The Next Generation Female Founders and Entrepreneurs Is Ready to Disrupt The BioHealth Industry

The Next Generation of Female Founders and Entrepreneurs Is Ready to Disrupt The BioHealth Industry 

Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) recently conducted a survey called, “Women in Technology Leadership 2019”, which examined tech and healthcare company startup data and demographics. Respondents were from the U.S., UK, Canada and China.

SVB’s survey found that only 56% of responding startups have at least one woman in an executive position and only 40% have at least one woman on the board of directors. 28% of surveyed startups had at least one female founder. 

We recently cited a few stark data points regarding disparities among men and women when it comes to bioscience leadership roles, board seats and venture capital investment. A 2018 study showed that a mere 10% of all global venture dollars went towards solely women-owned startups while 83% of all global venture dollars went to men-owned startups. The disparity is remarkable on its face, but is even more so when one considers that these percentages represent an improvement over prior years. What’s more, the percent of global seed dollars that went to women-owned startups was 6% compared to 80% received by men-owned startups.

Gender parity has yet to be achieved, but as we’ve noted in several recent BioBuzz stories on this biohealth industry issue, women continue to make progress and the gender parity gap is decreasing, albeit slowly. We noted that women have certainly made significant strides in the biopharmaceutical space, including two recent, high profile CEO appointments. Gilead Sciences recently appointed Christi L. Shaw, former senior vice president at Eli Lilly & Company, as CEO of Kite. In addition, Vertex Pharmaceuticals recently named Reshma Kewalramani as President and CEO, effective April 1, 2020.     

TEDCO’s Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs is a great example of efforts being taken within the Biohealth Capital Region (BHCR) to close the gender gap and support women startup founders and CEOs. The BHCR is also home to some of the most successful life science CEOs, executives and serial entrepreneurs in the nation, who also happen to be women.

As we continue to cover the diversity gap issue, and the progress being made, we want to highlight the next wave of female founders and entrepreneurs who are disrupting the biohealth industry and its norms. 

Let’s take a look at some of the BHCR’s next generation of women CEOs and serial entrepreneurs who are building innovative biohealth companies.  

Dr. Srujana Cherukuri, CEO, Noble Life Sciences

Noble Life Sciences appointed Dr. Cherukuri its CEO in 2017, which is the most recent milestone in a remarkable bioscience career. Dr. Cherukuri ascended the ranks at Noble Life Sciences from Senior Scientist, Director of Scientific Affairs and VP of Product Development to Chief Scientific Officer, Chief Operations Officer and now CEO. She has played an instrumental role in the company’s efforts to optimize new preclinical animal modeling and operations. 

In addition, Dr. Cherukuri led the integration of Noble Life Sciences with the Spring Valley Laboratories site. With more than 12 years of experience in oncology and stem cell research, which included stints at the Cleveland Clinic, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of Maryland, she is well-positioned to lead Noble Sciences into the future.

Dr. Cherukuri is currently the majority owner of the preclinical Contract Research Organization (CRO) headquartered in Woodbine, Maryland, which offers GLP and non-GLP services, in both large and small animals, for the development of drugs, vaccines, and medical devices.  

You can learn more about Dr Cherukuri and her story on the BioTalk podcast with Rich Bendis.

Carolyn Yarina, CEO and Co-Founder, Sisu Global Health

Carolyn Yarina leads Baltimore, Maryland’s Sisu Global Health, an emerging medical device company on a mission to solve global health problems in developing countries with efficient technology. Carolyn and her equally impressive co-founders, Gillian Henker and Katie Kirsch, have raised $2.9M investment from some noteworthy investors, including Baltimore-based Camden Partners and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest fund.

Prior to founding Sisu Global with Gillian Henker and Katie Kirsch, Yarina founded her first medical device company, CentriCycle. After becoming frustrated with the limits of the non-profit model, she redirected her remaining seed capital to launch Sisu Global Health in 2014. Yarina has won numerous competitions and awards, including an Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the University of Michigan. She was also recently featured in BioBuzz’s Baltimore’s Top 10 Biohealth Startup CEOs list.  

Sisu Global Health is changing the landscape of medical devices in emerging markets. The company is developing leading-edge life saving tools for doctors and patients of the developing world. Sisu Global’s first product, The Hemafuse, received regulatory approval in Kenya and Ghana and has been helping to combat the 50-60% donor blood shortage across Africa. The Hemafuse is a device that is able to collect and filter a patient’s own blood to be transfused back to the patient during surgery, without using electricity.

Sisu is now scaling Hemafuse in Africa and selling the device through Kenya’s largest medical and pharmaceutical distributor. 

Dr. Emily English, CEO, Gemstone Biotherapeutics

Dr. English is the founder and CEO of Gemstone Biotherapeutics, a biotech company in the process of commercializing its Extracellular Matrix Replacement (EMR) technology that yields robust skin regeneration in preclinical studies. Their pipeline is exclusively IP licensed from Johns Hopkins University and targets surgical wounds, chronic wounds and burns, as well as  cosmetic applications like hair restoration.

