A whirlwind of events featuring incredible women-led ventures and showcasing the expertise of women entrepreneurs, FemSTEM 2022 was a great success! From January to March 2022, H2i held its annual FemSTEM multi-event series, starting with a kick-off event that led into three fireside talks and a pitch competition finale. H2i’s FemSTEM series aims to grow a local culture, practice and infrastructure to accelerate women-led ventures within the health entrepreneurial space. While the events featured women entrepreneurs, all were welcome to join, and we saw a high turnout this year, with an audience of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the H2i community. 

Missed out on some of the series? Looking to reflect on some of the themes that came up? Click through the below recap of all our FemSTEM events this year! 

On January 12, H2i hosted the Kickoff Event and Panel Discussion and welcomed speakers including Dr. Soror Sharifpoor, Dr. Rabia Khan, and Catherine Chan. Speakers shared insight into the field at large and provided tangible tips for those looking to enter the health innovation space. 

Among the topics covered were the biggest learnings from their careers to date, how women in STEM can make a successful career change from bench work in a lab to being an entrepreneur, and the discrepancy between the funding towards male-led versus female-led ventures. 

A theme that arose was taking what was learned from graduate school and transferring that knowledge to establish a healthcare venture. Dr. Soror Sharifpoor noted to, “not let your education come in the way of your success,” and that while often a new graduate is looking to use their research, it is necessary to thoroughly examine a problem space to ensure there is a need. H2i team member, Gabriella Chan, added from the audience that it is important to keep in mind that your studies give you a wide array of transferable skills that can be applied to many careers and areas of work.   

When comparing the difficulties of graduate school with those of being an entrepreneur, Dr. Rabia Khan and Catherine Chan both agreed that there is a much larger degree of accountability that comes with the responsibility of being a founder and CEO. However, all three speakers agreed that one of the best things that an aspiring entrepreneur or early-stage founder can do is meet and speak with established entrepreneurs, industry experts, and investors, which can be accomplished through programming like FemSTEM. 

Catherine Chan highlighted the importance of identifying a problem space that you are passionate about innovating. Chan shared that she started Honeybee Hub after repeatedly running into the same problem that they are now solving. Chan and her co-founder took many steps and approaches to validating the solution and thoroughly understanding the problem space.   

Lastly, the panelists mentioned that there are funding discrepancies between male-led versus female-led ventures. With fewer female-venture capitalists and these perspectives lacking “in the room,” there can be subconscious differences between how male and female founders are received in these spaces. This can take the form of questions that are asked by investors being different depending on the gender of the founder, with more “softball” questions being given to female founders at times. Greater diversity is needed in venture capitalist roles to help cultivate more equity in investing.  

On February 2nd, February 16th, and March 9th,  H2i hosted three fireside talks which featured speakers including Neena Kanwar and Dr. Sandy Skotnicki. Topics that came up were changing career paths and the fear and uncertainty that accompany big changes; leadership and how to build and maintain healthy team and work environments; and how to identify opportunities to innovate your field of work.  

When describing the inspiration for Kanwar to change her career path and pursue entrepreneurship instead, she noted that she gained most of her knowledge from her previous work, which propelled her to innovate existing systems into a new standard in the delivery of comprehensive, efficient and cost-effective health care services, all while providing high quality patient care. Kanwar reflects fondly on that experience, mentioning that her work experience was what drove her entrepreneurial innovation, energy and dedication, but would have told her younger self to break into entrepreneurship without fear.  

Another overarching theme revolved around leadership, and how to build and maintain health teams and work environments. Ultimately, every team requires good leadership that encourages healthy boundaries and work-life balance. It was noted that emerging leaders should look to build a team with people who have soft skills that can demonstrate motivation beyond the interview stage. This motivation lends credibility to self-awareness and empathy for themselves and others, and are all paramount characteristics when building a team as high performing teams have a sense of purpose. 

