28% of all Catalan biomedical companies are created or headed up by women, and the percentage goes up to 46% for start-ups created over the past two years. 11 women entrepreneurs in the sector tell us about their experience and help raise awareness of cases like theirs to encourage other female scientists to follow their example.
On 8 March, women in every sector went on strike under the slogan: ‘If women stop, the world stops’. In the BioRegion of Catalonia, more than a quarter of the business fabric stops if they stop: 28% of Catalan biomedical companies created since 2012 have a female CEO or founder, according to data from Biocat. This figure goes up to 46% if we focus on start-ups created since 2016, suggesting a growing trend of female scientists in the sector deciding to become entrepreneurs and start their own companies.
By subsector, the companies with the most women among the founding or executive teams are in medical technology, with 38%. Biotechnology and sector professional services companies are next, both with 31% of companies created or led by women. The lowest percentages of women are in healthtech companies (22.5%) and suppliers (13%).
Biocat has compiled these figures from a sample of 300 CEOs, directors, founders and co-founders at 235 companies in the BioRegion of Catalonia. Despite being far from equal, the data for the BioRegion is optimistic in comparison to the global numbers: less than 8% of biotechnology firms in the world have a female CEO, according to a study by Liftstream, and in the global biomedical sector as a whole, NDF Research puts the percentage at just 7.5%.
A snapshot of female Catalan biomedical entrepreneurs would show two main groups. On one hand, women between 30 and 40 years old who have a PhD in science, have often done an MBA and, after holding research positions at several entities decide to create a spin-off to advance their own research towards market. The second group would be made up of women between 40 and 50 years old who have gained extensive experience at private companies in the sector or consultancy firms before starting their own company.
10 years ago, when Helena Torras began working in the technology sector, women were in the minority. “At that time, it made us stand out, because people remembered it was a project led by a woman,” she remembers. “Now, the number of female entrepreneurs has grown, and I hope it continues to do so. There is interest in projects led by women.”
In addition to mentoring and advising other companies, Torras current heads up her own project: B-wom, an app created in 2015 that is a “personal coach for women’s health and wellbeing.”
Torras believes, “There are many women who have trained in this sector. What we need is more to take the leap.” To encourage this, she says we should “raise awareness of the women there are in the sector, to show that there are role models and to build a sense of community, because feeling supported always helps you take the next big step.”
After working in the medical device sector for 8 years, since 2015 Silvia Raga has been at the helm of DyCare, a company that designs wearables that revolutionize the rehabilitation process for patients with musculoskeletal problems. “Life is too short to be in the wrong job. Managing my own company means having a place to achieve my own dreams, ideas and goals,” she highlights.
Raga believes business knows no gender. “Regardless of your gender, you have to give 200% every day if you want your business to work,” she warns. Like other female entrepreneurs in this report, she recognizes that the hardest part is balancing work and personal life. “It isn’t always easy for your family and your partner to understand what it means to have your own company,” she admits.
A year ago, DyCare closed its first round of funding, led mainly by Swiss investors. “The investors saw the gender balance on our executive team as a very positive thing,” she says. “Some months later, I got pregnant and the investors’ support was unconditional.”
Women occupy only 19.5% of all board positions at large and medium-sized Spanish companies that are publicly traded. The figure is practically identical for the top 6 traded Spanish pharmaceutical companies, half of which are Catalan: just 19.64% of board members are women, even though more than half of their staff is female, according to reports companies sent to CNMV.
So, for example, women make up 57.5% of the staff at Grifols, and 54.4% at Almirall. These two large Catalan pharmaceutical corporations have 24 board seats, only six of which (4 at Grifols and 2 at Almirall) are held by women. Reig Jofre, where women make up 57.7% of the workforce, also has 2 female board members.
The figures are even worse internationally: according to McKinsey, only 17% of board members at the 50 most important publicly traded companies in the world are women. The most worrying fact is that, according to this same consultancy firm, half of all men, and up to one third of women, believe this is enough.