Mary Matthews, Founder and Director, Memrica
How would you describe your journey in health tech?
It's evolved from a personal passion to help a family member to become a business. It's grown from being firmly focused on early dementia to being able to help anyone who's worried about their memory. Having come from the games industry my early experiments were all about applying exciting evolving tech to the problems I'd found when researching, that's actually changed to being much more focused on how people want to use tech and we have a much more simple solution on the surface. I've also learned a lot, especially about myself! I used to be a perfectionist in my corporate life and I'd become really upset with myself if things went wrong, now I just look at what I can learn from that, shrug and move on!
What were the triggers and sources of inspiration that launched you on your journey? Did anyone particularly inspire you? (Man or woman)
When my sister died from Motor Neuron Disease, I wanted to be able to see my memories of her instantly. (At that time, photos were organised only on a timeline on phones.) I created an app that linked my favourite memories to favourite things using the phone camera to make the link. When I released it, people asked me about using it to help people with dementia. A family member was in the early stage of the condition at the time and I knew that she needed help to live in the present, not the past. I talked to a lot of people living with dementia, clinical staff and organisations offering supporting and realised there was a huge gap - everyone was thinking about the very elderly and incapacitated, whereas I believed that if you could help people early on, they'd stay well for longer. There wasn't a lot of enthusiasm for this approach a year ago, it wasn't seen as a clinical priority, but this thinking has since been validated by the Lancet Commission and other studies that suggest 1 in 3 cases of dementia are preventable with life style changes and maintaining social connections identified as a critical factor.
Do you think being a woman made it harder or easier as an entrepreneur?
Both! I think it's really beneficial to bring a lifetime's experience of juggling family and caring responsibilities and previous business experience to a start up. It gives you a breadth of knowledge and insights to draw upon, patience and lateral thinking when things don't initially work as you expect as well as the ability to see the other person's perspective and put yourself in their shoes. On the flip side, although things are changing, fewer female start ups receive investment and there are fewer female investors. I'm generalising hugely when I say the 'fail fast' lean start up mantra fits young males perfectly; try something and move on, you've nothing to lose; whereas female founders often deeply believe in what they're doing and try harder to make it work. Personally I think this is especially important in health tech as it takes more time to validate a solution. Unless you've previously founded a start up that's made pots of money for investors, there's also a bias against older entrepreneurs. I was once asked to explain why I was doing this as I was 'not the usual younger entrepreneur' and also advised to find someone younger to run the business.
What is your ‘special power‘ that you use when you need to get around a challenge?
A good cup of black tea, chocolate and gardening! Often I find I need to walk away from a problem and do something else before coming back and re-thinking things. I either drink my tea in the garden or look out at the garden and plan my next campaign! . We've recently moved house and the garden has the potential to be beautiful, but it's been neglected. I find the physicality of gardening gets my heart pumping and the sense of achievement can lift my mood, which unlocks my lateral thinking. And chocolate is a treat that I keep on hand for those moments when I want to lift my mood.
How do you relax? What do you do to recharge?
As far as possible I make sure I get 8 hours sleep a night. I know I don't work well when I'm tired and there's so much evidence on the impact on brain health of not getting enough sleep. I work better in the morning, so go to bed early and get up early. I also make time for family and friends and try not to be distracted by emails and Twitter. I actually leave my phone in another room when I want to give my attention to the people I love.
What advice would you give a 14 year old girl knowing what you know now? What would you say to your younger self when you first started to think about "what do I want to be when I grow up?
Don't worry about what other people think of you, do things you are passionate about and they will see you shine. Unless you really feel you have a vocation, don't fix on one thing too early - things will change, you will change and it's not unusual to have several careers in your working lifetime. Ask for help, people are more than happy to help and if they can't they often know someone who can. Exams are only a means to one end, proving you can pass exams to unlock something else - a job or going on to more challenging education. If you're not good at them, it's not the end of the world. Find other ways to show your talents and be confident you are good at what you do.
Do you think the future looks good for women in health tech? Why? Why not? What you think is exciting ahead? What exciting projects/innovations do you have in the pipeline?
I think we're only at the beginning of what health tech is going to achieve in the coming decade, and I believe we'll stop calling a lot of it health tech because it will be so well integrated into our lives, we just expect it to be there and to work and to keep us healthy. There will be an increasing focus on personalisation, which will flow from our everyday healthy lifestyle support tech, right through to genomic and drug interventions. Women have a better insight into their own health and that of people around them, they will take confidence from today's role models and turn ideas into action and this will translate into higher profiles and success for women led enterprises.
The vision for Memrica is that we build an artificial memory that can bring personally relevant information to people when they need it most, in context and in character. By that I mean that the technology will feel as if it's your mind talking to or prompting you - but your recall is being augmented by a personal AI engine. While today's tech giants concentrate on personalising online data and experiences, we are concentrating on the memories, relationships and traits that make each person unique, respond in particular ways and need different information at different times of day or locations.