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Health: when innovation takes on a feminine focus

Information updated on 25/06/20

Health, one of Montpellier Métropole’s excellence sectors, is highly favorable for women. From Genepep to Sensorion, they run their companies and occupy their rightful place in national and international markets.

Les dirigeantes de Cilcare, My Charlotte, Alcediag, Genepep, Mode in Med et Surgimab. @david-crespin @DR @nina-mahr @Edouard Hannoteaux
“There are increasing numbers of women decision-makers in health innovation,” says Gina Bandar, director of Ventum Biotech, which sells decontamination products for hospital and laboratory environments. The startup was engaged in research in the United States before setting up in Montpellier in 2019.

“Here, women are assisted just as much as men by Montpellier BIC, one of the world’s 5 leading incubators. We find that very encouraging.”

This is demonstrated by the fact that successful companies and innovative young startups founded by brilliant women flourish in the Montpellier Métropole area. CILcare, world leader in hearing disorder research, was founded by Célia Belline, Sylvie Cosnier-Pucheu, and Marie-Pierre Padelou, all previously from the pharmaceutical industry. Alcediag, a laboratory specialized in medical diagnostics for psychiatric diseases, owes its success to its founder Dinah Weissmann, who holds a PhD in pharmacology Amylgen, a preclinical service provider specialized in neurodegenerative diseases, is led remotely by Vanessa Villard from Melbourne, where she relocated in 2017.

Another promising company: NovaGray. Winner of several prizes and competitions for its tests that identify patients – before radiation therapy – likely to develop severe side effects. The startup would not have been able to grow without the talents of its leader Clémence Franc. Véronika Gocheva, with her PhD in biophysics, made Histide Lab a pioneer for research on biomaterials for bone repair.

Another common point shared by these companies is their national or international outreach, such as Zimmer-Biomet (formerly Medtech), an American medical device manufacturer whose Montpellier branch is run by Marie-Anne Péchinot.

“We are in the right place to grow”

“There have always been a lot of women in laboratories, but not necessarily in management positions. In Montpellier, however, where the biotechnology sector is quite strong, women also hold leadership roles, confirms Françoise Cailler, director of Surgimab, an R&D laboratory whose fluorescent molecules can detect colorectal cancer in real-time during surgery.

Located at Montpellier’s Biopôle Euromédecine science park, Surgimab is one of the few companies carrying out Phase III clinical trials, the last step before market release. “In addition to a level of solidarity among women entering the market, through networking or word of mouth, the Montpellier BIC team is particularly attentive. This is certainly due to the personalities of its directors, who are women, who instilled dynamics that have helped many women – both young and not so young,” she adds.

In addition to assistance provided by Montpellier BIC, either previously or currently, these women benefit from the strong visibility of Montpellier France Health Hub, a Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole initiative to prepare the medicine of tomorrow.

Many women have thus launched their activity in the e-health sector. The startup Move In Med, which participated in the creation of the Montpellier Breast Institute, designed a web platform for care coordination to better handle chronic diseases. “The e-health field is still relatively male-dominated, but we are in the right place to grow,” indicates Sylvie Boichot, who founded the company – now expanding internationally – with Sophie Gendrault.

Also in the e-health sector, Charlotte Marh, of Franco-Viennese origin, came to Montpellier to launch her startup myCharlotte. In October 2019, the former communications manager for hotel groups released the first free application to offer personalized activities to reduce the side effects of breast cancer treatment, which she experienced twice herself.

“Globally speaking, there is still much to be done for women, who only represent 15% of high-level leadership,” says Karine Puget, CEO of Genepep, which notably produces peptides for research and pharmaceutical laboratories. As a recognized scientist who is highly committed alongside startups at Montpellier BIC, she also invests as a Business Angel in local companies to help them grow.

Karine Puget is also a volunteer at “Femmes et Sciences”, an association that promotes science and technology among women. She works to encourage young women from junior high school to university levels to take up technological professions and lead companies. “It is one way to promote professional equality,” she adds. She also invites women to follow her example as well as that of other Montpellier women running cutting-edge companies such as 3C Health, Anagem, Azelead, Diag2tec, Phost'In, Sensorion, Smices, Stella, Vigipharm, etc.
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