Women make up only a third of all STEM graduates in Europewhile there only 15.5% of startups are active in the start-up scene. However, there are still many positive trends that can be celebrated on the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which will take place on February 11. One of the key metrics shows that startups created by women outperform their male competitors, while the EIT Health network itself has contributed to the emergence of some entrepreneurs in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe in the health and biotech sectors.
In 2015, February 11 was declared the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to promote women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to a survey by the European Commission, “Women on the 2021 Digital Scoreboard”, women in Europe make up about a third of STEM graduates. The gender gap also affects entrepreneurship, with women representing only 15.5% of start-ups in the European Union.
In addition to fewer STEM graduates, women also face obstacles in obtaining funding. In Central and Eastern Europe, a recent survey showed that only 1% of available capital goes to startups with founders and another 5% to mixed business teams. However, the data also shows that startup founders in the region do more with the money they receive, outperform men in terms of capital productivity and generate 96% more return per €1 of funding than startups created by men.
Healthcare: a promising field for professionals
Women make up the vast majority of healthcare professionals in Europe (70-80%). In addition, the proportion of female doctors in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe is the highest among developed countries. In the Baltic states, Visegrad countries, Slovenia and Portugal, women make up the majority of the medical profession, which is over 49% of the OECD average. Although the professional experience of female doctors can lead to innovative changes in the healthcare industry, their entrepreneurial momentum is less researched than their male counterparts. Although this was the case in the past, several recent trends have increased the share of women entrepreneurs in healthcare.
“We are currently seeing three strong trends. First, health innovators are coming from more diverse industries. Of course, science and technology are dominant, many women come straight from the lab, and social science graduates are also among them. There are many different roles in innovation Healthcare and women can get involved quickly.Second, we note that many startups are co-founding and/or managing women.Thirdly, there is a wave of discussion about creating equal opportunities for women-run startups, and there is a trend in the startup ecosystem to make venture capital funds Venture money is more open to investing in women-run startups.” says Monica Toth, director of the regional innovation scheme at EIT Health InnoStars, a leading organization that supports the development of health innovation.
EIT Health Network runs several programs aimed at empowering women entrepreneurs. One of them is the five-week Women Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, which connects healthy early-stage startups run or co-led by women with a network of mentors who nurture and support their rapid growth. With support from IESE Business School, the Pedro Nunes Institute and NUI Galway, the initiative provides extensive training, network access and mentoring. EIT Health is currently accepting applications for the program through March 14.
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“Exposing innovators is not only critical for their startups, but also helps create a broader social impact that attracts more women into STEM fields,” she said. Monica Toth confirms. The EIT Health portfolio includes many influential leaders who are paving the way for health innovation.
Joanna Melo, a young entrepreneur from Portugal, has participated in several promotion programs for EIT Health InnoStars. Her company, NU-RISE, helps doctors perform safer and more accurate radiation treatments by delivering the right doses of radiation in the right places. Her compatriot Joanna Paiva is the CTO and co-founder of iLof. Leveraging biotechnology and artificial intelligence, the Porto-based company is developing a non-invasive solution to screen Alzheimer’s patients for clinical trials. In 2020, Joana was shortlisted for Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe in the Science and Health category and was nominated for an EIT Woman Award.
In Poland, Magdalena Jander, Ph.D., CEO and co-founder of UVera, winner of the EIT Health Catapult and InnoStars Awards, which develops the next generation of healthy, eco-friendly materials, is on the list of the 100 Most Influential Women. From Forbes magazine that protects against the full spectrum of solar UV rays. Together with his team, he strives to achieve sustainable production, while contributing to the circular economy.
“Our goal is to produce a very strong material that is 100% environmentally friendly. The material will not only affect corals or marine life, but the entire production process is sustainable. It consumes tons of carbon dioxide and releases tons of oxygen and fertile biomass as a by-product.” Magdalena Gander explains, adding that if we want to see more girls in STEM subjects, we need to change the education system at an early stage and develop critical thinking skills that can capture the attention of primary and secondary school girls. “It’s often about feeling a passion for science at the right time.”
According to a survey conducted by Microsoft among 11,500 young women in 12 European countries, girls between the ages of 11 and 12 are as interested in STEM subjects as boys. But once they reach the age of 15-16, their interest drops sharply. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, at this age, only 5% of girls say they expect a job in computer science or engineering, compared to 18% of boys. Microsoft research also reveals that in addition to hands-on experience and hands-on exercises in and out of the classroom, girls’ interest in STEM careers is fueled by prominent female role models in society.
Sustainability is also in the spotlight for business founders
UVera isn’t the only company that prioritizes sustainability. Lithuania-based startup CasZyme is developing tools that improve the use of CRISPR (short intermittent regularly spaced repeats) in gene management research and development. The tool is already successful in healthcare, in fighting genetic diseases and various forms of cancer, and in speeding up testing for Covid-19. However, CRISPR – called “genetic scissors” technology – could play an important role in the fight against climate change, as it could enable local communities to grow enough food in any climate, thus reducing the environmental costs of transportation.
According to Dr. Monica Ball, Ph.D., has experience in developing high-tech companies and technology transfer in the biotech industry“We need to transform the biotech industry in favor of both genders.”
One reason for this is that women in the biotechnology industry may be more sensitive to the environmental use of the latest developments in the field. According to a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, women around the world are more sensitive to environmental issues, more likely to recycle, buy organic foods and eco-labelled products, save water and energy, and use energy-efficient transportation. This can also be translated into sustainable ideas promoted by women.
 Source: Startup Heatmap Europe 2021 Report, page 51, based on analysis of 20,000 founder profiles in 2020: https://startupsandplaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/SHM2021_ThePowerofTheEcosystem.pdf