Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Chiara, what is the idea behind your project / product and how did you come up with it?
Brightcure is a novel light therapy to cure patients suffering from recurrent urinary tract infections. UTIs are one of the most common infections in the world and create a huge burden on society. Every 2nd woman in the world suffers and total costs in US are estimated around $ 1.6 billion annually. Currently, UTIs can be only treated by antibiotics, however in case of UTIs they are not only inefficient, but also lead to harmful side-effects for the whole body and result in the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria accelerating the world-wide spread of superbugs. Brightcure's technology disrupts this harmful cycle of recurrent infections and constant antibiotic intake for patients by using an alternative, more efficient and targeted light therapy approach locally killing all harmful bacteria within minutes in the bladder.
Like lots of my female friends and colleagues, I have suffered from a lot of UTIs in my life to a point where I am currently taking prophylactic antibiotic every single day for several months to avoid getting recurring infections. I realized early on that UTIs create a huge burden for women in our society and have a massive influence on the personal life and well-being of lots of patients. Although antibiotics are not the solution and have huge harmful side-effects, there is no R&D to develop new alternative treatment options really. So I thought it is time for change and someone needs to do something about it.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
We are still very early stage. I had this idea last year when I suffered from another antibiotic resistant strain and it started really scaring me. I felt so dependent on the antibiotic treatments and the prescription and advice from the doctors; I was in so much pain. During my PhD, I have worked with light to sterilize benches for my lab work, when I put two and two together. I have gathered a team of volunteers and advisers with different expertise to help and support me to get the project going.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
The progress really depends on who you meet, who becomes involved, and how hard you work on your idea and how persistent you are in progressing and pushing for it. We participated in some incubators, have been part of mentoring programs, recruited different team members to help us getting started.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The biggest obstacle for us has been the misunderstanding of people that we are not a digital health-tech company or develop consumer products, but actually develop a medical device that needs clinical testing and approval, and so it is a much more time and cost intensive commercialisation journey. As Brightcure is also not a university spin-out of my PhD project, we didn’t have any proof-of-concept data from an academic network to start with and trust me, it is not easy to collaborate with universities while keeping the IP within the company. This has made the start quite difficult, because we just had a concept. It is challenging to convince people to invest in you and the idea, if there is no proof and the only way you can deliver the data is with actual experimental data, that includes very expensive lab work, and equipment, materials. There is not a lot of accessible lab space in London. People underestimate the whole development process and want to see a quick return.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Convincing people about the concept to generate the data
Filing a patent
Winning the £ 20 K SEHTA & Hill Dickinson Business Support Grant
Winning Imperial’s Innovation Program Prize
Semi-Finalist WE Innovate
Strategic Partnerships and collaborations
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
So far, I didn’t feel I had any issues being a female founder when it comes to the concept or credibility of Brightcure itself. As UTIs affect more women than men, often men weren’t aware of the extent of the problem we are trying to address and don’t have the personal experience of the pain and stress UTIs create for women. So it requires often additional explanations. When it comes to my personal experience, I have to admit that I have suffered from inappropriate behaviour from male investors. Weird emails and invitations that I received that had nothing to do with Brightcure. I felt some guys use their role and power for different purposes than to actually help you with your business. But you can deal with it.
What are your projects you are currently working on?
I am currently finishing up my PhD and we are about to start the next testing round for Brightcure to generate more evidence for the safety and efficiency of the technology.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Yes for sure. I think that we all need to support each other and lift each other up, I founded the WOMENinSTEM group at Imperial College London, as a STEM career can sometimes be quite lonely if you’re in it as a woman. It is great to have a supportive network of strong, independent, driven and like-minded women around you.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Stay strong and keep believing in your idea, if you think it has potential. You will receive a lot of doubts, and demotivating questions, concerns, but all of it is part of a learning experience to reflect upon your idea from a different angle. I think criticism is the best ingredient for progress, to work and challenge yourself. There is no harm in trying, and if it doesn’t work out in the end, which can happen by the way and doesn’t even need to be your fault, then you still have learnt a lot during the journey.
What will be the key trends in the health tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I believe that there will be a lot of innovation around the implementation of AI in the healthcare system from evaluating imaging data for more accurate, improved diagnosis, robotics for fine-tuning surgery etc. Another trend I see is around female well-being, fertility treatments, genetic diagnosis, as due to the male-dominated R&D sector, the development has been lacking behind in these areas.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in health tech or med tech?
There are a lot of inspirational women out there and everyone who is actually starting their own company and putting all their time and effort into the development and implementation of a concept, is very inspirational for me per se. I personally like Elvie’s story and Kandy Therapeutics, but as I said it is hard to decide for specific role models.
Read more about Chiara’s amazing achievement here.
Connect with Chiara on LinkedIn!
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic.