Do science like a girl!
“Don’t be silly, girls can’t be scientists!”. This is what Francesca Wuttke got as a reply when she was a young girl and mentioned to one of her teachers that she wanted to pursue a career in science. Did it stop her? On the contrary, it ignited her passion even more and she went on to get a PhD in Pharmacology. After a successful international career in academia, private equity, consultancy and big pharma Francesca is currently leading Almirall’s end to end digital transformation in her role as Chief Digital Officer.
That passion for science that she had as a little girl has never left her and today, on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we would like to acknowledge and celebrate those girls who dream of devoting their lives to science, those women who have realized that dream and are currently in leading positions and every young girl and woman in between.
At the Digital Garden, we are very proud to be launching start-ups led by female CEOs. Out of the 10 start-ups we are currently accelerating, five are led and founded by women (Ancora.ai, HautAI, Vila Health, Legit.Health and Uvisio) and we have reached out to them on this special day to learn more about their journey as an entrepreneur in the health tech field and to talk about female leadership.
We want to thank Andy Aguilar, CEO of Legit.Health; Anastasia Georgievskaya, CEO of HautAI; Laura Korcik, CEO of Vila Health, and Danielle Ralic, CEO of Ancora.ai, for speaking with us and for sharing their insights and experiences. They lead by example and they are themselves a source of inspiration for their peers, colleagues and digital health community at large. In a nutshell, they Do Science Like a Girl!
Inspiration or how to become the health tech version of Beyoncé
For Danielle, inspiration comes from “every woman in a leadership position since it takes quite a lot of hard work and gumption to get there”. “My everyday inspiration is the singer Beyoncé as she has demonstrated that you can be kind, humble, passionate, feminine and fierce all at the same time. And when I start my negative self-talk I have to think of what would Beyoncé say and that usually sets me straight. I honestly hope I can be the health tech version of Beyoncé and similarly inspire other young people to rise up to help fix the massive challenges we face in healthcare”, she adds.
Anastasia saw in her parents and other relatives great examples of how to lead a successful and busy career at the same time as having meaningful and happy family lives. “I was very lucky to have some great teachers, mentors and friends throughout my life who believed in me and supported me in anything I wanted to do”, she says.
Laura has drawn inspiration from other business founders who have created innovative solutions, both male and female. “I am inspired not necessarily by the loudest, most visible and cash-burning ones, but by the ones who build great and successful businesses”.
“Many doctors whom I was fortunate enough to meet as users of our tool have become my greatest source of inspiration over the years. Just an example: a few weeks ago, Dr. Elena Sanchez-Largo called me asking if we could also monitor Covid-19 patients with cutaneous manifestations with our algorithms. Her proposal sparked an innovation process inside our team, she was a leader in that way”, adds Andy.
Role models or why would you not want to lead in digital health
When we asked Anastasia, Andy, Laura and Danielle how do they inspire other woman to lead in the field of digital health, Laura didn’t hesitate to point: “You are on the edge of innovation, shaping a new industry and at the same time improving people’s lives. So, why would you not want to lead in digital health?”. She hopes to inspire her peers by just doing what she is doing, trusting herself and following her interest and motivation without letting doubts interfere. “I recently read a study that women are more likely to found companies in areas where they can have a positive impact on society. Whether that holds true for everyone or not, being and leading in digital health is definitely a unique space to be”, she adds.
Anastasia inspires others “by focusing on trying to be the best possible CEO for HautAI”. “I hope that my passion and work ethics inspires and motivates my team to build a successful company that helps millions of people around the world. So far, it’s working. I believe positive leadership and great performance are the best inspiration”, she states. Similarly, Andy thinks that the best way she can think of helping other women who aspire to create a scientific venture is to work hard herself at Legit.Health and “show that it’s nothing but ordinary to be a female who is successful in the field of digital health and entrepreneurship”.
