Women in Health Tech Interview | Sherezade Ruano
founder of RhythmiaBreath Medical Wellness programme
Interview by MarijaButkovic
WoW Woman, Sherezade Ruano is the founder of RhythmiaBreath Medical Wellness programme, an initiative, which in 2017 granted the credential of being the first method in the UK to combine modern medicine with holistic practices for the Prevention and Rehabilitation of Cardiovascular Diseases and Mental Wellbeing.
Recently expanded as a Digital Therapeutic platform called Rhytmia.Hub, the app and platform aim to bring cardiac patients closer to the many opportunities technology can offer in the prevention and rehabilitation of cardiovascular disease.
Passionate about the importance of mental wellbeing, stress and trauma in cardiac patients, Sherezade works closely with a team of world-renowned Mental Health specialists and Cardiologists offering outstanding services focused on lifestyle interventions.
Her background as a professional ballet dancer drives an intense desire to bring the benefits of physical exercise and wellbeing to individuals suffering chronic, long-term conditions.
Interview by Women of Wearables
What does your current job entail?
I cannot say I have a job, but many of my roles require different skills. I co-direct the creation of a digital therapeutic platform, I lead therapeutic sessions for patients with many different health conditions (as this is still my passion), I continue to work in the NHS, and I lecture in various centres. They all shape the woman I am in business and life.
All these different roles allow me to create such an in-depth and comprehensive platform. Knowing your customers and understanding what they need can truthfully place you in a leading position while increasing the speed of your project. At the same time, by having a clear strategy and understanding of what is the customer’s pathway (in our case, the patient pathway) a project can take stratospheric levels in a relatively short time.
My current role in developing our digital platform is to ensure the programme and its pathway is smooth, clear and easy to follow. My role lately has been focused on translating the information from my mind to the UX designer and developer. We are still in the early stages of our project; however, I sincerely believe that the speed at which it will soon move has much to do with the different roles and jobs that my co-founder and I entitle.
How has your career progressed since your degree?
I graduated from my MSc and MA in Cardiac Intensive care in 2011. I moved to London right after, and I started working in a Cardiac and Diabetes Research Study with highly renowned consultant Cardiologists. It was then when I became passionate about science, research, technology and the intrinsic interaction between the body and the mind.
My background is deeply rooted in holistic practices. I graduated as a Yoga therapist, specialised in cardiovascular disease and cancer in the US in 2013, and I was a ballet dancer for 19 years. I studied human anatomy, exercise, movement and wellbeing from many different angles, so I had a solid base to start a project in the wellness industry.
After finishing my role in the cardiac research department, I decided to put my background and passion, all in one. Soon after that, I became familiar with many terms in the tech world without knowing that a few years down the line, I was going to be leading my Digital therapeutic project.
Life has many ways to show you where you have to go.
Has it been an industry easy to get into or have you had many challenges?
I have been extremely fortunate to find incredibly supportive initiatives and communities such as Women of Wearables which guidance and support have been paramount in my entrepreneurial journey but also my confidence.
I lost count of the number of articles, books, panels and interviews I immersed myself trying to learn more and more about how to translate the message from my mind to paper, and from paper to a product. I even grabbed myself to do a short course in UX design!
In the early stages of our product, I used to approach other people with a huge hunger to learn from them. Some are now both parts of the project but also people I can call friends.
I could not have been able to be where I am without the support of a strong network.
Since there are really not many female investors in tech space, especially not those focusing on emerging technologies, has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
From my own experience, as a very conservative and cautious small-scale investor, I have not faced pressure or resistance from other investors, founders or CEOs. My involvement has been positive, with no sexism, prejudice or depersonalization attached to the experience. I know many other stories explain the contrary, but I guess I have been fortunate always to have been able to choose where the investment goes carefully.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
Like many other startups and projects, it has been a long and tedious road consisting of many years of successes and failures. Sometimes I see myself in the same shoes as when I started, but other times I appreciate there has been some advancement!
In all honesty, my biggest obstacle has been my mind. There are of course many other logistical obstacles, especially when it comes to tech, but if I close my eyes, I can see some of the past failures as a sub-product of my mind, beliefs and conditionings. Working with a coach has transformed the way I work and how much I believe in my project.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you? You get in touch with many female founders in the tech space.
I am beyond excited to be part of #WomenInTech community.
In all justice, throughout history, the tech scene has not always been too willing to receive many females, not to mention the acceptance of a female CEO in a male-dominated industry. The ego-driven, social conditioning and cultural crossroads in human history have shaped the behaviour of both men and women in the technology scene nowadays.
I genuinely believe that things have changed tremendously. Women now have space and voice to be welcomed in the industry. Some women in tech I have had the pleasure to meet are incredibly well respected by both their female and male counterparts.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur and woman in the tech industry, but also an investor?
Looking back to all my previous roles in medicine, they all took place in a male-dominating culture. I guess I developed specific skills, which helped me to “survive” and “swim” in the same current. I always knew I never wanted to portray masculinity to advance in the hospital-ladder, to find acceptance and respect.
