Of the 36 Catalan biomedical companies that have raised more than €1 million in 2016 and 2017, one third (12 companies) have at least one woman on the executive team or among the founders, according to Biocat data.
ProteoDesign has just closed a €1.7-million round of funding to advance preclinical development of its drug candidates in immunotherapy. “Being a woman has never been an obstacle. In our field, it is much more important to have the right training and prove you know what you’re doing,” says the company’s co-founder and COO Silvia Frutos. “In fact, some investors are calmer if the company is led by a woman because, they say women are more sensible and responsible than men.”
At ProteoDesign, the founding team is one man and one woman, and the prejudices don’t always go unnoticed. “When we are both in a meeting, there is a certain tendency to address him more than me,” Frutos recognizes.
With a PhD in Chemistry, Frutos had a career in academia before founding ProteoDesign in 2014. “I think there are more and more female entrepreneurs in science because continuing to build a career in academia is still very difficult: it is highly male dominated. When you strike out on your own, though, it all depends on you, your knowledge and your hard work,” she highlights. Her recipe for fostering entrepreneurship: having entrepreneurs speak to PhD students. “In my day, no one told us there were other options,” she remembers.
In late 2016, Mosaic Biomedicals, a spin-off of the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), announced it was merging with Canadian company Northern Biologics to accelerate development and clinical trials on an antibody that targets a protein responsible for the progression of cancer. Plus, North-American venture capital firm Versant Ventures invested further and biopharmaceutical company Celgene exercised its option to acquire the rights.
Judit Anido, co-founder and general manager of Mosaic Biomedicals, says that being a woman hasn’t made any difference in her career. “For me, it’s important to create a social setting where both women and men can make decisions freely about their personal and professional lives, without being influenced by predetermined gender roles or the difficulties of achieving work-life balance due to a lack of social resources,” she says. The perfect situation, according to Anido, would be for “women and men to have the freedom to decide whether they want to be CEO of a company or care for their children and family’s welfare, without society questioning these choices.”
How can we change these social prejudices? “Raising awareness of women in different roles helps normalize this idea and creates models that other women can relate to, and this encourages them to set off on adventures that, under other circumstances, they may not have considered,” stresses Anido. This entrepreneur just received one of the femtalent 2018 awards, which recognize individuals and organizations that are working to promote female talent and equal opportunities. “We have to create the ‘If she can do it, so can I,’ effect.”
GlyCardial Diagnostics raised €2.4 million in its first round of funding last fall, led by Caixa Capital Risc and HealthEquity. “I haven’t noticed being a woman as an obstacle in leading GlyCardial, but it hasn’t opened any doors either,” says Judit Cubedo, co-founder and CEO of the company, spin-off of the Catalan Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences (ICCC).
“When you’re a scientist and decide to set out on your own, people question your ability to run the company regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. These concerns, however, are shared more openly with women than with men,” she regrets.
According to venture capital fund First Round Capital, projects with a woman in the founding team are 63% more profitable. In 2010, McKinsey conducted a study of 279 companies that showed those with a higher proportion of women on the executive committee are 47% more profitable financially. This type of conclusions that correlate gender and results are always controversial, but McKinsey has once again insisted on this theory in a new study, published this year with data from 1,000 companies in 12 countries. The Delivering through diversity report defends the idea that companies with more female executives have results 27% better than the sector average. In fact, the prestigious consultancy firm estimates that if women participated in the global economy on the same level as men, by 2025 they would generate an additional $28 trillion in GDP. This is the combined total of the economies of the United States and China.
The Start-up Map 2017 compiled by Spain Startup-South Summit, which includes companies from all sectors, estimates that the failure rate for projects led by men (58%) is twice that of start-ups founded by women (28%). This report is compiled from a sample of nearly 1,600 companies, half Spanish and half international.