Starting your own business is, without a doubt, challenging, especially for women in healthcare, a sector where female entrepreneurs are still underrepresented. But you don’t have to be an innate business guru to succeed, you just need great contacts and the guts to step out of your comfort zone, as the following two examples reveal
Europe lags well behind the US when it comes to successful businesses run by women, according to the GEDI 2015 Female Entrepreneurship Index, a 77-country analysis of the conditions needed to foster high-potential female-founded businesses. The UK ranks first in Europe (scoring 70 out of 100, still 13 points behind the US, but up 16 points on last year), followed by Denmark, the Netherlands and France.
Despite the UK’s recent move up the GEDI ratings, in this country, women still only account for around a third of registered self-employed – around 1.5 million. So in terms of entrepreneurship, there is still a considerable gender gap. Fortunately though, the number of female entrepreneurs is rising nearly three times faster than the rate for men.
A recent Financial Times article reported that the UK hosts the largest number of technology startups outside the US. The tech sector accounts for 67 per cent of women-led businesses but many of these ventures are failing to grow. The problem lies in the entrepreneurs’ skill sets, according to philanthropist Peter Cullum CBE of Cass Business School at City University London. Founder of the £10-million Cass Entrepreneurship Fund, Cullum has recently directed £680,000 to health technology company Raremark.
An advocate of practical training for commercial success, he came across Raremark founder Julie Walters through the Entrepreneur Academe, a mentoring programme for female tech entrepreneurs. ‘I’m a firm believer that entrepreneurs aren’t born, they’re made,’ says Walters, who is now on her third business venture.
Walters came up with the idea for Raremark almost a decade ago when her goddaughter Sophie, a toddler at the time, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. Fortunately, the clinician looking after Sophie was familiar with the condition and was able to treat her. ‘But most families aren’t as lucky as to find a doctor experienced in that particular rare condition; they need support to find the right information to help the patient,’ explains Walters.
Raremark aims to address the knowledge gap around rare diseases through a free online library of peer-reviewed publications and trusted information on available treatments and clinical trials.
‘If you search for a rare condition on Google, you’re presented with a lot of information with very little filter. So we’ve built an algorithm that when applied to a credible scientific database brings the most relevant studies to the top of the list,’ Walters continues.
Given that since 2010, 200 out of the 7,000 officially designated rare diseases (that is, those affecting fewer than one in 2,000 people) have become treatable, Raremark can help connect patients and researchers to hopefully positive effect. Through the online resources, patients and their families can learn if there is a treatment currently under development anywhere in the world and whether they can take part in clinical trials. Raremark is also developing an app to help patients track and document their symptoms.
Walter’s enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge seem to play a key role in her entrepreneurial success. A journalist by training, she always keeps an eye out for new learning opportunities, whether through entrepreneurship meet-ups or rare diseases patient groups. ‘Starting your own business is risky but you can learn from your mistakes and build on your experience,’ she says.
In France, while conditions for nurturing women entrepreneurs have improved slightly from the 2014 GEDI index, gender inequality in pay is still prevalent. According to an OECD report, French women entrepreneurs earned 31 per cent less than their male counterparts in 2011-12. However, this was the smallest earnings gap among all G7 countries.
‘Many female entrepreneurs I’ve met decided to start their own business because they couldn’t achieve the seniority or the results that they wanted in big companies,’ explains Cécile Réal, award-winning businesswoman and founder of Endodiag.
After gaining her degree in biomedical engineering and a Masters in international business and technology management, Réal went on to work in biomaterial development for orthopaedic implants. Aged 25, she seized the opportunity to start her own business when the company she worked for decided to sell off her branch.
‘I believed very strongly in these materials, so I proposed that I buy out my role along with the patents. This was my opportunity to start my own company, Bioprofile.’
But Réal didn’t stop there. In 2007 she sold her first company and started looking for a new challenge. In 2011 she came across obstetric gynaecology surgeon Jean Bouquet de la Jolinière and Jean Gogusev, a pathologist and cytogeneticist, who were working on diagnostic methods for endometriosis. The chronic disease affects over 10 per cent of women and can result in severe pain and infertility.
‘I was very impressed with their work because I wasn’t familiar with this disease. When I realised how common it was, how challenging for patients and how little effort was being put into finding a solution, I thought it was a good idea to try to develop a new diagnostic for the disease.’
Endodiag focuses on the development of non-invasive endometriosis diagnostic tools, serving clinical researchers and drug developers. These tools include a biopsy sampling kit, a drug-testing service and an in-vitro diagnostic kit for blood screening.
Four years ago, Réal was the first French woman to receive the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, a prestigious global award for female entrepreneurs whose business has a wide social impact.
When asked about gender discrepancies among women in healthcare and business in general, Julie Walters argues that women are far less likely to take a leap of faith to start something new because they are more critical of themselves and their capabilities. ‘I think women are fantastic entrepreneurs! There are just not enough of us. Female-led businesses are successful because women are naturally collaborative.
‘You need a good support network because it’s hard at first. You don’t know what you’re doing, so I think it’s really important that you always have people around you to learn from. In my experience of running a small business, the power of one plus one is often three,’ says Walters.
Réal adds: ‘When I started out, there were very few entrepreneurs’ organisations in France, but the existing ones were quite useful. They put me in touch with other more senior business owners, and it was all about sharing experience. For Endodiag, this sort of networking was definitely useful for gaining access to funding and research groups.’
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