Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
During her studies of engineering management at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Maria Sievert gained substantial practical experience in various areas of the mechanical engineering industry.
After research periods in the USA and South America, she was responsible for innovation management as a project manager within the Digital Services division at BMW.
She founded inveox together with the molecular biotechnologist and economist Dominik Sievert in 2017.
The company has developed an innovative digitization and automation system that significantly increases the efficiency of laboratories as well as the reliability of pathology diagnoses.
Since its founding, inveox has won numerous awards and grants, is part of several accelerators of renowned companies, was voted StartUp of the year 2017, featured at the World Health Summit and made it on the Forbes list of the “most promising startups 2018”.
As Managing Partner, Maria Sievert is primarily responsible for business development and strategic partnerships.
What is the idea behind Inveox and how did you come up with it?
The idea is simple: improve patient safety and make cancer diagnose more reliable.
Before we met, Dominik and I both noticed that histopathology and the handling of tissue samples for cancer diagnosis needed to be improved. We talked to patients, observed lab processes, and realized that this complex and potentially life-altering process was subject to simple but avoidable errors in up to 15% of cases. Samples can get contaminated, mixed up with others, or lost throughout the process. We want to fix that.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
In terms of when it all started, it’s always hard to say exactly when an idea was born. Was it when I first noticed inefficiency in histopathology labs in the summer of 2015? We could also say it was in August of 2016 when Dominik and I started working together on solving this need. And then in February 2017 our idea finally materialized into the company that is inveox. That’s why I can’t say how it all started other than with our passion to help others. It’s certainly been a fruitful and exhilarating experience, and we are happy to report that our inveox family has now grown to 72 teammates of 20+ nationalities working together towards improving the lives of cancer patients. And we recently opened our subsidiary office in Krakow, so we are still growing.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Well, there are always ups and downs when you bring an idea into reality and turning a concept into a company. At one point we put it upon ourselves to find the right investors, and we accomplished that. At another point our goal was finalizing the product itself, and at yet another it was growing the team and finding the right people for the right jobs, so I think our biggest obstacle evolves from year to year and from milestone to milestone, but that’s what has made this journey so rewarding.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
In a sense, I think this goes hand in hand with the challenges. Every challenge has been a stepping stone to get to where we are, and every stepping stone is an achievement. So, it’s hard to single out one or two achievements as bigger than others because we value every experience in the same way that we value every person that has helped us grow and achieve our goals. But one thing that we’re certainly proud of and humbled by the way our investors and our team are all driven by the same goal of making cancer diagnose more efficient and reliable. That alone will allow us to achieve many more goals for the years to come.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
In regard to being a female entrepreneur, it can be challenging to split your time between working hard on your company and giving back to those that helped you get to where you are. You get all this support and encouragement, and suddenly you’re working on your dream come true, but you also remember and appreciate the people along the way that helped you get to where you are. Personally, I’ve tried to use this as an opportunity to give to charities and to mentor at several programs that support young entrepreneurial spirits.
What are your projects you are currently working on?
Right now, we are working on connecting more hospitals and clinics with histopathology labs, and we are also looking into expanding towards the US market. We recently opened our Krakow subsidiary office because of the great opportunities that are available in that market, and the US will open even more doors so we are excited to see the partners that this will bring.
At a more personal level, one project has been balancing my work in the company with working on the company. When you first start, you’re doing everything at once, but as the team grows you start delegating tasks and finding out what your place is within the company that you’re still building.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
It’s definitely important, especially because of the impact that it has and will have on the next generations. A lot of the feedback and support that we get in the beginning becomes incredibly motivational and touching as you move forward, and I think it’s important to build that momentum not only throughout our own career, but across generations. My personal goal with any movement that empowers women in tech is to transfer the spirit and self-confidence I’ve gained to the new generation. Additionally, I think it’s important to implement the hashtag in real life, so to speak, by taking opportunities to coach girls who might want to start their own tech business someday.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
I think the most important thing that all founders and entrepreneurs (female or male) should consider is the balance between sticking to your ideas vs adjusting them. On the one hand you should always believe in yourself and not give up on the idea that you want to bring into the world; but on the other hand you can never do it alone, and plenty of people are eager to help you succeed, so the advice they give you might force you to change some core aspects of your idea, and it’s important to know how to find a balance between the idea that you have and the idea that the world wants or needs. So be curious and follow your passion - the world is full of possibilities and is waiting for your ideas.
What will be the key trends in the health tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
We are probably going to see various degrees of automation, artificial intelligence and so forth, but rather than making predictions about where we’re headed, I’d rather focus on how we approach the future. Medicine used to be more of a closed circle with people, techniques and chemicals, but now technology is coming more into play and I think we should remember that people, humans, are at the center of it all. Let’s be thoughtful, strategic, and most of all human by making sure that medicine and technology are means to an end (human health care) rather than ends in and of themselves.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in health tech?
That’s a really tough question because I like to learn something from everyone. There are loads of incredible women here in Germany, in the US, and all over the world that are making a difference in health tech, and I think it’s important to value what each and every one of their contributions. But perhaps the best person I can name as an inspiration for me is my friend’s mom, working at a University Clinic in Germany, who is a dedicated doctor, a forward-thinker in her field, an amazing person and a mother of three. She has taught me that women can truly accomplish anything and that we can all be a great professionals and parents, or leaders and followers because none of these are mutually exclusive.
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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.