Evelina Georgieva is co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer at Pryv. She made a Master in Public Administration at the Technical University of Sofia – interdisciplinary studies covering technology, economics and law. In 2008, she got involved in a project focusing on the transfer of data across different countries and the challenge of making this possible while meeting each local legal requirement. Later on, she was involved in different innovation projects, among which some in healthcare and smart cities.
Moving forward, nothing happened as planned. However, everything happened for a reason.
Let’s discover the environment she evolves in now at Pryv, why she did not have to make a choice and how this led to an important contribution to society.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PATH TO BECOMING A TECH LEADER? WHAT AND / OR WHO HELPED YOU IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL CHOICES?
I grew up in Bulgaria. None of my family is involved in science. Most of them comes from the military system. My education was very strict [laughs]. I was told to keep going and fighting. When I was 14 years old, I had to choose my secondary school. I was not able to make a choice between mathematics or literature as I liked them equally. So I decided to go for both. For 5 years, I studied intensively English, German, writing, calculation and (of course, being in the digital-native generation) – IT & technology. I then joined a technical university, where surprisingly, I also studied a lot of Law. I chose that university because I was not able to make a choice between two disciplines, so I just chose them together. This was quite unique at the time, and, I think, one of the first universities integrating such a multidisciplinary program. IT, Law and Economics, minding the public and private sector relationship is a blend of knowledge that opens up a lot of possibilities for career development.
I just kept at once the best of the business and tech worlds as I wanted to have them both.
Afterwards, I decided to relocate to Switzerland. The choice of this country wasn’t driven by me but by my boyfriend at the time, now husband and father of our son. I decided to seize the opportunity to make a PhD at the EPFL.
It was then that, at the EPFL Forum, I literally bounced into Pierre-Mikael Legris, the CEO of Pryv. I often speak about it as being destiny bringing us together. He started describing the technology of Pryv – a software that allows personal data aggregation, management and sharing. It was a WOW moment. I thought that if someone already had this technology – one that I wanted to develop as an output of my PhD – why would I invest four years going in this direction?
It may sound cliché, but this adventure is a lot about being at the right place, meeting the right people at the right moment.
It wasn’t too difficult to decide not to start a PhD but to join Pierre-Mikael instead. Yet, it wasn’t totally easy for me either. I wasn’t familiar with the environment in Switzerland, I was absolutely new to the entire ecosystem, and I did not speak any word in French. It was a very interesting period.
If I have to name a single person who helped me getting where I am today, who taught me everything that I have learned in the past 7 to 8 years, it would be Pierre-Mikael. He keeps motivating me every day. With small companies and innovating companies, you always have ups and downs and a lot of different things coming to your mind. He is definitely the person that keeps me moving forward with what we do and being positive on what’s next.
But there have been many other great individuals that have supported us and motivated me. Alexander Banz, for example, the president of our Board is one of them. He is one of those people who can strengthen your confidence in who you are and what you can, to unlock your potential and shine. He is probably the other accomplice whom I correlate with being where I am today, developing tech innovation in Switzerland.
The third key element is probably the ecosystem itself. Perhaps, if I was at another place with these great people, if the ecosystem was not so welcoming and not supportive of the company and myself, it is likely that I won’t be speaking to you today. The Vaud innovation ecosystem is truly inspiring. It is also worth mentioning that one of the best experiences I have had so far in my entrepreneurship is when I was chosen among the Top 10 Swiss Venture Leaders in Technology 2017. The Venturelab program in San Francisco was an eye-opening, first in class experience. It felt like being part of the “Silicon Valley” series.
HOW DOES YOUR WORK CONTRIBUTE TO SOCIETY?
The domain where we are with Pryv can be summarized as data economy. We are active in the domain of personal data collection which has been extremely popular in the past years. We are using our smartphone every day and expect them to provide us at all times with personalized services, from transportation, to shopping, to healthcare and everything. We have very high expectations that our needs be matched exactly. In order for these businesses to provide us with these services, they need to analyze our behaviours. This is happening by collecting personal data. This cannot happen without our individual consent and Regulators are strict on being compliant on that.
At Pryv, we make it possible for companies – specifically companies active in healthcare – to collect personal data properly and to comply with the individual rights that are defined by the data protection regulations and the industry-specific standards.
