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31st March 2017

This woman is rocking the medtech scene

Women represent only 30% of all entrepreneurs in Europe and medtech is a particularly difficult market to crack. But Mary Franzese isn’t letting this statistic hold her back.

The 30-year-old Rising Innovator Award finalist is co-founder of an Italian start-up that’s developing a specially designed refrigerated neck collar. This collar could revolutionise the treatment of serious brain injury. She describes the device as “the next automatic external defibrillator for acute brain trauma” because her vision is that one day it will be available in public places, allowing anyone to handle an emergency before medical professionals arrive on the scene.

Let’s back up a little. When people have acute brain damage (ABD), like after injuring their head in a car accident, or having a cardiac arrest or stroke, early emergency on-site treatment is critical. To significantly reduce the extent and severity of the injury, rapidly lowering the body’s temperature to induce hypothermia, in combination with sedation, is the current treatment protocol. These simple actions slow the person’s metabolism, in turn limiting the damage and preserving brain function.

However, irreparable brain damage can happen in as little as eight minutes, so there’s a very small window of opportunity before a person potentially loses his/her ability to speak, move, interact with others or even to breathe. Mary’s partner, Enrico Giuliani, identified the need for an innovative solution in his work as a doctor and scientist. Both partners are confident that the cooling collar, which is also an intelligent device that transmits vital data to medical professionals, is the answer.

While Enrico had the medical expertise, he needed Mary’s business acumen to get the project off the ground and keep it running.  “Everything was kind of unanticipated for me because I was studying for my Masters in entrepreneurship and corporate strategy, and then I met a medical doctor and fell in love with the idea of revolutionising ABD. It’s kind of serendipity that I had the opportunity to take a risk to create something unexpected,” she tells This Is Medtech.

Mary feels strongly that a willingness to take risks and a thorough understanding of the market are critical keys to success in medtech. “It’s not like a digital app. You have to know about regulations, clearance, intellectual property, etc,” she says. But that’s just part of the equation in her view. “You also need to have the courage to take risks and make your dream a reality. You need to be passionate and engaged with the job.”

She attributes much of her success to Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. “When I was doing my Masters, I was shy and I didn’t take risks enough. Sandberg’s book Lean In inspired me to tell myself that I can try, that nothing is impossible,” comments Mary. Now she wants to be a role model for other young female entrepreneurs. The Rising Innovator competition could be a perfect springboard for fulfilling her dream of “inspiring young women and making a difference in this world”.

This year the European Commission’s annual EU Prize for Women Innovators had the new category of Rising Innovator, which recognises excellence in female entrepreneurs aged 30 and under. The aim of the competition is to raise public awareness of the need for more innovation and more women entrepreneurs, and to recognise the success of women in innovation. For more information, click here