Tell us about the business, what it does, and who the key people in the company are?
We (QualySense) created a robot that would sort grains, beans or seeds according to their biochemical and visual properties – one by one at intense speeds. The technology is able to measure the biochemical properties without destroying the grains through spectroscopy. Another invention was a method to transfer those grains aligned and separated form each other at high speeds. Incumbent technology does not control the speed and position of the grains as they are transported by a free fall. In one channel we can sort and analyse at a rate of 50 grains per second. So to give you an example of how our technology is used by say, a coffee company – coffee beans could be sorted according to the level of anti-oxidant properties they contain.
The co-founder and innovator, Francesco Dell’Endice, is an Aerospace Engineer who was doing a pHD at the University of Zurich. His project was in connection with the European Space Agency where they could detect characteristics of the ground for military, agricultural purposes. When he spoke to me about it, it all sounded like Science Fiction however we spoke and were able to develop this business idea together. We were thinking about what we (this technology) could measure – and our initial thought was food – probably because of his Italian background. But also I am Ukrainian and Ukraine is a big distributor of wheat.
What job title would you give yourself? In which areas are you an expert?
My role has been supporting the business and operations. I take care of administration, finance, marketing, sales, HR – it’s a very broad function. But also participating on the technical side alongside engineers – understanding what happens, coordinating it. My background is in Finance.
What was the trigger for you to start your own company?
Actually, the trigger was the availability of financial and non-financial support from the Government as well as private organizations. It started from Venture 2010. During idea brainstorming period we saw an invitation for a business plan competition Venture 2010. It helped us to develop our idea further and meet people who still play a key role in our company today.
What were the main challenges you faced early on? – In the business and also as a woman? Taken seriously?
The biggest challenge was and still is finding a team - Who think the same way as you do - Who are devoted in the same way as you are.
As a female, attending business plan competitions, I found the barriers for women to be more psychological. When we presented our case, men outside of the team only made eye contact with the men in our team and not with me. I did not appreciate this.
What was your greatest fear prior to starting up?
Of course, our greatest fear was that our company would fail and our efforts would have been in vain. However we had a social responsibility, which was to deliver a product that would help monitor food quality and safety.
Have you had any failures along the way and what you have you learned from them?
We found key employees left the company having built up significant knowledge about the company. What we have learned is that we need to work on how to better retain and reward our employees and commit them to staying. For some they realised that a start-up was not their comfort zone – too dynamic, too many risks involved.
Have you always had the entrepreneurial spirit? When (in childhood) and with what did your entrepreneurial journey start?
When the Soviet Union broke up, many people lost their jobs including my parents. My parents started a trading business by going abroad, buying goods and bringing them back to the Ukraine and trading between the countries. I observed them doing this and for me it was something normal. I never imagined myself being behind a desk and doing say, an office job that had added no value. Although I would probably have earned a respectable salary - for me - it is not all about the money.
What was the reaction of your friends when you started?
I had the support of my family and friends. However sometimes I felt that their body language conveyed a message of reservation. I believe I have proven myself so far.
Who is your role model/mentor?
I am my own role model. I am learning from the mistakes I make. However Mark Zuckerberg is a good role model.
Describe/Outline your typical day
Some days we have meetings. Sometimes participate in networking events. Learning something new. Lunchtimes is when we all catch up with one another. Sometimes we have BBQs, have competitions, play cards, dominos – we try to have fun as well as work.
What motivates you?
The challenges I have to face day to day in order to reach the final goal.
How do we get more women / girls into entrepreneurship/tech?
What is done today, such as women-encouraging events, promotions or start-up speed dating - I think is already really good. What I would add is men-encouraging events/promotions to work more with women. The goal of these events/promotions is to show men how beneficial it is to involve a female brain in business. Still today, more men than women do technical studies and we should let those two meet and benefit from each others’ knowledge, skills and differences. I hate to see many start-ups where a team is composed only of engineers and some of them have to spend time on marketing, finance, sales, administration instead of concentrating on development of a product. Why not involving women from no matter what specializations who could maybe do that job better?
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Strengthen your team with all the competences.
Network as much as possible to find customers, investors, partners.
How do you want to be remembered?
As a young foreign female student in economics who's first job is a co-founder and CFO of a successful high-tech start-up, and all this due to opportunities Switzerland has to offer.
What is your favourite book?
Forwards Futures and Derivatives by John C. Hall
(I know sounds nerdy, but so far I never had a chance/time to read something for leisure. Ask the question again when I retire J. You can decide if you want to include this sentence.)
What do you do on the weekend?
Study, sports, catch up with friends, hobbies.
How old are you?
I am 25. I co-founded the company at 21.