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27th April 2017

Living and breathing innovation

From the time Claudia Gärtner was a little girl helping her dad with his business, she knew she would follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps.

“I grew up with an engineer father who told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I worked for it,” Claudia tells This Is Medtech. It’s no surprise, then, that she would one day start her own award-winning company that makes miniaturised palm-sized laboratories. Known as “lab-on-a-chip” systems, they have the same testing capability as complete lab facilities but can analyse medical samples much faster.

The lab-on-a-chip systems can be customised depending on the needs of who’s using them, testing for anything from the Zika virus to cancer. Because the results are not sent off to a lab in the traditional manner, “doctors can make faster decisions about how to treat their patients,” she explains. Unskilled staff can also use the system, which makes it even more flexible ‒ particularly in under-developed countries that don’t have access to traditional lab facilities.

Claudia is constantly striving to improve her technology, saying that “the ultimate version would be like the famous tricorder.” The tricorder was a scanning device used in the sci-fi TV series Star Trek to swiftly diagnose health conditions and provide real-time vital signs. Although she’s still working towards realising the tricorder dream, Claudia has been recognised on more than one occasion for her innovative ideas.

Most recently, she came in third place for the European Commission’s EU Prize for Women Innovators, the aim of which is to raise public awareness of the need for more innovation and more women entrepreneurs, to recognise the success of women in innovation and create strong role models.

Interestingly, the fact that she’s a woman in a male-dominated field doesn’t really faze her. “There hasn’t been a single time during my career that I’ve felt disadvantaged as a woman,” she says. She does note, however, that the experience of other female entrepreneurs may be different. “At least in Germany, there’s no difference being a woman or a man. If you’re not willing to do the same job as a man, then it’s you, not the job or the environment,” she adds.

Claudia believes that Europe needs more innovators, regardless of their gender or industry. But she does recognise from her own experience that achieving a work-family balance can be challenging. To this end, she imparts some quite frank advice to future entrepreneurs: “You simply need to enjoy both the freedom and the responsibilities of being self-employed, and you also need to be prepared for virtually no spare-time and little sleep. It is important to consciously decide about this step and to define your own goals, not forgetting the private life that might get compromised.”

The challenges certainly aren’t holding Claudia back from expanding her business. Her role model is Walter Sarstedt, who founded his medical products company on his own in 1961; today it has a global workforce of 2,500 people. “I tell myself: ‘Let’s follow this model’,” says Claudia cheerfully.

To learn more about Claudia’s lab-on-a-chip systems, click here

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