passing on the baton, corporate handover featured

Passing on the baton | Lisa Falco

passing on the baton, corporate handover

Lisa Falco, Director of Data Sience at Ava shares some key moments of the path that led her to where she is today.

I remember when I was 18 and had just gotten into my engineering studies (Engineering Physics, to be precise) and I was at a party talking to some guys I’d just met about it. They just looked at me and said, “We know a guy doing that but he’s like SUPER smart”, clearly insinuating that I did not look like that kind of person. I got a lot of reactions like that in the beginning which scared me at first. Even more than not being smart enough, I didn’t feel that I was the engineering type. I had not spent my youth programming my Amiga (the PC that was popular in the 90’s) and I also didn’t care much about motors and machines and other things that you associated with tech in those days.

I would say that my dad had a significant part to play in my decision to study Engineering Physics. I wanted to become a medical doctor or a journalist, but he told me that engineering studies, especially in physics, was a better option as there were plenty of rewading career opportunities. He also reassured me that “in engineering you can be average and still have a great, well paid job”. Whilst this advice wasn’t motivational as such, something about my dad’s persistency in wanting the best for me and my own curiosity to explore an unconventional path led me to pursue a career in physics.

The first three years of my studies were tough. My days consisted of pure math and physics and I just couldn’t wrap my head around all of the formulas. I began to question myself – what was I going to use all of this knowledge for anyway? Then after the first three years I discovered programming and image processing and things started making sense. Programming entails writing down a step by step solution to a problem, it forces you to decompose all of the necessary steps of the solution into smaller comprehensible parts. I finally started understanding what I was doing and it became more enjoyable. I enjoyed image processing which entails using programming to apply mathematic formulas to images and you can see the images change, you can smooth them, you can sharpen them, you can recognize objects etc. Before smartphones and social media apps like Snapchat even existed, we were developing the kind of software and algotithms that they use now such as filters which enhance faces. It’s exciting to see that these types of functions are now used and enjoyed by millions of people across popular social media. It was like the mathematic formulas that felt so abstract came to live and finally got a meaning.

As I mentioned, I initially wanted to become a doctor so being able to work with medicine from a technical perspective was incredible. During my career I have had the opportunity to work across many different domains within health and the human body which always fascinates me.  Among other things, I have developed methods to analyse brain connectivity, I have tried (and ultimately failed) to develop non-invasive methods to track glucose for diabetics, I’ve also worked on the analysis of bone structure and biomaterials and now in my current role at Ava, developing methods to help women get pregnant faster by measuring the physiological impact of their hormonal changes.

Whilst I had been passionate about many of those things I was never quite passionate about the actual technology itself or the tools that I had been using. I have been using data science and machine learning throughout my whole career, but the methods alone have never been what has fascinated me, for me, it has always been more about what can be done with them – this is what intrigues me.

I believe that we need to stop thinking that you must love the tools or be a geek to get into tech. It’s of course important that there are people who are passionate about the tools themselves, but it’s just as important with people who master the tools but are passionate about their applications. A passion for the application can help you bring in new perspectives and see the problem from angles different than the pure technical part. This is something I believe women do very well which is one of the reasons why we need more women in tech.

With a solid technological background, I also feel that you get a lot of respect in the workplace which has definitely been the case at Ava but also with my previous employers.  It is great to be in an environment where I can combine my technical skills with my passion for womens health. The demand for people with strong technical skills is very high which might also be one of the reasons I have been lucky enough to have had the advantage of being able to dictate things that are important to me on my own terms. This has particularly been helpful in allowing me to have flexibility with my working schedule when I became a mother. By offering flexible working models here at Ava, we have been able to attract some amazing female talent to all teams, but also in the data science team which is normally a rather male dominated field. I believe the combination of a topic that women are very interested in, together with a flexible and friendly working environment has made that possible for me. I can only imagine the endless amount of possiblities and opportunities there are today for the new generation of women that wish to follow a similar path to mine.

By the way, I eventually met that  SUPER smart guy during my studies. Not only did he live up to the expectation of being “super smart” but he was also super nice and when I told him what his friends had told me he just laughed and said: “These guys? Why would you mind them?”.

Lea von Bidder featured

Inspirational Woman: Lea von Bidder | Co-Founder & CEO, Ava

Lea von Bidder

Lea von Bidder is Co-Founder; VP Marketing and President of Ava Science Inc.

