Dr. Vedrana Högqvist Tabor

Dr Vedrana Högqvist Tabor is the CEO and co-founder of BOOST Thyroid, the world’s biggest community and solution for people with thyroid diseases.

Vedrana holds a PhD in cancer immunology. She has worked for 15 years in academic research and the last five years in digital health. Vedrana has published research on a digital approach to health, and is a public speaker on female health empowerment.

In 2018 she was named to the “Nordic 100” as one of the most impactful people in the Nordic tech scene. Vedrana’s mission as a patient, researcher and CEO of BOOST Thyroid is to bring equality to health.

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

My name is Vedrana and I am a Swedish-Croatian scientist and the CEO of a health tech company, BOOST Thyroid. I hold a PhD in cancer immunology and have spent 13 years as an academic researcher. Six years ago I left academia after I realized I can help advance science and human health through a digital approach.

BOOST Thyroid is a free mobile phone app and community for people with an autoimmune thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s. We are building a personalized ML-powered coach and we bring patients and research together to create better health outcomes.
BOOST Thyroid aims to help by providing scientifically vetted information, strengthening the thyroid patient community, supporting research, and developing new technological approaches to improve personalized healthcare as well as patient-doctor conversations. You can read more about us on www.boostthyroid.com .

We are supported by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 funding as well as prominent Nordic investors (Sophia Bendz, Futuristic VC, Hampus Jakobsson, Wave Ventures and Simon Josefsso, as well as the Fast Track Malmö accelerator), Vodafone Institute and the German ministry of education and research.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not in its entirety. I reflect on things: what would be an impactful thing I would enjoy doing and be good at. I follow my passions, and what I believe would be the best use of my time and capabilities.

I did 13 years of cancer research because I thought that was the best use of my time, knowledge and passion at the moment. Then when I felt a spark for the digital world, I thought about how we could utilize technology to bring people an earlier diagnosis of chronic conditions. I see technology as an awesome facilitator to improve quality of life as we age.

BOOST Thyroid started from a personal reason: I myself have the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s. In this condition, one’s own immune system slowly destroys the thyroid by making it underactive. This is an ongoing process, resulting in a variety of symptoms, including anxiety, fatigue, weight gain, “brain fog” and fertility problems. I found no comprehensive solution that would help research and patients at the same time, with the tandem goals of contributing to new knowledge and improving patients’ lives.

So, I did not plan, but I researched and realized that autoimmune conditions are chronic, progressive and are currently incurable. In addition, it takes a long time to diagnose them, and sometimes they are misdiagnosed as depressive disorders. 350 million people live with autoimmune conditions, meaning that even if you don’t have an autoimmune condition, people you love and care about likely do.

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

Yes, many. I decided to leave my relatively safe academic career after 13 years and dove into tech and entrepreneurship. I was quite unprepared for what followed but I learned relatively fast and kept going. Owning my mistakes and learning from them has helped a lot.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I believe I have three that are equally important for me

The very first thank you email from one of our users, telling us we helped them with their health – One thing we’ve heard repeatedly from people using Boost Thyroid is it helps them identify areas in their health they need to address, whether it’s meals, exercise, or sleep, so they can prioritize their self-care instead of feeling overwhelmed and needing to fix everything at once. Another piece of feedback we get is that people appreciate advice without it being tied to trying to sell them a product like supplements or powders.

Having an awesome group of people to work together with on this project – this is an incredible privilege, to have a people I admire and learn from. I have dedicated huge parts of my heart and energy to BOOST Thyroid, and it is awesome to see other people finding it equally important and rewarding.

Not giving up when it was the hardest – getting through hard times is a remarkable success

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

My stubbornness, my perseverance, my passion. I don’t give up when I work on something impactful. I did 13 years of academic cancer research that was triggered by the premature death of my grandma. I wanted to understand what cancer is and how can we stop it from becoming so powerful.

Equally, I left academia after I felt I could contribute to the betterment of human health in a better and faster way, facilitated by the exponential digitalization of the world surrounding us.

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

No awesome career is meant to be easy, but it is meant to be interesting. For me a few things have proven to be of high importance:

    • Staying on top of the things – tech is evolving so rapidly, one must learn continuously.
    • Persevere – tech careers are full of challenges, and especially at the start one can be

      challenged around the clock. It’s equally important is to know when to give up,

      especially if you work in a toxic environment.

    • Focus – after figuring out what to do and how to do it, your focus needs to be razor

      sharp. That’s the best way to deliver projects and preserve your energy. It is

      challenging, because it seems we are precluded from doing the next cool thing.

      Standing up for yourself – being your own champion as much as possible and letting

      your voice be heard.

    • Have a good work-life balance – work should not be a single thing in your life defining you. Keep your health in check, and save enough quality time for your family and friends and your out of work passions.

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

The fact is there are barriers for an opportunity to succeed for people who are different than what is considered the “standard”, whether that is biased by sex and gender, age, health, or cultural and religious backgrounds.

I think we can overcome these by showing the accomplishments of a diverse group of people and talking to them about what they do and how they do it instead of talking about how different they are. Put their achievements into focus, not their personal characteristics.

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

Commit to hiring a diverse group of people and make workplaces inclusive and safe. If you don’t know how – ask around. Ask people who do not look or behave like you what they think.

Start treating people as equal in salaries and in their right to learn and advance in their careers. Offer support for parental leave and facilitate coming back to the workforce from any kind of career break. Don’t make people ask for things that should be normal to have. Invest in women-driven companies more; do not value a company less because it is led by women.

There is currently on 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?

Everyone commits to quotas by 2022 to increase the number of women in leadership and engineering branches of tech to at least 50 per cent.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Kim Scott, Arlan Hamilton and Susan Fowler in any form – book/video/podcast/twitter/live

FemGems podcasts for inspiration.