Graeme Clark Oration Women in STEMM Wrap-up

The annual Women in STEMM Lunch preceding the Graeme Clark Oration aims to expand the networks and support of women in STEMM. The number of female technology founders is low, and little has been done to change the status quo. There are many women who have the background and potential to do this, yet with little support and role models, there remains a barrier for those who do not see themselves as entrepreneurs or leaders.

The annual Women in STEMM Lunch preceding the Graeme Clark Oration aims to expand the networks and support of women in STEMM. The number of female technology founders is low, and little has been done to change the status quo. There are many women who have the background and potential to do this, yet with little support and role models, there remains a barrier for those who do not see themselves as entrepreneurs or leaders.

Three successful entrepreneurs, Michelle Perugini, Mimi Tang, and Tracey Brown moved from research in academia to form their own start-up ventures and now lead companies in the biomedical and health space because they are passionate about their research impacting healthcare. They shared their journeys over lunch so that others can follow suit without the trials and tribulations that they faced at the time.

Michelle Perugini was initially a scientist in the health space and was given the opportunity to cofound a start-up company in 2007 with her husband. He had just completed a PhD with the Department of Defence studying artificial intelligence (AI), and combining their expertise, they built a predictive analytic software that models human behaviour. Michelle saw that there was “a massive trend for AI in the medical space and in healthcare” after she saw the value of their product, which was bought by Ernst and Young. She therefore decided to remain in the start-up business space to ensure that more research and technology impact healthcare. Her next idea was Life Whisperer, which uses AI to improve IVF treatment by accurately predicting which embryos are more likely to result in a baby when implanted. She advises that “even if you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, you can be an intrapreneur in your workplace” by embracing technology and bringing a wave of change by adapting it into clinical practice. You don’t necessarily need a title – you can be a leader in the actions you take.

Former Head of Allergy and Immunology at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Mimi Tang, decided to step down from her position to be more involved with her research. She realised that the only way to get her research -developing a treatment for peanut allergy – into clinics was to commercialise it. She shared her experience in moving research from academia to business so that others would have a less bumpy road. Mimi has seen a shift in the entrepreneurial space in the past few years in terms acquiring funds. Large pharma companies are now looking to invest in projects earlier when they traditionally became involved later on in a product pipeline (after a level of success had already been reached). There is also now more support for people to climb out of “the Valley of Death”, which is where many companies have failed to scale up with their minimal seed funds. Mimi spoke about her learnings when seeking investors, advising to investigate those companies who best fit your technology and stage of development. Then, leverage your networks and relationships to connect with those investors. Her main advice was to be prepared as “you only have one chance to get your foot in the door”.

Tracey Brown gave her essential tips to translate research into a sustainable business. In 1999, Tracey made the “scary move” from academia to commercial research institutions, where she focused on developing products for the treatment of cancer, inflammation and anti-aging. Over the last 20 years, she has led international product development teams that have taken products from conception to application. She advises that anyone wanting to follow suit needs a clear vision, a realistic operational and financial plan, and a tightly-knit “dream team” – which is essential for success”. All three speakers stressed the importance of a building a team of like-minded people who are willing to work together to translate their passion into tangible goals. All three also have had informal mentors throughout their journey from whom they have sought advice, and advise other women to find guides to help them along their journey.

Female leaders in STEM innovation such as Michelle, Mimi, and Tracey, are an inspiration for many other women in STEM to follow suit. Chief Scientist of Australia, Alan Finkel AO, admits that there is an unconscious bias against women in the workforce, but that, while it may take years, “ongoing successes and role models will help overcome this”. Even with the small actions that are taken to support women in STEMM, such as Tracey being given a microscope at the age of five instead of a barbie, or giving every female on their teams a voice and respect, or we hold forums such as these for networking and discussion, we are moving forward.

Courtesy of Convergence Science Network
Catriona Nguyen-Robertson | Science Communications Officer | Convergence Science Network
If you missed the lunch, catch up through the video of the event below and images taken at the event here.