10 female founders who have turned science into a business


16 Nov 2016822 Shares

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From pharma giants to medtech start-ups, science and business go hand in hand. But who are the women performing alchemy and turning their groundbreaking research into gold?

Science 50 graphic

As we continue our Science 50, we take a look at the entrepreneurial women who have turned their scientific backgrounds and innovations into successful businesses.

Nina Tandon

CEO and co-founder of EpiBone, Nina Tandon is a tissue engineering researcher who may have the future of medicine figured out.

Currently serving as an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at Cooper Union in New York, Tandon studies electrical signalling in the context of tissue engineering, with a goal of creating spare parts for human implantation or disease models.

Tandon studied electrical stimulation for cardiac tissue engineering at MIT and Columbia, and continues to focus on electrical stimulation for broader tissue engineering applications. As a Fulbright Scholar in Rome, she developed an electronic nose to sniff out lung cancer.

Rana el Kaliouby

Egyptian-born Rana el Kaliouby is on a mission to bring emotion to digital technology by enabling cameras in smartphones and computers to read human expressions.

The co-founder and CEO of Massachusetts-based Affectiva, el Kaliouby is commercialising emotion-recognition technology based on her research.

Rana el Kaliouby

Rana el Kaliouby. Image: Web Summit 2015/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

At MIT, el Kaliouby spearheaded the applications of emotion-sensing and facial coding. She holds a PhD from Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge.

El Kaliouby was recognised by Entrepreneur as one of the ‘7 Most Powerful Women to Watch in 2014’, inducted into the Women in Engineering Hall of Fame, and named one of Technology Review’s ‘Top 35 Innovators Under 35’.

Sally Cudmore

Dr Sally Cudmore is general manager of the APC Microbiome Institute, which launched in University College Cork (UCC) last year.

Sally Cudmore, UCC

Professor Fergus Shanahan and Dr Sally Cudmore of the APC Microbiome Institute at UCC. Image: UCC

Formerly known as the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, APC is a partnership between UCC, Teagasc and Cork Institute of Technology, and explores the importance of microbes in health and nutrition, specifically gastrointestinal bacteria.

Since its foundation 13 years ago, APC has made several seminal contributions to the field and was ranked second, globally, in the area of science by Thomson Reuters.

Cudmore has a biochemistry degree from UCC and a PhD from the cell biology programme at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.

Claire Gormley

Dr Claire Gormley is one of two women (alongside Emily Duffy) behind the award-winning start-up Game Changer. Dr Gormley is an assistant professor in statistics at University College Dublin (UCD) and a researcher with the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. Her start-up won UCD’s commercialisation award earlier this year.

Claire Gormley and Emily Duff

From left: Dr Claire Gormley and Emily Duffy at NovaUCD. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The company is developing a platform to provide post-match sports performance analytics for individuals, teams and organisations. Interestingly, Game Changer also provides a bespoke statistical tool to identify key players for team selection or potential recruitment.

Game Changer won the 2016 UCD Insight Innovation Sprint Programme, a one-day initiative designed and held at NovaUCD.

Jane Farrar

Prof Jane Farrar successfully co-founded Genable Technologies, a gene therapy business that hit the headlines earlier this year after its €5.4m sale to Spark Therapeutics.

Jane Farrar, Trinity College Dublin

Prof Jane Farrar, Trinity College Dublin. Image: Aidan Crawley

The company started in Trinity College Dublin when Farrar was a PhD researcher. Along with her colleagues, Farrar was looking at the genetics of an inherited form of blindness called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). After devising a gene-therapy approach to suppress the problematic, mutant gene involved in RP, Genable Technologies was formed and immediately impressed.

Farrar’s work has been supported by Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research BoardWellcome Trust, EU Framework programmes, Fighting Blindness Ireland and Foundation Fighting Blindness US.

Ciara Clancy

Chartered physiotherapist and Inspirefest 2015 speaker Ciara Clancy launched start-up Beats Medical in 2012, when she was just 22.

Beats Medical is a smartphone app designed to support those who suffer from Parkinson’s. Utilising individualised metronome therapy, the app improves mobility and reduces instances of gait freezing. It also provides users with daily assessments and regular progress reports.

Last year, Clancy was named Laureate for Europe at the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, and Beats Medical beat off the competition in Google’s Adopt a Start-up programme.

Just last month, Beats Medical became the first Irish company to present at Google’s demo day.

Sinéad Kenny

Despite being unsure which scientific avenue to go down during her early years of school, Sinéad Kenny quickly realised that the rapidly advancing world of materials science was for her.

A few decades later, Kenny was co-founder of DiaNia Technologies, one of Ireland’s fastest-growing indigenous medical devices companies. From the Inspirefest 2016 stage, Kenny announced that the company had received €2m in seed money in a recent funding round.

Kenny has spoken of a major void existing in the market, which DiaNia’s strong materials, science and project management capabilities can maximise upon during the early development phase of devices.

Emmeline Hill

Dr Emmeline Hill, an equine genomics researcher at UCD, co-founded Equinome (alongside horse trainer Jim Bolger) in 2009.

While analysing genes in thoroughbred racehorses, Hill identified a genetic marker that linked to a horse’s athletic performance. This discovery led to the development of a speed gene test to help match horses with courses, and to inform breeding and training decisions.

Emmaline Hill, Equinome

Equinome co-founder Dr Emmeline Hill with her 2014 NovaUCD Innovation Award. Image: Nick Bradshaw

This test was instrumental in this year’s decision not to run 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold at the Epsom Derby.

In 2015, Equinome was acquired by Plusvital. Hill is Plusvital’s chief science officer, continuing to drive research into genetic tests and performance potential.

Áine Behan

Áine Behan is the founder and CEO of Irish start-up Cortechs, the company behind wearable tech that uses brainwave-sensing technology and gameplay to improve attention in children diagnosed with ADHD.

Behan has a background in neuroscience and neuropathology. Her research expertise focuses on the effects of stresses like drugs on mental health and neurodegenerative disease. The Cortechs technology aims to bypass the need for drugs in the treatment of certain conditions.

Behan was the only Irish finalist at 2014’s Lady Pitch night in Paris.

A former Start-up of the Week, Cortechs is already enjoying success, having been named as winner of the 2015 FutureHealth pre-accelerator at NDRC.

Sinead O’Sullivan

Northern Ireland native and aerospace engineer Sinead O’Sullivan has had an interest in space since she was a child but, after a trip to NASA, she soon realised that it was where she wanted to make a career.

Going on to work at NASA, where she developed parts of the technology that would take spacecraft – and future humans – to Mars, she has now entered the entrepreneurial game as CEO of Fusion Space Technologies.

Sinead O'Sullivan, Fusion Space Technologies

Sinead O’Sullivan, CEO of Fusion Space Technologies. Image: Fusion Space Technologies

Now describing herself as part of the ‘space mafia’, she and her start-up are creating the first ever platform for crowdsourced drone data.