To spot these traits when building a team, seek out a candidate using scenario examples from their own work during the interview process – when they answer, do they center their own work and take all the credit, or talk about teamwork? This can help leaders spot a candidate’s ability to work collaboratively and be a team player. It was noted that candidates can use the STAR format when providing examples of experience, which utilizes situations, tasks that were done, actions that were taken, and results that were proven. 

Lastly, a major topic that was discussed involved identifying opportunities to innovate in specific realms of healthcare. In the example of dermatology, Dr. Skotnicki reflected on how she revolutionized patient care and the diagnosis process. She emphasized the importance of her finding a work-life balance that best suited her entrepreneurial needs. She also described how she found her way to entrepreneurship through many academic and professional experiences that helped her realize that her dream wasn’t to work behind the lab bench but instead, do something on a bigger scale to revamp patient care. 

A takeaway from Dr. Skotnicki’s talk for aspiring entrepreneurs was that “If you have something you’re strongly passionate about, think big, start bigger, and don’t be afraid to do that.” As Dr. Skotnicki’s career continues to flourish, it is evident that a change in career paths may be daunting, but the results can be very rewarding and worthwhile. 

On March 24th, H2i’s annual FemSTEM Pitch Competition featured six incredible women-lead ventures who pitched their way to the top with innovative and inspiring ideas to revolutionize healthcare to wrap up the FemSTEM 2022 programming. This year’s finalists were: 

  • AiimSense Inc.; featuring Atefeh Zarabadi and Siobhan Wilson 
  • Glusyn Diagnostics; featuring Jennifer Doucet 
  • HDAX Therapeutics; featuring Nabanita Nawar 
  • Kultura Dianostics; featuring Sarrah Lal 
  • SciVance; featuring Rebecca Allan 
  • ToothPod by UCorp.; featuring Vishar Yaghoubian 

Each venture had five minutes to pitch their products to three judges: Evelyn Pau, Vice President and Investment Banking and Recruiting Lead of Bloom Burton & Co.; Inmar Givoni, PhD, start-up mentor, AI consultant and advisory board member; and Kerri Austin, Senior Regulatory Affairs Manager at ICON plc. The top three pitches would win both funding, and legal services provided by Cassel Brock & Blackwell LLP. 

AiimSense Inc. pitched their idea of a portable head scanner to improve the outcome of patients with stroke and traumatic brain injury through quick triage and real-time monitoring. Glusyn Diagnostics pitched about their idea of a cell-free synthetic biology-based technology, which would enable on-site testing of infectious diseases using a repurposed glucose meter as a convenient and universal reader for gene circuit sensor outputs. HDAX Therapeutics presented their development of epigenetic-targeting treatments that have been designed and synthesized to improve the next generation of life-improving medicines that can tackle unmet healthcare needs in cancers and CNS disorders. SciVance presented their development of novel drug candidates for rare diseases and cancers by targeting undrugged proteins. Kultura Diagnostics their development of an integrated easy-to-use suite of innovative technologies to diagnose and manage gluten sensitivities. These solutions provide an easily accessible way to diagnose, a portable way to monitor, and a continuous way to manage gluten sensitivities including celiac disease. Lastly, ToothPod by UCorp. presented their product that serves a convenient smart gum to boost oral hygiene within minutes, while also helping to prevent cavities anywhere, anytime. 

All ventures did a phenomenal job as they presented their impressive developments set to revolutionize different aspects of healthcare. Congratulations to our grand prize winner, SciVance; our 1st runner up, HDAX Therapeutics; and our 2nd runner up, Glusyn Diagnostics. 

While FemSTEM 2022 was still virtual this year, we were very impressed by the turnout for each event and we would like to thank all of those that attended, as well as the guest speakers and pitch competition ventures that participated in the events.

Stay tuned for next year’s FemSTEM series, kicking off in January 2023!  In the meantime, if you are a woman identifying entrepreneur in H2i and would like to be paired with a FemSTEM mentor, please discuss this with your lead mentor or contact us at info.h2i@utoronto.ca.