My Mother has been an incredible inspiration for me

Start-up spotlight with Fiona Nielsen

In partnership with Angel News, The Invested Investor, a project founded by Peter and Alan Cowley to help entrepreneurs and early stage investors achieve greater success by sharing lessons learned, is delighted to publish this interview focusing on the altruistic, enterprising, human genomic data expert and CEO of Repositive, Fiona Nielsen.

Fiona is a bioinformatics scientist, turned entrepreneur and founder of Repositive in 2014. Having worked at Illumina developing tools for interpretation of next-generation sequencing data and analysing cancer and FFPE samples sequenced on the latest technology, Fiona realised how difficult it is to find and access genomics data for research. DNAdigest was founded as a charity in 2013 to promote best practices for efficient and ethical data sharing and, soon after, Repositive was established to provide a new software platform and mechanism for data sharing. Fiona was nominated for the 2013 WiSE award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

1)      What does your company do?

At Repositive we are speeding up the drug discovery process, enabling faster and more targeted treatment of life threatening diseases. Our core mission is to increase discovery, access and sharing of genomic research data for the benefit of patients worldwide. Securing our first round of external investment in 2015, Repositive created a public community and marketplace platform which catalogues over 1 million genomic research data sets and has a user base of academic and industry researchers from 90+ countries.

In 2017 we initiated a collaboration with leading biopharma and CROs to launch the Repositive Cancer Models Platform to act as a broker of proprietary data and a network for researchers in cancer drug discovery. Launched in early 2018 as a result of successful expansion of the existing Global PDX Directory, our Cancer Models Platform grew to incorporate CDX, syngeneic and humanised mouse models, 3D in vitro systems and other popular translational cancer models. 

2)      How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

The Repositive Cancer Models Platform is the first and only databroker for genomic data, being both globally accessible (not restricted to academics only or individual vendors) and searchable down to specific genomic characteristics. It caters for industry’s needs, such as privacy, security and IP protection, and oncology researchers can identify particular cancer models that optimally represent specific cancer types and targeted patient sub-populations – supporting better and faster research and development of cancer therapies.

 3)      What are the challenges you face in setting up your company?

Running a startup means overcoming challenges and learning every day. The specific challenges change and evolve with each day as our business grows. It continues to be a steep learning curve, and we are continuing to learn at every stage of the journey of Repositive. One challenge has been to realise all the non-sciency aspects of running a scientific business such as operational aspects – from people management to the legalities and financials. There are so many aspects that all have to work together for Repositive to both run smoothly and achieve our business objectives.

 4)      What are the great stories of ‘rewards or satisfactions’ that you can share?

One of the most rewarding events that has happened recently is receiving an email from one of our investors, who was asking on her daughter’s behalf about my educational background. She was just about to choose her A-Levels so wanted to know what I had done to be able to start Repositive. It is amazing to think that what we are doing at Repositive is inspiring the next generation.

It is also very rewarding to interact with our partners and customers. For example at the AACR meeting in Chicago in April, Repositive organised a networking event between a number of Biopharma companies and CROs which was hugely successful. We were congratulated on organising this event whereby for the first time both Biopharmas and CRO vendors had been in the same room to discuss how to improve the access to cancer models.

Another extremely rewarding thing is when my mother comes from Denmark to visit our Repositive office. She has suffered from cancer and is lucky to be fighting fit now, so it is great to be able to show her the difference that we are making at Repositive to improve and speed up cancer treatment.

 5)      How do you characterise success?

For me, success of Repositive means that we created a lasting improvement in the way that researchers use and manage data, knowing that thanks to our work researchers are speeding up development of diagnostics and treatments of disease.

 6) How do you view your relationship with your investors?

Our investors are business partners that share our vision for the company for both profit an impact. They are also our sounding boards for advice and support us in our entrepreneurial journey.

 7)      How would you choose your investors?

We choose our investors based on their knowledge within our field that they can meaningfully contribute to our journey and success. They may have knowledge in either of the life sciences, knowledge management, data science, SaaS platforms, online marketplaces or biopharma sectors.

 8)      How do you maintain a work/life balance?

To maintain a healthy work/life balance for me one of the most important things is going to see my family in Denmark. I go at least four times each year to visit, which always leaves me feeling re-energised. I also always take one full day off each week (not even answering emails!) to ensure that I have some time for myself to do the things that I enjoy, like going for a run and spending time in nature.

 9)      Who inspires you and why?

My parents are my biggest inspiration. My father for his unconventional way of thinking and coming up with creative solutions to problems. He is never afraid to think outside of the box and never limited by what others have done before. My mother is extremely resilient, which I greatly admire. She had a long and suffering battle with cancer which left her fully demobilised, but she is now fighting fit and able to walk 5km each day. Her ability to endure the long and tiring process of recovery and rehabilitation to bring herself back on her feet has been an incredible inspiration for me.

 10)      If you could offer an entrepreneur one piece of business advice, what would it be?

The best piece of advice I can offer an entrepreneur is to make sure that you surround yourself with people that support you. You need people that both offer support in the skills that they bring, as well as those that offer moral support to keep you going on the long and often exhausting journey of bringing your business from idea to successful implementation.

Listen to Fiona’s podcast HERE

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