WoW Woman in HealthTech | Nayeli Schmutz, Chief Medical Officer at PIPRA AG
Interview by MarijaButkovic
Nayeli Schmutz is a physician, a specialist in anaesthesiology, intensive care medicine, out of hospital emergency medicine and diving and hyperbaric medicine. She studied medicine in Lausanne (CH), and at the Charite in Berlin (1 year) and graduated in 2006. After graduating she worked as a physician in Switzerland Melbourne, Australia. She also had the opportunity to work as an emergency doctor with ambulance teams and with the Swiss Helicopter rescue service (REGA). In recent years she developed an interest in the business side and had the opportunity in 2019 to found a company, together with two other co-founders. Today she works both as an anaesthesiologist and as Chief Medical Officer for her company PIPRA AG. She is also a mum of three children.
PIPRA AG, is a MedTech company based in Zürich, Switzerland with three co-founders: John Klepper (CEO), Ben Dodsworth (CTO), and Nayeli Schmutz (CMO). They founded the company after winning a European-wide competition for 2 million EUR from EIT Health (the Wild Card challenge). PIPRA targets postoperative delirium (POD) which is the most common postoperative complication in the elderly. The main symptoms are confusion, agitation, change of personality, and the outcomes can be dramatic. It doubles nursing home admission, increases mortality, and is an enormous cost to society. As a physician and more specifically as an Anaesthesiologist one cannot remain insensitive to this problem. The team is currently developing the product ‘PIPRA’ (Pre-Interventional Preventive Risk Assessment), an AI-based tool that determines a patients’ risk of developing postoperative delirium (POD) before they undergo surgery.
Nayeli, how long did it take you to be where you are now?
As an entrepreneur, I would say around 1-2 years, but in reality, I would say 13 years because, without my medical training, I wouldn’t be where I am today
What was the biggest obstacle?
I wouldn’t talk about the obstacle, rather about challenges. Being a doctor has always been of work but since I am a mum and work full-time between the hospital and PIPRA, I have the impression that I am always running. The biggest challenge is definitely trying to combine a busy professional life with busy family life and to be good in both!
As a physician, being an entrepreneur was completely new for me and I had to learn everything from square one.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
MedTech and HealthTech are generally very challenging niches because of their primary purpose being health. The ethical considerations in healthcare are very important and must absolutely remain at the forefront. Regulations are extremely strict, which is a very good thing, but it doesn’t make the task easier.
We need to convince clinicians and prove to them that we are improving quality of life, and the only way to do that is to run clinical trials to gather enough evidence.
There are lots of different stakeholders; users, buyers, payers, etc and they are all different people, often with differing interests.
How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge for me as a woman was really to combine family and my diverse professional activities. My husband was always very supportive, but as a physician, he is also working a lot, and it is important for me to be part of my kids’ life.
Of course, sometimes as a woman, you face remarks that men would never get, for instance; “that’s a big family… can you still work?” But in my entrepreneurial life, I am very lucky. My co-founders are very open and are completely for gender equity. The situation is probably very different in hospitals, the medical world is more conservative.
Is the #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Yes, it gives inspiration and motivation to see all these successful women.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Never let anyone tell you that you are not capable of doing what you want to do. You can do almost anything, but it takes a lot of work and perseverance.
Get support from the right people; the ones who will lift you up on bad days.
What will be the key trends in the health tech and AI industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
AI will definitely continue to grow significantly in healthcare. I think it has a huge role to play in the early diagnosis and prevention of many diseases. There are however two main obstacles in the successful development of AI in healthcare:
- Lack of uniformity and accessibility of data
- Physicians need more education and training in AI in order to be more open to its potential