The idea for the Ava bracelet came from Pascal Koenig, Philipp Tholen, Peter Stein and I (Lea) around five years ago when we were confronted with our own reproductive choices in the modern world. We almost immediately started consulting with several gynaecologists from around the world, mainly in Europe and the US, asking what is important for women’s reproductive health needs. When Pascal, Philipp, Peter and I founded Ava in 2014, it was with the mission to advance women’s reproductive health by bringing together artificial intelligence and clinical research. And I’m proud to share that we’ve just achieved a major milestone: Our clinical research has just been made public in a scientific paper published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research. The paper demonstrates that five physiological signals change throughout the menstrual cycle, and that by tracking these signals, we can identify the fertile window of a woman’s cycle in real time. Our flagship product, the Ava fertility tracker, is the only fertility-tracking method available that measures all five of these signs.

We have around 120 employees worldwide distributed among Zurich, San Francisco, Belgrade, Makati and Hong Kong. Around 80 of these sit in our Headquarters in Zurich and work in various departments such as Clinical Team, Data Science Team, Product Team, Marketing as well as Customer Success.

We are proud to count over 20,000 pregnancies worldwide and 50 new pregnancies a day among our users

The tracking of a woman's cycle, fertility, and pregnancy is just the start of many exciting possibilities. Ava continues to conduct clinical studies to improve its accuracy and increase its capabilities. Ava and the University Hospital of Zurich are conducting a new large cohort study with several sub-studies that will address topics such as irregular cycles and pregnancy complications. We are also working with several thought leaders to conduct studies in assisted reproduction and gestational hypertensive populations.

Our vision of wanting to be a long-term companion for women, providing data-driven and scientifically proven insights along all stages of their reproductive lives, as well as our mission, wanting to advance women’s reproductive health by bringing together artificial intelligence and clinical research, are our biggest drivers.

Please also have a look and feel free to use parts of my most recent opinion piece covering the topic of women’s health.

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

I have a master's degree in global entrepreneurship from EM Lyon in France, Zhejiang University in China and Purdue Krannert University in the US. I completed my bachelor's degree at the University of St. Gallen and at HEC Montreal in Canada. During my studies, I worked in the Marketing Department of Procter & Gamble in Frankfurt and for a strategy consulting firm in Paris. I am also a co-founder of L’Inouï, a company that produces and distributes high-quality chocolate in Bangalore, India.

We founded Ava in Switzerland in 2014 and a year later I moved to San Francisco to open Ava’s US office as VP Marketing & President.

Commercial Photographer, Advertising Photographer, Lifestyle Photographer, Fashion Photographer, San Francisco, San Francisco California
Commercial Photographer, Advertising Photographer, Lifestyle Photographer, Fashion Photographer, Travel Photographer, Fitness Photographer, Video Director, San Francisco, San Francisco California, California, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, James Bueti Photography, Lifestyle, Fashion, James Bueti

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No never, but what I always knew was that I wanted to have an impact on important topics such as women’s rights, representation and health.

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

Founding your own start-up comes at a price and it’s inevitable that you work on something you’re passionate about and that you have a great team around you – always hire people that are smarter than yourself!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I will move into my new role as CEO of Ava in January 2020 and am very excited about this new challenge. You can find the press release in regards to this move here:

Also, have a look at this latest CNN Executive Talk to learn more about myself 😊

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

Having a great co-founders team by my side who are all experts in different fields such as Data Science, Operations, General Management and Marketing, and we therefore complement each other very well. Also, being open to new challenges and ideas - just because you have chosen a path at some point, doesn’t mean you need to follow exactly that for the rest of your life. Things change and so should you.

I must also add – the support from family, friends and my husband.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome? What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

I believe the root cause of this starts when we are children. We need to stop thinking so gender biased and teaching this to our children. General sayings like, girls are better at languages, boys are better at maths etc, need to be revised so that we give our kids the opportunity to choose their own path even though it might not fit into our society.

Also, I don’t think that its only tech missing out on vital female input, it’s the same in many industries. We need to get much better with public childcare opportunities, maternity/paternity regulations, flexible working hours, also men being encouraged to work part-time, etc. The environment and circumstances we are still stuck in do not give us the possibility to thrive fully just yet.

Have a look at this LinkedIn post that touches nicely on the gender gap in Switzerland.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Get yourself a wolf-pack, everything is so much better and easier when fighting something together.

Make sure you attend as many conferences relevant to your industry as possible to network and put your name out there. My favourite conferences are: