“…It takes a team!” – Maria Sievert, CEO & Co-Founder of inveox on her Nomination for the EIT Woman Leadership and Entrepreneurship Award 2019
Beginning of July EIT Health nominated two outstanding healthcare innovators from the German CLC for the prestigious EIT Awards 2019. One of them is Maria Sievert, CEO & Co-Founder of Munich-based healthcare start-up inveox. No question that the German CLC is thrilled about this recognition, and thus we wanted to learn more about the person Maria her business, her story and motivation …
Inveox develops systems for the digitisation, automation and networking of pathology laboratories: Why Digitization of Histopathology? What were (are) your goals when you founded inveox? Where stands inveox now?
Maria Sievert: “Histopathology is a field that relies a lot on manual labor, which is very time-intensive and translates into loads of working hours. Additionally, some of the initial preparatory work is rather monotonous and not intellectually-stimulating for the lab assistants, which neglects the skills and knowledge that they acquired throughout their education. Digitization of histopathology labs allows devices to take care of monotonous tasks while humans focus on value-adding, research-oriented tasks. All of this improves the workflow of the lab in general, and it also enhances patient safety by letting technology and humans do what each does best.
That is the core of our goal, and we are happy to report that we are making strong and steady strides in the right direction. After starting in Garching, we have now participated in various national and international accelerators and awards, we’ve opened a subsidiary office in Krakow, our products have started entering the market, and we just started an accelerator program in Houston, Texas to learn from the biggest network of hospitals in the US.”
How did you start inveox? Who supported you? What were the obstacles?
MS: “The story of inveox started with an idea that was conceived in two minds at around the same time. I was in the US and I stumbled onto the field of pathology, while Dominik was in Germany and witnessed a surgery where a tissue sample was being taken. We both came to the conclusion that some changes needed to happen and that the entire process of cancer diagnosis could benefit from bringing in 21st century technologies. Once the seed was planted in both of our minds, we individually started working on bringing our idea into reality, and then by chance we met through the Manage&More program, and that’s when we started working together.
We immediately had support from the UnternehmerTUM in Munich, which is an incredibly good place for entrepreneurial minds to grow. And then we also started receiving support from various accelerators and mentors. Some of these include TechFounders and Plug & Play and even the European Union as well as German and Bavarian State Funds. And of course we have always had the ongoing and unconditional support of friends and family, which should never be overlooked because it’s incredibly valuable to help you keep going. Among the obstacles that they have helped us overcome, I can certainly mention: impatience, self-doubt, and planning. These are all things that every entrepreneur understands and learns to address, so we are incredibly fortunate and grateful to each and every individual and organization that has helped us.”
What do you think about the German start-up ecosystem – especially when we talk about digital health?
MS. “It’s safe to say that the Munich ecosystem is a fantastic place to start a company. This applies not only for Germans, but for international companies as well, given that 1 out of every 10 startups here is from elsewhere in the EU, and even 6% are from outside the Union. That translates into quite a lot of startups when we are talking about 700+ startups in a city of roughly 1.5 million people. Additionally, Munich has the most self-funded startups in Germany, and one out of five startups cooperate with scientific institutes. So all of these statistics show that Munich has a wonderful startup ecosystem.
In terms of digital health, there are some wonderful and stimulating opportunities such as the Startup Creasphere by Roche and Plug and Play and of course the EIT Health Accelerator is one of the most unique ones given its wide reach as well as its focus. We’ve been fortunate enough to participate in all of these as well as some other great ones, and all of this is certainly an influential factor for why we are where we are today.”
When did you first get in touch with EIT Health? What was your impression on our work?
MS: “We applied for the 2018 edition of the Headstart Programme, which then took us to SHIP 2018 event and we also participated in the EIT Health GoGlobal Programme. Most recently I was a jury member at SHIP 2019. So our relationship with EIT Health has been growing and we are very excited about that. The work that EIT does is one-of-a-kind in terms of bringing so many things together. There’s an interconnection between companies, universities, and research centers, there are both national and pan-European initiatives, and the various communities such as EIT Climate, EIT Health, etc, allow for initiatives to focus on issues that affect all of the aforementioned members and layers of society. So that is one key reason why we are delighted to become closer and closer partners of the EIT community as a whole, and more specifically with EIT Health. We want to improve patients’ lives and cancer diagnoses, and EIT Health wants to improve the health of all European citizens, so this is a natural collaboration that we want to strengthen even more.”
Why did you/inveox apply for the Headstart Programme 2018? Why EIT Health (and not another Accelerator)?
MS: “We can’t stress enough the value of the transnational, multi-disciplinary angle that EIT Health takes. It’s hard to find any other accelerator at the intersection of so many great things. Simply from the description you can see the goal is to tackle challenges of European healthcare, gain understanding of local/regional regulatory and reimbursement schemes, and support entrepreneurs as well as scientists. Some accelerators might get lost trying to focus on things that others see as opposites (e.g. national vs international), but this accelerator manages to address an intersection of everything. So that’s the main reason why we wanted to be a part of the Headstart Programme in 2018 and why we want to foster an even closer relationship with EIT Health.”
What are from your perspective EIT Health’s strengths when it comes to start-ups acceleration? What makes the collaboration of you / inveox and EIT Health special to you?
MS: “As a startup, one of the key things that you need to do is to get well-connected so that you can get the right advice or assistance from the right people. To achieve this, you can either hope to make some big news where everyone immediately knows your name, or you can be strategic and join the right networks. That’s where EIT comes in. The diversity of networks (European, national, scientific, entrepreneurial, etc) and the focus on Health by the KIC allows startups to focus on both breadth and depth. Breadth comes from the geographic reach that EIT has, and depth comes from the deep focus on a particular social challenge.
Our collaboration with EIT is a prime example of this. But to me what is special about our collaboration is not only what we have done, but the fact that we are currently working on even more. After participating in Headstart 2018, SHIP 2018, and SHIP 2019, we are now getting involved with the EIT Health Alumni, we are working on campaigning for the EIT Health Woman Award, and we are looking for other ways to promote each other’s goals and achievements. Additionally, the fact that the EIT Health headquarters is in Munich, where we are based, and that we are a young and growing company means that we can foster a very strong and durable relationship to benefit the healthcare of European citizens for a very long time.”
Talking about your nomination for the EIT Female Leadership Award – Why do you think you deserve this award?
MS: “As many women know, I always find it hard to talk about myself in a way that highlights my accomplishments above others rather than alongside them. I truly wouldn’t be where I am without the support of friends and family, the inveox family that we have built, and organizations that range from Munich, to Bavaria and Germany, and all the way to European-level such as EIT. So I would say that I deserve this because of what my company as a whole has accomplished externally, internally, and what it’s founded on. Externally, we have achieved a lot in just 2 years. We started in February 2017, and by August 2019 we have our headquarters in Munich, additional offices in Krakow, and we’re making out presence noticed in Houston, Texas. We have also won awards including Startup of the Year in Germany, being named one of Forbes’ Most Promising Startups, and becoming a member of the World Economic Forum. Internally, we have grown from 2 German founders to a family of 89 team members of 28 nationalities, and this internal growth has only picked up more and more speed thanks to the team chemistry that we are developing and the new roles that this creates. But most importantly, this company was founded on 2 things: values and a purpose. We are a value-oriented company with our core values prominently displayed throughout our office, and more importantly we are driven by a cause. Our goal is to improve cancer diagnostics so that doctors and histopathology labs have a better workflow and patients have better lives. To me, winning this award doesn’t mean that “I made it” but rather that we as inveox made it. One person certainly can’t do it alone, and even Dominik and I need more than just the two of us. So it takes a team, and we are lucky to have such an amazing one. This award is for them and my role as recipient of this award is to be a spokesman and inspire young women everywhere to pursue their passions and act on their dreams.”
Who is Maria Sievert? What`s your story and what is driving you? Just give us a few insights on who you are besides your professional career?
MS: “The best way to summarize the answer to all of these questions is: people. I am a people-person whose story was largely influenced by people and who wants to do things for people. My two biggest and most consistent influences were my dad, who instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in me, and my sister, who taught me the value of providing young girls with a role model. They are two important influences for why I am where I am today as a successful entrepreneur who strives to be a role model to young women everywhere. I’ve started mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs and career-oriented girls and women in Munich, but given that I see myself as a European, it would be great if I can inspire young girls throughout all of Europe and hopefully the world. Another thing that I would say defines me is an explorer mentality. It’s certainly connected to the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that I was raised with, but I also love to see the world and especially the people all around it. I think anyone who is open to various cultures and ideas could also define themselves as explorers and hopefully we can all make an impact in the world together.”
Now the German CLC is very much looking forward to the EIT Awards ceremony already, which is to be held in Budapest, Hungary, on 15 October 2019 during the EIT’s annual innovation forum INNOVEIT.