Prior to becoming Gemstone’s CEO, Dr. English was the Program Manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for eight years, where she oversaw approximately 40 scientists and a $6M portfolio of developmental and operational programs serving U.S. government sponsors. She was recently named to BioBuzz’s Baltimore’s Top 10 Biohealth Startup CEOs list in 2019 and The Daily Record’s 2018 Leading Women list.  Gemstone was also named one of BioBuzz’s Top 5 Stem Cell Companies to Watch in the BHCR.

With Dr. English as CEO, Gemstone received a 2019 commercialization award of approximately $300,000 from the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund (MSCRF). With its novel biosynthetic technology nearing FDA review, Gemstone is positioned well for future success. 

Dr.Crystal R Icenhour, Co-Founder and CEO, Aperiomics

Dr. Icenhour leads Aperiomics, a biohealth data science company whose Xplore-BIOME bioinformatics’ algorithms and Deep Shotgun Metagenomic Sequencing technology help physicians identify the causes of their patient’s infections which are traditionally not identifiable through other testing. Aperiomics’ Next Generation Sequencing capabilities can identify every known pathogen in a single test. Dr. Icenhour brings 25 years of experience in medical research and biotech to her role as CEO; she is an experienced in infectious disease research and biotech commercialization, and has been a dedicated proponent of “bridging the translation gap between these two worlds.” 

Prior to co-founding Aperiomics, Dr. Icenhour was President and Chief Science Officer for Phthisis Diagnostics, an R&D company focused on the development of molecular diagnostics for intestinal parasites. She also holds two patents, is very active in the BHCR, a national public speaker, and Next Generation Sequencing thought leader. Dr. Icehour is a member of the review panels for The National Science Foundation and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as The National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants. She also serves as Chairman of VA BIO. 

This summer, Aperiomics announced that they were opening a new 4,700 SqFt headquarters in Loudoun County, Virginia.  Dr. Icehour and the company were also recently featured on NBC’s Today Show for their efforts in helping to solve medical mysteries.

Allysa Dittmar, Co-Founder and President, Clearmask, LLC

Allyssa Dittmar co-founded Clearmask in 2016. Located in Baltimore, Maryland, Clearmask is a medical device company that has developed a transparent surgical mask that provides full face visibility for patients. The ClearMask™ is designed to improve communication for all patients, and will specifically assist hard of hearing and deaf patients (20% of the population) communicate better with caregivers. 

Dittmar, who has been deaf since birth, was inspired to create The ClearMask after a surgical procedure left her feeling “powerless.” She could not read the surgical team’s lips after they donned their traditional masks and therefore couldn’t communicate. She founded Clearmask with her business partner, Aaron HSU, who is now the company’s CEO. Dittmar is a tireless advocate for the hard of hearing and deaf community; she is currently a consultant for the Maryland Governor’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Dittmar has a Master of Health Science (MHS) from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and has won numerous awards for her advocacy and business leadership. 

ClearMask was recently among 250 startups invited to attend Google’s 2019 Startup Grind Global Conference in Silicon Valley where it placed into the top 50 special cohort of “the best of the best.” In 2019, Clearmask was named one of the top 20 startups in Baltimore by Technically Baltimore. The company has recently entered a new phase; it is making strong progress in developing a prototype to submit to regulators and is refining its manufacturing processes.

Dr. Deborah Hemingway, CEO, Leon Scientific

Dr. Hemingway helms Leon Scientific, an up-and-coming biotech company that is commercializing IP developed at the University of Maryland, College Park that change the way scientists can visualize living cells. While completing her PhD in biophysics at the University of Maryland, Dr. Hemingway became actively involved in the tech transfer process, eventually learning about a novel biomedical imaging technology that enables scientists to mechanically map living cells in 3D. Thus, Leon Scientific was born.

Dr. Hemingway has secured awards from a variety of sources, including TEDCO’s MII Technology Award; she has also honed her entrepreneurial skills at NSF’s I-Corps program and then as part of the FounderTrac Program, which helps entrepreneurs prepare for the venture capital process and where she is now a “Sherpa”—a mentor for other biotech startups in the program.

She is remarkably active in the BHCR, holding board seats at a number of biotech companies including two Maryland-based startups: Pathotrak and BrainQuoin. She also holds board seats at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and on the Pearson’s University Physics for the Life Sciences advisory board. Dr. Hemingway is also an active Angel Investor at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, where she was awarded “Angel of the Year” earlier this year and is a Venture Partner at NextGen Venture Partners where she serves on a number of biotech diligence committees.

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Steven Surdez

Steven Surdez

Principal at StoryCore at StoryCore
Steve has over 20 years experience in copywriting, developing brand messaging and creating marketing strategies across a wide range of industries, including the biopharmaceutical, senior living, commercial real estate, IT and renewable energy sectors, among others. He is currently the Principal/Owner of StoryCore, a Frederick, Maryland-based content creation and execution consultancy focused on telling the unique stories of Maryland organizations.

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