8 March is International Women’s Day , a global day of recognition celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme is #EachforEqual and we asked three female health innovators to share what IWD means to them, as well as advice to fellow women on this day of celebration. Here is what Veronika Schweighart, Co-Founder and COO of Climedo Health, Helene Schönewolf, Co-founder and CEO of RAMPmedical and Sahar Nassirpour, Co-founder and CEO of MR Shim had to say.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
Veronika Schweighart: For me, International Women’s Day is about challenging stereotypes that limit women and girls in education, at work, and beyond. In an ideal future, we may not even need this day anymore because equality has been established as a given rather than something we need campaign for.
Helene Schönewolf: To me the International Women’s Day is an annual reminder that being a woman is a good thing, something to celebrate!
Sahar Nassirpour: International women’s day is actually my mom’s birthday! I always feel grateful on this day to have been surrounded by strong people my whole life, who have always supported me and my career choices.
What inspired you to be part of the healthtech landscape and what do you consider your biggest achievement in your career trajectory?
Veronika Schweighart: Healthcare was a logical choice for me because it’s an area that offers a lot of potential in terms of digitalization – you can have an incredible impact on people’s quality of life. In terms of my achievements, my most important one was co-founding Climedo with Sascha and Dragan. Although none of us have a background in healthcare, we were able to create strong synergies with our different skill sets, and were always open to learning from healthcare professionals. This “outsider’s” perspective allowed us to ask very different kinds of questions, challenge the status quo, and bring something unique to the industry.
Helene Schönewolf: I grew up in the healthcare environment. This is what I know and where I think I can achieve the greatest change for the benefit of people’s health. I consider building a product and company from zero to winning this European award in the fields of innovation, technology and health by the age of 30 as my biggest achievement.
Sahar Nassirpour: I have always had a passion for healthtech. For instance, I have always been fascinated by MRI machines! There are currently so many complicated challenges in healthtech that need to be solved. This is why after my studies, I decided the best way for me to contribute to the field is to found my own company. At our startup (MR Shim), our aim is to make MRIs more robust by offering a plug-and-play device to improve image acquisition conditions. I find the work very rewarding. Starting my own company and bringing our product to market has definitely been both my greatest challenge and achievements!
EIT Health’s theme for this year’s International Women’s Day campaign is #EachforEqual. What what would you like to see change for women in healthtech?
Veronika Schweighart: What’s encouraging for me is that women in the German healthcare sector hold more managerial roles than they do in any other sector – according to a database evaluation by CRIFBürgel in 2018, they hold over 36% of these roles. Similar results have been found for the US market. But there is much work to be done, since 36% is far from “equal”. The same goes for healthcare startup roles. So I would like to see more accelerator programs or general mentoring programs aimed specifically at supporting female founders in (healthcare) startups.
Helene Schönewolf: Diversity in companies has been proven to lead to more successful companies. Those without a woman on the management board neglect an important factor. It would be good for our economy if financiers in particular paid attention to this.
Sahar Nassirpour: Solving any complex problem such as the challenges in healthcare requires diverse perspectives. This means that we definitely need more diversity in healthtech. Coming from a tech startup myself, we always strive to keep a well-balanced and diverse team and we will continue to do so as we grow. I would also like to see investors open up to investing in more diverse startup teams.
What would you say to any young woman who is thinking about starting her own venture?
Veronika Schweighart: I would say don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes – there is no better way to learn and grow. And also, try not to think about your gender as a defining or limiting factor. Just be yourself and think about what you can bring to the industry as a person, rather than a man or woman. My advice – for both men and women – is “Think big, start small, move fast”. “Think big” because you need visionary thinking to approach life’s biggest challenges. “Start small” because you can’t do everything at once and should celebrate even small successes early on. And “move fast” because you should be flexible and able to change directions if necessary, while continuing to learn. Time is your most valuable resource when it comes to innovation, not just in startups.
Helene Schönewolf: If you want to do good to the world and you are brave, then do it! Start your own venture!
Sahar Nassirpour: I would say to anyone who has an ambition for starting their own venture: just do it! It has been one of the most empowering decisions I have ever made and I highly recommend it!
To all the women out there, Happy International Women’s Day!