In all fairness, I never had to do so. What I had to learn was to understand my male colleagues’ language to navigate the organisation and build relationships with the right people; those who could help me to grow and support my vision. I did indeed find more resistance at work with the low-in-numbers female counterparts. My male bosses and executives accepted my initial project to incorporate holistic methodologies to mainstream medicine and cardiology.
My experience also includes the ‘let the others take the credit’ type of behaviour, which is, according to several research studies, a sort of behaviour more inclined to be seen in women than men. These aspects lead me to develop impostor syndrome that followed me for many years.
In an interview with Martin E.P Seligman for the Harvard Business School, he talks about prejudice, a concern that many women in tech and women entrepreneurs face. In his own words “being a victim of prejudice is particularly traumatic because it forces an individual to confront a distorted picture of him-or herself, and if often unleashes profound feelings of anger, bewilderment, and even withdrawal. However, the experience of prejudice is for some a clarifying event in which they can gain a clearer vision of who they are, the role they play, and their place in the world.”
I too believe that prejudice can greatly help gain a more definite sense of our personal strengths and capabilities, preparing us for other difficult situations.
After starting working with my coach, I understood that the goal as a founder is to evolve, to reinvent yourself if necessary, to keep growing and learning while at the same time creating a culture of respect within your team. As an entrepreneur, rather than fixating unachievable goals, I focus on measurable outcomes. Only then, I can find balance professionally and personally.
As a cautious investor, I think the main challenge is, trust. Money sometimes has very little to do when it comes to trust that a founder’s hunger for success weights the product’s viability.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
One of the most significant achievements to date has been the acceptance to be part of the Swiss Healthcare Startup platform. RhythmiaBreath was selected to become one of the very few international projects invited to be based in Zurich. Swiss Healthcare startup is a non-profit organisation helping accelerate and develop new startup ideas in the field of novel healthcare models, digital health, MedTech and patient-driven medical services.
Another significant achievement has been the invitation from AstraZeneca to participate as an expert in health innovation, to work together with Roche Diagnostics and Pumping Marvellous to find new ways to tackle challenges in the diagnosis and treatment of Heart Failure, with the commitment to develop creative solutions.
The last and not least outstanding achievement up to date has been the increasing acceptance by some of the most respected cardiologists and mental health practitioners in the country to support my vision and project. I do take all the credits when I say that we are the first programme in the UK to merge modern medicine and holistic practices for the prevention and rehabilitation of cardiovascular disease and mental wellbeing.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in emerging tech, especially IoT, AI and digital health in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
My number one and favourite health tech trend is wearables, especially remote patient monitoring and data analysis. A great example is the Apple watch, who uses the detection of Atrial Fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm of the heart, which increases the risk of developing a stroke. Wearables will also transform how individuals see their own healthandhelp patients take better control of their own care. It is a new frontier with an enormous potential to increase patient’s adherence to specific programmes and health routines to decrease the risk of developing or worsening a health condition.
The second trend, which I think we will see a significant explosion, is Artificial intelligence in diagnostics. Some doctors I work with are preparing themselves to work with AI in a very near future. The primary purpose at present of AI is to assist medical professionals in difficult diagnosis, not to replace them. An excellent example of AI in diagnosis is the work that Google DeepMind and London’s Moorfields Hospital are doing in the early diagnosis of macular degeneration using collected imagery.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs in the technology sector out there?
My advice applies to female founders and entrepreneurs in the tech scene, but also can generally apply to everyone out there; I believe that your environment shapes your mind-set and your project.
Creating your tribe is far from being a cliché, but an indispensable tool for success. In the beginning, it might seem hard to find like-minded people but believe me; they are out there. Network as much as possible and find groups who support your path and ambitions. You should surround yourself with people who inspire you, challenge you, support you and believe in you. Leave the critics in the portion of your book where it says “do not molest my vibe” 🙂
It is crucial to love what you do and to have a strong sense of value. I would not be able to do something I don’t believe in, or I don’t support, no matter what brings to the table.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in tech?
I have many women whose journey I find incredibly inspiring.
If I have to choose, I would probably name Silja Litvin, Founder of eQuoo. The app is an emotional fitness game that aims to teach healthy psychological skills. eQuoo has helped many of my patients to understand their emotions and how to navigate them. Recently approved to be part of the NHS library, I have fully supported eQuoo and Silja promoting and helping the platform to get exposure to as many people as possible.
Olivia Zollinger is the CEO and a Member of the Board of Swiss Healthcare Startups. I admire her journey, her energy and willingness to make a project such as SHS stand out. I am privileged to be part of an exclusive network of healthcare projects with a vast potential to be the next big thing in health-tech.
Next but no last, as a female entrepreneur, Elsa Bernadotte is one of the founders of the Karma app. Together with her two other male founders, they created the first zero food waste platform, which is changing our generation.
Since launching, Karma has diverted an average of 650 tonnes of edible food from landfill and reduced CO2 levels caused by food waste by 900 tonnes.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic.