing their best. I am humble in front of the mission and for others. It is important in business to be responsive to the customers. And to end it all, it is a strength not to have a strong attachment to what you are doing. As an entrepreneur, you will have to let go of what you have built in order to pivot and start again. The market might not be mature or there might not be a willingness to pay for your idea. Taking fast decisions is crucial in order to not spend too much time, money and possibilities along the journey.

 

Did you have a mentor or supporter that helped you pursue your idea?

Prior to working at Tieto I had never had a mentor. Here I got to know Cristina Peterscu, a strikingly powerful female leader. She is a member of the Tieto Group and she works very hard to open up doors for women within and outside Tieto. Her balance between being a straightforward honest leader with authority and her generous and considerate leadership have been a great inspiration for me. I contact her when I need to pitch, when I get stuck and need support, or just need to talk. I recommend her to anyone looking for a mentor to count on. Having said that, not having a mentor before I met Christina made me rely on my intuition when I navigate in the business world. Some of my decisions have not been rational but later they have showed to be the best decision. Looking back, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to evolve my authentic self, not being too affected by other’s opinions and experiences. Today, when I am strongly rooted in myself as a leading business woman, it is only a win-win situation to have the support from a mentor like Cristina.  

 

If you were about to pursue a new idea or venture right now - which field/trend/technology would you look into?

I am working with AI which I think will change the world as we know it. Our society will be affected on all levels, from healthcare to kindergarten. If I would enter a new area it would be in bioengineering or food technology.

 

What do you think needs to change in our societies for more women to pursue an entrepreneurial career?

As I have mentioned earlier it is a structural problem and we need to support women in all phases- but putting emphasis on the earliest phases. In the ideation phase when they want to explore their ideas - then they should get access to support and expertise within that area. That would ease their execution and ease their acceleration. The majority of those who raise venture capital or pitch to investors– regardless of gender - have weak business models. Thus, this is an area where I give women entrepreneurs extra support.

You need to have a mixed team (while saying that- inclusion might mean including a wide range of backgrounds instead of gender and ethnicity. It should also mean that you have researchers, business people and so forth).

Networking is very important for women entrepreneurs. Many women think they have to know it all in order to carry through a business idea - but they only need drive. Execution is everything! Networking and realizing that the ones who made it did not have it all figured out in the beginning of their journey is a big help. Thus, female role models are of outmost importance. Increased numbers of female role models projected in the public, showing the range of different women of who can do the journey, will naturally lead to more women choosing to partake the journey with ease. Those who do not care about this issue, they need to understand that a system where only men are creating products for both women and men end-users is not sustainable. For Sweden to be globally competitive, we have to include women in each production phase, not just design, marketing or administration. This includes leadership.

 

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?

Many women think they have to know everything to pursue a business idea. That is not the case. What you need is drive and perseverance. Therefore, I strongly advise to create an execution plan! Execution is 90% of the process. The idea is just the catalyst that starts the process.

When you have decided to partake the journey- then you go in, emotionally, physically, that drive is much more important than knowing it all. I would like to add trust and confidence in the process, help will end up arriving.

I think is important to have a drive based on something bigger than yourself to inspire you to stay on the path, something that gives you energy. Mine has been to give back and improve Sweden.

I would like people to remember that entrepreneurship in healthcare can be like an elite sport. You need to take care of yourself like you were an Olympic sportswoman; eat well, go to the gym and get rest regularly. Part of this is also to have a supporting inner dialogue with yourself.  

And you need to enjoy yourself, make sure to have fun along the way, it will affect your results and your product.

 

If you want to know more about Isthar, visit her linkedIn, follow her on Instagram or on twitter