We support mobile applications for personalized medicine, telemedicine, remote monitoring of patients, mobile clinical studies – the types of applications that have become more popular with COVID-19. For example, if you take an application that helps monitor a patient’s symptoms or side effects, we are providing the basis that these companies need to do. Quite often we see in the news that the big players receive huge fines because they did not respect privacy and data protection regulations. Our role is to help small companies out of these problems and to do it properly. We also help build this relationship of trust between users and patients with the service providers.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF PRYV?
The reason why Pierre-Mikael Legris founded Pryv in the first place was because he brought his experience as a patient. He was really young when diagnosed with leukaemia and he spent many years fighting the disease. He made it. He overcame the disease and is now father of four wonderful boys. He has a very strong wife, absolutely a role model that I would like to mention. She is a real warrior. Pierre-Mikael didn’t want to be kept at the hospital for some basic metrics. He negotiated that with his doctor and was able to be home with his wife when they were having their first baby. It was almost 16 years ago without the technology we know today. He was writing down in a notebook everything that was happening to him. The doctors found a strong correlation between his ability to work on a given day – related to his energy level – and the blast crises. The interesting correlation was that his working performance seemed to be predicting the crises a few days ahead compared with the blood tests.
Then, Pierre-Mikael started thinking that there should be a way to facilitate and digitize this, so he started designing a model that would allow tracking all the personal experiences of patients, while complying with all the requirements around privacy and ethics too. If for someone the weather outside makes sense, this should be monitored. If for someone else, the number of coffees he or she is taking per day makes sense, it should be possible to correlate this very lifestyle with personal healthcare metrics data. This is the very beginning of the story, what we discussed when we met and why Pryv was born.
IN THE CURRENT CRISIS [COVID-19], HOW DO YOU CONTRIBUTE TO PATIENTS’ HEALTHCARE?
What we are doing is a great contribution to science, to industries and to patients.
First, during the lockdown, we offered our license for free to several selected small companies that have various solutions to help patients being locked at home but still needing care – for example rehabilitation or treatment for elderly people with chronic diseases..
Later on, we realized that even if we wished so, we could not facilitate the work of them all and that it was a pity to have to choose whom to help. This was one of the reason to decide to put our software in open source. Fostering faster innovation and less duplication of effort are also among the main drivers of Open Pryv.io’s release.
The Open Pryv.io release takes place at a time when the pandemic disruption has cast a harsh light on the notion of personal data collection and privacy respect. As governments have been lifting data protection restrictions in an attempt to ease access to personal data to protect public health, the release of Open Pryv.io shows that there is a way to encourage personal data collection being done right. Open Pryv.io urges to build a world where privacy is the norm – not the exception as it is today.
It is now available for anyone to use. They don’t even have to talk to us. If they have an idea of a business that collects personal data, they can just use our software and go for it being confident that all the data management is done properly – without costs. It is a huge contribution. It represents almost 4 million and 8 years of working.
It was not easy but investors and shareholders embraced the idea widely. If now – when there are so many discussions about tracking people, digitalization in clinic trials or remote monitoring of patients – is not the time, when will it be? It is now that we can make true our dream of being the standard in enabling this to happen.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE THIS OPEN SOURCE PRODUCT?
It is a lot of work. We receive a lot of requests – many projects start using our software. We still have an enterprise package. The open source Pryv.io is fully productional, but the enterprise licensed version includes some very specific parts. For example, if we speak about multi-center clinical trials, they need to save the data in different locations – this is not possible with the open source software only. This is valid also for some big projects which need to collect data on a global population basis and store each citizen’s data as per their citizenship. But if the data storage can be done in one site only, businesses can surely use the Open Pryv.io and benefit from the consent, privacy and data management at no cost. When we are speaking of big volume projects – more than 10’000 users – they also need the license. It also comes with liability. With the open source, you are managing it by your own. If they would like us to support them and provide all the documentation to go for the certification and Pryv to advise them in their project, then they require a license. Licensing has been our business model for ever. What changes is that for small projects, or big projects that don’t need specific features, they can use our software without any engagement or dependency nor costs.
Internally, it is a lot of work; it is completely different to manage open source and to talk to the community. But we are very much inspired by doing so – it brings so much internal satisfaction. It is an energetic boost.
A new customer is always good but seeing how happy and satisfied are those businesses that use our open source software is also an extremely satisfying feeling. Doing good is beautiful.
HOW DO YOU CONVINCE INVESTORS?
