According to the European Commission, women make up 52% of the total European population, but only 34.4 % of the European Union (EU) are self-employed and 30 % of start-up entrepreneurs. In 2012, only 29% of active entrepreneurs were led by women in Europe. Globally, the pandemic halted a lot of gender equality progress. According to McKinsey, the pandemic had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment. In many markets, 25% of women considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers. This impact was particularly sharp for women in management positions, and even more pronounced for women with children under ten years old. To put it bluntly, women were expected to give up their careers for the sake of their children; men were not. Thus, the pandemic undid decades of progress. Thus, the EU still has a long way to go to bridge this newly widened gap, but there are many women out there who are doing their part. In this recurring column, we highlight some inspirational women that are leading the way toward gender equality in business.
Dr Andrea Spezzi
Known for: as the CMO, R&D Head and co-founder of Orchard Therapeutics.
HQ: London, UK
Year of founding: 2015
Year of exit: 2018
Exit details: 200 million USD IPO (1.3 billion USD valuation)
Fellow co-founders: Bobby Gaspar
Orchard was founded in 2015, but its founders were involved in some of the first research and clinical development involving hematopoietic stem cell, or HSC, gene therapy. Their team has played a central role in the evolution of this technology from a promising idea to a potentially life-transforming reality for people with rare diseases. More broadly, gene therapy focuses on the genetic modification of cells to produce a therapeutic effect or the treatment of disease by repairing or reconstructing defective genetic material. HSC is still a relatively young field, but it is already showing promising effects on the future of medicine, hence Orchard’s 200 million USD IPO. Dr Spezzi co-founded Orchard Therapeutics, which is traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
According to Dr Spezzi, women will be part of the future of medicine, but there are some barriers. “I think as women, we are conditioned or expected to be more reserved in [talking about] our achievements, skills and talents”, she said. “This can make career advancement for women challenging, and may contribute to this business being more male-oriented. But things are now changing, in my view”. Dr Spezzi’s success in a male-dominated industry is absolutely inspiring for ambitious young women across the globe. She also has some advice for this next generation: “observe, learn and gain experience, and always maintain a positive attitude… Particularly to young millennials, be patient…Find a mentor who inspires you, find somebody whom you admire and who can serve as a mould. … I hope my generation will make things easier for the next and that we inspire other women to follow our paths”.
After a successful IPO, Dr Spezzi’s own path pushed her toward a new venture, Rejuvitas. Rejuvitas is working on neurodegeneration and age-related neurodegenerative diseases by focusing on metabolic reprogramming. According to Crunchbase, it has already received 3.3 million USD in funding since it opened in December of 2021. Given Dr Spezzi’s reputation, that number is sure to grow in the coming months.