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Marija Butkovic, Founder & CEO, Women of Wearabls
How would you describe your journey in health tech?
The digital health field has been growing exponentially over the last number of years. I’ve become increasingly interested in health tech ever since I started Women of Wearables in 2016. My co-founder Michelle (who has now become WoW Manchester Ambassador) and I had our own wearable tech startups at that time, but very soon realised there isn’t enough support for women in wearable tech, digital health, fashion tech, IoT, VR and AR industries. That’s how Women of Wearables was born. Today, a year and a half later, I’m proud to say WoW has grown to a community of 8000+ members and 50+ partners in more than 20 countries around the globe. Our mission is not only to support and connect women in these industries, but also to encourage more women and diverse teams to participate in building hardware and software products as designers, product managers and developers or being founders of their own companies, as well as create more jobs for women in STEM. Of course, WoW is not just for professional women, but for anyone with an interest in wearable technology and providing women with a platform for growth.
What were the triggers and sources of inspiration that launched you on your journey? Did anyone particularly inspire you? (Man or woman)
Every single day I’m amazed by achievements that are happening in health tech space, and how these correlate to wearable technology. I must admit that my main trigger for becoming entrepreneur and starting Women of Wearables, as well as women in tech advocate, wasn’t because there were some particular role models, but lack of them instead. According to the Kings Fund, numbers of women in medicine have grown considerably in the last 15 years and now make up more than half of all medical students. But when it comes to technology-based healthcare, or running medical device or medtech businesses, the number of women holding board-level jobs is disappointingly low.
In 2015 Halle T#ecco, US based founder of Rock Health, an active early-stage investor and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School covered this topic in an update to the state of women in healthcare in the US. I would like to quote her here: “Despite making up more than half the healthcare workforce, women represent only 21% of board members at Fortune 500 healthcare companies. Of the 125 women who carry an executive title, only five serve in operating roles as COO or president. And there’s only one woman CEO of a Fortune 500 healthcare company. We know from our funding data that women make up only 6% of digital health CEOs funded in the last four years. When we looked at the gender breakdown of the 148 VC firms investing in digital health, we understood why. Women make up only 10% of partners, those responsible for making final investment decisions. In fact, 75 of those firms have ZERO women partners (including Highland Capital, Third Rock, Sequoia, Shasta Ventures). Venture firms with women investment partners are 3X more likely to invest in companies with women CEOs. It’s no wonder women CEOs aren’t getting funded.”
Tech industry in general is very male dominated. There was only handful of us in wearable tech three years ago when I moved to London. We need more female role models if we want to solve this problem. Young girls and women who want to pursue their career in STEM, particularly health tech, need to feel safe and be encouraged to start their journey in these industries. Women can do everything boys can do. Yet, so many women have that imposter syndrome that they are not good enough or capable enough for having a career in tech.
Do you think being a woman made it harder or easier as an entrepreneur?
I would say it’s definitely harder. There much less of us in the tech entrepreneurship space, we get much less funding than men. There is also not enough support for working mothers and although women can do it all, there still needs to be support network in place. My mum used to always tell me: “You can do anything, but you cannot do everything, especially not at the same time.” That’s so true.
What is your ‘special power’ that you use when you need to get round a challenge?
In life and business, I was always led by one simple rule: do things that you love and stay focused. As long as I’m doing something I’m passionate about, something with a cause greater than just having a lot of money or influence, I know I’ll succeed. The key is also to stay focused, and to learn to say ‘no’ to 90% opportunities that come your way. Chances are most of them won’t move a needle for your business or enable you to get from A to B. Another thing that also helps a lot is trying not to put too much pressure on myself and be patient.
How do you relax? What do you do to recharge?
Travelling and reading books are two things that help me disconnect and recharge. Ever since I’ve become an entrepreneur I realised that having a business is almost like having a baby - you have to work on it and nurture it every single day, even over the weekend. But you also have to nurture your body and mind, and do things completely that are completely unrelated to business. This also helps me with coming up with new ideas and solutions for everyday challenges. Whenever I can I'll travel with my husband, I’ll be meeting new people and finding out about new cultures. At the end of the day, each of us is very important, but in the grand scheme of things we are so small and irrelevant. Travelling reminds me of that, and how being humble is the key to becoming more conscious about the world around us.
What advice would you give a 14 year old girl knowing what you know now? What would you say to your younger self when you first started to think about "what do I want to be when I grow up?
Don’t worry! I used to worry so much when I was a teenager. Even today I always try to look one step ahead, trying to foresee future. Life unfortunately doesn’t work like that, and no matter how much we plan things and prepare, you cannot prepare for everything life will bring you. Enjoy the life as much as you can and focus on things you genuinely love. Ask more questions, and always try to find your ‘why’.
Do you think the future looks good for women in health tech? Why? Why not? What you think is exciting ahead?
I think the future for women in health tech shines brighter than ever. Never before have there been so many amazing technological advancements and so many amazing female founders in this industry. Isn’t that wonderful? FemTech – health technology aimed at the female market in a new force on the rise. With more or less half the population on this planet made up of women, there’s clearly an unmet need. According to Venturebeat the term FemTech came from Ida Tin, founder and CEO of Clue, a period tracking app. As materials become increasingly sophisticated and sensor technology continues to advance, these can be used in a range of medical devices and wearables aimed at the female market, particularly pregnancy and family planning. And the femtech market is big business – said to be worth $55bn in 2015 by KPMG.
I’m constantly empowered by amazing women we have at WoW community who are working on ground-breaking FemTech ideas and projects that have the potential to change the world, like Elvie, Bloomlife, Natural Cycles, Ava and many more. FemTech definitely holds real potential when it comes encouraging young women into health tech careers.
Yes, we need more awareness about the problem, we need more investments in female led businesses in this space, but let’s not underestimate the power of network. I’ve seen so many great collaborations lately in this space, so much support, coming from both men and women. So I don’t have any doubt the future looks exciting for women in this industry.
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