In most cases, you always need investment in order to scale-up. We are at the Biopôle, we have a small representation at EPFL Innovation Park, we have our small headquarters in Morges as well as an office in Paris and a representation in Canada. We have companies distributing our software. We do some direct sales but rather team up with other companies active in sales. Together we are stronger.
We focus on what we know we do best – as one piece of the puzzle. The business needs all the pieces to be solved. When there is a project request, very often we step away, we give it to our partners, and they execute the mandate with our technology embedded, bundled with their subject matter expertise.
Our investors include a couple of family offices, business angels, one private clinic. It has always been a very positive experience onboarding these people. We have been sharing the same vision and belief in what should be done. It is not so difficult to convince someone when they believe in the same thing as you. You just know that it is the right thing to do and you move on.
We are at the right time, talking to the right people, sharing the same vision and moving together. It is not about convincing – it is about sharing a vision.
WHAT, IN YOUR VIEW, IS THE ROLE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN SUPPORTING SCIENCE/HEALTHCARE AND HOW DO YOU USE THEM IN YOUR OWN STRATEGY?
From the outside, things seem to be easier in the US than in Europe. I think one of the main reasons that this is happening because of the mindset. In the US, from a marketing and communication point of view, PR is the important piece.
You have to bring an idea into the mind of people before this idea is even born. You have to create a community that follows you and make people speak about you. You want to make people wish to hear the next thing from you and keep following you.
In Europe and in Switzerland in particular, things are happening the other way around. People are in their small shelves, developing something they call deep tech or whatever science enhancement. Only much later do they start to speak – very quietly and under non-disclosure agreements – to highly selected people. When talking to journalists, they will be extremely careful what exactly to say. Sometimes it is the proper thing to do but very often it just creates less awareness. People don’t see that the general public is interested in this. People are scared talking about investments, they think it is risky, they just wait for a while and very often this kills the businesses. In my point of view, the reason why this happens is the lack of communication.
Now, it is very popular to have influence marketing, not only for products – like on Instagram – but also with key opinion leaders. When they say a word, this is followed by an increase of people who want to buy the solution. Is this product better than another one? Probably the other one did not take the chance to be there or to be part of this key opinion leader network.
For me, communication is often the missing piece to turn innovation into successful business. There must be shift of mind in many entrepreneurs and investors refocusing their efforts towards this direction.
All these courses that we are attending for entrepreneurship should have communication up first in the agenda. Very often, businesses are driven by innovation, tech or science people. Communication is not studied in their domains. There is a similar lack of legal training. Tech developers, for example, should develop applications that are legally compliant. But they never studied law at school. It is like calling your lawyers and ask them to develop an application.
To make a business successful, you should get in touch with the right people, make sure that you have the right partners.
SHOULD YOU ENCOURAGE YOUNG GIRLS TO GET INTO YOUR FIELD, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
In my view, girls should pursue whatever their genes tell them to do and look for the right people to surround them and make it big. You have to bring the pieces together –we have this in our business model at Pryv and I am really proud of it. You have to complete the puzzle – as I do with playing with my little one [laughs] – it is not fun and you cannot simply do it with one piece only. You have to see the big picture. To take your example [of RADAR RP], one of you is coming from life sciences, the other one is coming from communication and then somehow the interests make the bundle. I didn’t pursue to be in healthcare specifically nor in science. It just happened without making a choice. Well, sometimes not making a choice is a choice [laughs].
I encourage girls to raise their voice. They have to share what they have to say.
I will not encourage anyone to go to a specific domain because each of us has different genes, interests and superpowers. We should use them properly.
IS THERE SOMETHING YOU WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY OR ADVISE YOUNG SCIENTISTS/ENTREPRENEURS TO AVOID DOING?
I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Bad or good, if it happens, it had to happen. If something does not bring the result that you were hoping for, it means that you have to learn out of it. I don’t regret making my choices – or not making a choice.
If you did something different in the past – then you won’t be where you are today.
AN ANECDOTE TO SHARE WITH US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AS A WOMAN, A WOMAN IN SCIENCE/HEALTHCARE, A LEADER?
You have to give first, and you are going to receive back. Don’t expect to get something from the beginning, be open and generous.
Doing good will find you back. People have too high expectations and believe that they should be given from the start – this is not correct. I am not a big fan of expectations; I live my life in the current situation and just enjoy life.
Seeing the sparkles in people’s eyes brings me joy. You made my day.