In the past few years, the number of female entrepreneurs from the University of Basel has been strongly on the rise. The University’s innovation office has been offering support and programs to train the next set of entrepreneurs, including launching the FEMtrepreneurs initiative in collaboration with four other organizations, all of whom work towards gender equality and diversity.
This portrait series, in collaboration with the University’s communications department, showcases some of the inspiring and multi-talented females currently active in the entrepreneurial field. Each edition introduces one female founder who is either associated with or recently graduated from the University of Basel.
#3: Meet Dr. med. dent. Jeannette A. von Jackowski — Co-founder of Bottmedical AG
Jeannette A. von Jackowski is a consultant in oral and maxillofacial surgery. As a scientist, she defines herself as a ‘lateral thinker’ working towards bridging the gap between research and practice. She is the co-founder of Bottmedical AG, a deep-tech spin-off that applies polymer thin-film technology to provide digital and interactive therapies for different medical problems. von Jackowski is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Basel.
Dr. von Jackowski, let’s begin with the beginnings of Bottmedical AG. How did it all start?
Two of the co-founders of Bottmedical AG had been working on polymer nanotechnology as part of their PhD theses and decided to take it further. Dr Tino Töpper and I had both attended the Innosuisse Start-Up Training Course at the University of Basel in consecutive years and met at the Biomaterials Science Center. With my experience in oral and maxillofacial surgery, we soon developed an idea of how our skills and ideas could be combined to develop useful medical products. This is how it began. In 2019, Bottmedical AG was successfully founded. Shortly thereafter, we won two innovation grants and successfully closed our first SEED A investment round. We were also one of the five Swiss start-ups exhibiting at the Indo-Swiss Healthtech Week 2020.
What exactly is it that Bottmedical does?
We have been working on two products so far: one is the Tofi Trainer, the other is the Natur Aligner. The Tofi Trainer implements gamification in myofunctional therapy, providing an interactive solution for snoring and sleep apnea. It basically helps people to train their tongue muscles better. This is done by placing pressure sensors under the tongue and the cheeks to measure tongue or bite movements. Based on the feedback of the sensors via bluetooth, the patients get special exercise recommendations on our app. Their performance can be tracked, and the results can also be accessed by their therapist.
The Natur Aligner, on the other hand, is a teeth aligner made from biocompatible materials. We wanted to create a plastic-free solution so that people are not exposed to health risks due to the microplastics in their mouth.
How did you decide to pursue this idea?
As a maxillofacial surgeon, I have been collaborating with speech therapists for several years now, performing surgeries on children with cleft lip and palate or syndromes such as Trisomy 21. Over time, I noticed that the kids didn’t always remember their exercises from speech therapy. As a result, the therapists would have to regularly meet with the parents to explain the course of treatment. I had the idea of integrating sensors in such myofunctional therapy sessions so that the kids would get interactive guidance at home to practice the exercises while also having fun. This way, their parents were able to monitor and understand the process better. When I shared this idea with the co-founders of Bottmedical AG, we decided to work together to develop the Tofi Trainer. We all shared an interest in finding a substitute for plastic. After further research, we developed a biocompatible material to make the Tofi trainer as well as the Natur Aligner.
What inspires you as a researcher and an innovator?
Continuous learning has been my intrinsic passion. The desire to constantly keep learning new things inspires me to pursue research and innovation. I’m also driven by people interaction. This is why I love my job, as I get to interact with different kinds of people all the time.
How do you manage to strike a balance between research and practice?
My week is typically split between the clinic and research. I manage my days between carrying out surgeries, outpatient consultations on one hand, and research, lectures, start-up activities on the other. It’s a constant hustle but I absolutely love it. I enjoy all my work and I am very passionate about it.
And how about the work-life balance?
I have three kids. Though I haven’t been a traditional stay-at-home mum, I am fairly active in my household. My whole family is very cooperative and responsible, which makes all the difference. I do take time off for self-care and for planning family vacations, like an annual sailing week. We are all scuba divers too and love the water.
Did you come across any challenges, especially as a female entrepreneur, and how did you overcome them?
Finding partners and teammates you trust, taking ownership of ideas, getting over the lack of confidence and finding supportive mentors — are all important factors that were challenging for me in the beginning. When working in a male-dominated field, it can often be difficult for females to obtain the same level of confidence and support as males.
I’m particularly grateful to have a very supportive husband who stepped down to take care of our kids when it was needed. Though not a popular idea at the time, it was monumental in helping me navigate my professional life.
How would you envision the future of female entrepreneurship?
I hope for all female entrepreneurs to be self-confident and not let any social notions affect them. It is important to find like-minded people you can trust. I think mentoring is crucial and more female mentors would make a difference. I would be absolutely open to becoming a mentor if an opportunity arises.
Seeing more women at the top positions is very inspiring and brings about change.
It would also be good if more companies start initiatives to promote equal mentoring and sponsoring of women and men. They should see to it that women also get trained to be promoted and that no one is left behind.
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