At our second sold-out MaRS Mornings breakfast series, we invited three successful female entrepreneurs to share their stories, lessons and advice in creating ventures in the healthcare space. Moderated by Aron Solomon, senior advisor for the education technology cluster at MaRS, the panel spoke to important themes such as fear and entrepreneurship, best advice, tips to overcome roadblocks and much more! Here’s a recap of the event.

Sonya Satveit Jessica Ching Chia Chia Sun
Sonya Satveit, Jessica China and Chia Chia Sun at MaRS Mornings

Meet the founders

  • Chia Chia Sun, CEO and founder of Damiva, develops all-natural, over-the-counter women’s health and personal care products. The company’s first offering, Mae by Damiva, is a 100% natural vaginal lubricant for menopausal women. Made with just six ingredients—kokum butter, cocoa butter, hyaluronic acid, sea buckthorn extract and vitamin E—Mae is formulated to restore moisture and provide long-term vaginal health.
  • Jessica Ching, CEO and founder of Eve Medical, an early-stage medical device company focused on designing innovative, user-centered medical products aimed at the specific healthcare needs of women. The company’s first product, HerSwab, is an at-home testing kit that allows women to comfortably and reliably self-collect samples to screen for HPV, chlamydia and gonorrhea.
  • Sonya Satveit, CEO and founder of Open Source Health, a healthcare company that provides a unique Internet Portal to the most up-to-date, trusted information and education, access to experts, diagnostic testing and self-monitoring, as well as health forums and support groups, coaching, products and devices.

Hindsight is always 20/20

If you were given the chance to travel back in time to one month before the launch of your venture, what would you say to yourself? Would it be to breathe, and that everything will be OK? Or would it be to get those eight hours of sleep because the next few months (and years) were going to be intense? For Chia Chia, it was to pay attention to those unmet needs that no one is filling. And her product, Mae, did exactly that.

For Jessica, it was to reassure herself that anything worth doing is probably very hard. Jessica told the audience that as an industrial designer, she was unsure where her skills could create the most impact. Realizing that launching her own company would do exactly that, she decided to push any doubts aside and went for it.

Swerve around the roadblocks

Roadblocks and obstacles are everyday occurrences in the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship. Now add being a female founder into the mix and that might make matters a little more challenging. For Sonya, confidence and thinking bigger are essential to succeeding. By looking past the idea of running just a “small shop,” Sonya was able to turn Open Source Health into company that can reach women all over the world.

Both Chia Chia and Jessica echoed the same concern during the event, namely that women need to be careful of gender bias and generalizations of not having a clear vision. Jessica added that women are often really hard on themselves and can take failure quite personal, although she personally has not been treated any different because of her gender, even when dealing with investors who are predominately male.

Based on the collective voices and experience of these three female founders, it clearly pays off to think big and to be confident when faced with roadblocks.

Can I give you some advice?

Aron asked the panel how to distill the advice worth listening to from the stuff that’s not when starting and growing a business. Chia Chia told the audience that the best advice she received as an entrepreneur was from her life and business partner, which was to not take on external financing. Instead, the company’s strategy was to go to market fast. Despite the countless stories of Canadian firms struggling to launch in the United States, Mae successfully received an FDA drug listing and launched direct to US consumers online in 2014.‎ Soon, Mae will be available in leading national pharmacy chains and healthcare catalogues.

Despite being inundated with advice in her journey, Jessica says you should always listen to recommendations, but admitted that it is fine to not be on board with 100% of what you hear. Her best piece of advice to the audience was that as an entrepreneur you can learn everything, but you don’t have to do it by yourself. Building a strong team is essential.

For Sonya and her company, the advice was rather simple: don’t let fear paralyze you. More specifically, Sonya noted that there is nothing scarier than entrepreneurship, but that “you can’t not do it.” If fear had stopped these founders, there wouldn’t be three successful and incredibly impactful organizations in the healthcare market today that address crucial unmet needs.

Want to attend the next MaRS Mornings?

Join us at our next MaRS Mornings on January 14 where you’ll hear from Hamid Arabzadeh, CEO of Ranovus, on his entrepreneurial journey.

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Amy Weinrieb

Amy is the Associate, Entrepreneurship Programs at MaRS. Amy helps co-ordinate the planning, execution, marketing and development of all workshops within Regional Innovation Centres and Campus Linked Accelerators in the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) network. See more…