Danielle likes to inspire other fellow women by “showing that women can be in this space, and unapologetically so”. “My fellow female co-founder and I also try to use every opportunity we have to promote women in business and women in digital health”, pointing that it has also been important to her to be able to speak out about the challenges that women in digital health face so others can learn from these experiences and make the space “less intimidating”.
Unique perspective or how my product is not necessarily a Femtech product
“We’ve had investors asked if Vila is a Femtech product. Why? Is it because Vila has female founders or is it because our product addresses the psychological, social and emotional challenges of living with a chronic disease and dealing with your feelings is still seen as something female? Or is it that chronic diseases (and talking about it) is perceived as something female?”, asks Laura. “Well, it is obviously not, as anyone suffering from a lifelong disease can tell you”.
For Andy, being a woman in a leadership position means “having the ability to be tough while at the same time being kind”. “As the CEO of the company, I see that in many ways I’m transpiring that to my team, which creates and environment where competitiveness is important, but never at the expense of kindness. I also think that sometimes I’m too hard on myself when I judge my performance, which is something that I’ve seen more in women than men”, she adds.
Since HautAI works with skin diseases, Anastasia feels like having a woman’s perspective is very important. “I bring an understanding and special sympathy for those suffering from skin issues to the company. I feel especially empathic towards young women struggling with their self-image. This is what drives me forward. I want to help everyone achieve the best possible skin health and feel fully confident in themselves”.
Danielle also emphasizes the importance that empathy plays in her role. “The people and empathy side is just as critical as business acumen and understanding the industry, and so I feel particularly well positioned to help shape the future of healthcare. I think that being a woman in digital health means that sometimes I have a bit of a tougher battle to fight to move forward, but I believe it has tested myself and my team over and over again and now we feel unstoppable”.
Overcoming prejudices or how to get motivated to fight stereotypes
“If you have a passion for what you do, a great team and a bit of luck, I truly believe that the sky is the limit”, says, unapologetically, Anastasia when asked if she ever encountered someone, like Francesca did, who told her to pursue other interests as science was not a field fit for girls. “Fortunately I didn’t hear any comments like that in my close circle, but there were certainly moments in my life when I felt like those I spoke to were slightly skeptical about me being able to deliver at a high level as a young female CEO. Did it make me hesitate and think I couldn’t’ do it? Not really, I believed that time will prove them wrong”, she says without a doubt.
Danielle realized that something was wrong when she was young and realized that people weren’t paying particular attention to her grades at school or to her career interests. “They boys had more attention in this space and I remember thinking: ‘Oh, you just wait!’”, she explains. She went on to play saxophone and football because she was told that these activities were “just for the boys”. “It wasn’t the best way to motivate myself, but I used it as a way to prove to myself that I was just as capable as them and it helped me get the initial confidence that I could excel if I tried. Oddly enough, I think it really helped prepare me for a career in technology where I still have to fight some of these stereotypes”.
On the other side, Laura mostly found encouragement to pursue her passions in her close circle, which also led to the fact that when she was young, she was telling everyone that she wanted to become a professional deep-sea diver! Luckily for us, she redirected her passion and is now a stellar leader in the industry.
Andy, always an optimistic, prefers to focus on the “90% of people out there who are wonderfully respectful and not biased”. And who are the remaining 10%? “There’s a 9% that can be somewhat disapproving and overlooking. But there is also a very small 1% of people who are very confused about gender roles and have stupid misconceptions about what we should or shouldn’t do. To be honest, I am very good at ignoring the last 10% and not wasting mental energy on them. Instead, I find friends in the 90% that matters and collaborate with them”. “I’m just driven by the goal to create solutions that make a difference for people”, she doesn’t hesitate to conclude.
Francesca proved her teacher wrong and is now supporting through the Digital Garden initiative companies like the ones funded by Andy, Anastasia, Laura and Danielle get to the next level and bring innovative solutions to patients. If you want to hear more about Francesca’s journey, we suggest you listen to this podcast, where she talks about her professional journey and why she moved from New York and Basel to Barcelona.