9th March 2023
- Only 36% of start-up founders in the European Union are women, 29% in mixed teams and 7% in all-female teams.
- In Spain, women represent only 20% of entrepreneurs and only 6% of start-ups are led exclusively by women.
Promoting female entrepreneurship, especially in health technologies, is still a pending issue in the European Union. According to the European Startup Monitor 2020/21, only 36% of start-up founders are women, either in mixed teams (29%) or in all-female teams (7%)1. On International Women’s Day, EIT Health Spain, a Co-Location Centre (regional hub) of EIT Health, which is part of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, a body of the European Union, wants to highlight the gender gap in health entrepreneurship and the importance of empowering women to achieve better solutions.
“If technological developments are mostly led by men, half of society will not be represented in the design or development,” says Cristina Bescós, Managing Director at EIT Health Spain and Director of Innovation at EIT Health. “It is widely recognised that a more diverse innovation ecosystem leads to better products and services and greater benefit for patients and society alike,” Bescós adds.
The situation is even more complex in our country. According to data from the ‘Mapa de Emprendimiento’ of South Summit 2022, only 20% of Spanish entrepreneurs are women2 and only 6% of the start-ups are led exclusively by women.
One of the start-ups co-founded by women is Legit.Health, an app that, through the use of AI algorithms, helps dermatologists and primary care clinicians make a more accurate diagnosis of skin conditions and monitor their evolution through a simple photograph. Andy Aguilar, co-founder and CEO of this company, believes that her role can serve to “help and inspire other female entrepreneurs by showing that it is normal to be a successful woman in the field of digital health”.
But the need for greater diversity in entrepreneurship goes beyond inspiration. “In the health sector there are biological differences in the prevalence of many diseases and there are also pathologies that are exclusive to women,” explains Beatriz Llamusí, co-founder and CEO of Arthex Biotech, a Valencian biotech start-up that develops new treatments based on microRNA modulators for unmet medical needs.
“Women’s entrepreneurship in health is essential to develop innovative solutions and make these problems and needs visible,” Llamusí adds. In this sense, she highlights the role played by institutions such as EIT Health in facilitating entrepreneurship: “EIT Health has helped boost the development and scaling of Arthex Biotech enormously thanks to programmes such as EIT Health Headstart or Catapult”.
Calls for applications are currently open for EIT Health’s various start-up support programmes that offer training, mentoring, and financial support. One of these programmes is specifically dedicated to boosting female entrepreneurship.
EIT Health, through the Women Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, connects early-stage health start-ups founded or co-led by women with a network of mentors to validate their value propositions and support their rapid growth. The five-week online programme offers intensive business and product training, mentoring and networking opportunities.
However, EIT Health’s contribution is not only limited to supporting start-ups but has also served as an inspiration to launch projects led by women. This was the case, for example, with Fluyo, a system consisting of a smart panty liner and a mobile app that allows vaginal discharge to be analysed to detect pathological changes.
“In our case, a group of biomedical engineers got together and we signed up for a health hackathon, EIT Health Spain’s Innovation Days in Valencia, and that’s where we developed the solution,” say Coral Blanquer, Sara Pérez, Ekaterina Panova, Elena Bernabé, and Laura Almendros, founders of Fluyo. “Now EIT Health is helping us find mentors and training, which is accelerating our growth exponentially,” they add.
In their experience, the female vision is the driving force for change in the world of health, an opinion shared by Sara Zangri, founder and CEO of Medea Mind, a Madrid-based start-up that develops software for the prevention and detection of mental health problems.
“In science, we know that women’s health has not been researched enough, and in entrepreneurship, has not received enough funding,” says Zangri. “However, we are seeing how women’s entrepreneurship in health is growing rapidly thanks to the determination of the women who are leading the projects,” she continues.
The founder of Medea Mind stresses that the first challenge many women entrepreneurs face is when it comes to testing an innovative idea by seeking funding for their project. “I’ve often been the only woman in meetings with investors and that, like it or not, can make you hesitate”.
However, Zangri says it’s not all negative in female entrepreneurship. “We are seeing the beginning of a much-needed change, with venture capital supporting women-led entrepreneurship and the creation of more women’s health companies, and in the public sphere there are already funding initiatives just for women-led businesses,” she concludes.
European Startup Network (ESN) , https://www.europeanstartupmonitor2021.eu/_files/ugd/58f704_e4b5004e9ba44b4dbd0b75a893da0e36.pdf