Dr. Elina NaydenovaElina Naydenova is a biomedical & AI engineer, with a PhD in Machine Learning for Healthcare Innovation from Oxford University.

She is the CEO & co-founder of Feebris – a company whose AI-powered platform enables carers & community health workers to detect health conditions early.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I trained as a biomedical engineer at Oxford University and was initially exploring developing machine learning solutions for cancer imaging. Looking for opportunities to impact global health, I had the privilege of working in the medical device group at the World Health Organisation, where I became obsessed with a wicked problem that has been one of the biggest challenges in global health for decades – childhood pneumonia, the number one killer of children under 5. I could not accept that a perfectly treatable disease would still take the lives of nearly 1 million children every year. So I made it my mission to get to the root cause and develop a solution to this problem. This involved doing a PhD in Healthcare Innovation at Oxford University, where I focused on developing machine learning techniques for early diagnosis of childhood pneumonia in community settings.  Today, I am the co-founder and CEO of Feebris, where we develop AI-powered solutions that enable the early detection of disease and deterioration in community settings. Our vision is to help build a world where no one suffers from treatable conditions simply because they cannot access a doctor.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t have a definite step-by-step process in mind, however  I always have had a strong sense of what my direction of travel is – to help to improve healthcare through innovation. I have always aimed to create and uncover opportunities that will equip me with the breath of insights and skills to realise this purpose.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I have been repeatedly told that I am not supposed to have ideas, but that I am to help others realise theirs in different education institutions, work environments, in different contexts. I have learned to derive motivation from proving people wrong by being painfully persistent.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement to date has been taking Feebris from an idea to a growing business. I find it immensely humbling that my passion for transforming access to healthcare for some of the most vulnerable people in society has inspired others, and we now stand strong together on a mission to build technology that prevents avoidable suffering.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Being able to dream big and visualise success. For anyone from an under-represented group trying to achieve success in a field they are not expected to, it’s incredibly important to be able to be able to visualise the world you want to build. If there are very few examples of people like you achieving success in your field, imagine yourself at the top of that mountain and what that would mean for others like you that want to climb it.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Technology is a tool, don’t make it your mission. Focus on solving real problems using technology but never be married to the tool and how exactly you use it. This will make you excel in a product environment, this is what differentiates an innovator from an engineer.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are even greater barriers for minorities. There isn’t a silver bullet for overcoming these barriers – representation across the sector is important, embedding diversity in an organisation’s DNA is important, practicing empathy across the organisation is important… But the under-representation starts much earlier, in classrooms and lecture halls, so to really transform the make-up of the industry society needs to bring up boys and girls with the same dreams and expectations.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Invest in mentorship within the organisation. This is important for all team members, but for women in particular it can help break some ingrained societal assumptions, nurture self-belief and encourage diversity.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

We need to re-write the script girls inherit from society from an early age. We need to bring girls up with the belief, and expectation, that they will be engineers, managers and business leaders in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I wouldn’t recommend tech-specific resources. Own the problem you are trying to solve, be the expert in the problem. Beyond that, Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast is worth a listen.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here