Continuing our 'Women in Innovation’ series, we interview Innovate UK award winner, Jenna Bowen: a truly remarkable woman, innovator, pharmacist, lecturer and co-founder of CMD.
Jenna is currently an active part of our innovate2succeed coaching programme which acts as a support catalyst for her and her business to scale up and fulfil their potential.
Why are research and innovation important?
Since starting my undergraduate degree in Pharmacy in 2002, I knew that I wanted to forge a career in research and innovation. As a frontline healthcare professional, I have observed first-hand how innovation improves the quality of care we provide to our patients but find the disconnect between 'innovative research' and true innovation frustrating. This is exemplified in primary care settings, where the technologies available to GPs and other healthcare professionals at the point-of-care have remained largely unchanged over a number of years, with most diagnostic services being provided by centralised laboratories. My long-term vision is to enable the provision of high-quality diagnosis at the first point of entry into the healthcare system through the delivery of a rapid, clinically useful, diagnostic technology that can be deployed at point-of-need across the healthcare sector.
What is a typical working day for you?
In addition to CMD, I also have two other roles and so my working days are quite variable! I have an academic position at the Cardiff School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences and a typical day in the School would encompass teaching undergraduate students and working with my PhD students to push forward academic research projects. I am also a community Pharmacist and still regularly locum at weekends. I really enjoy the interaction with patients, plus it provides me with ‘real-world’ insight into where bottlenecks in the healthcare system exist.
At CMD, it’s my job to keep us on track with our strategic plan. When I’m in the office I meet with the team to discuss technical progress / issues and to plan the week ahead. When I’m not reviewing data and experimental logs, my days are spent writing business plans, funding applications or investment slide decks - we’ve had notable success to date which has been rewarding. The best part of the day is lunchtime, we’re a bunch of foodies so all take the time out to lunch together and take the opportunity to connect on a personal and business level around the table over food.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Juggling all the roles, keeping a focus on the end goal and not allowing myself to be distracted by and caught up in the detail. We’re a creative workplace and generate so many ideas, sometimes it’s a challenge keeping everyone on track.
What are the challenges facing women in innovation?
Diversity is essential to the growth and success of all disciplines. Men and women approach challenges and solve problems in different ways, and while there has been a buzz around 'cross-disciplinary’ working it is important to recognise the power of working within gender diverse teams. The future of the innovation ecosystem and economic growth is dependent on more young women pursuing careers in STEM subjects. Women need to know that the opportunities are out there waiting for us and that our contribution is essential.
What are 3 key things you think are important to succeed as a woman in business?
I think these three things are key, regardless of gender,
Determination - the knock backs and challenges seem insurmountable at times. There are so many failures in the early years, we all need that determination to keep going.
Enthusiasm - Investors and partners buy into this and if you love what you’re doing, it will be evident in everything that you do. Natural enthusiasm tends to make communication easier; its much more straightforward to get your story out there in a compelling way if you genuinely believe in what you do.
Collaboration – I don't think anyone person possesses all of the skills / experience required to succeed in business. Team working and collaboration across disciplines / sectors is essential to enable development of fit-for-purpose, innovative solutions that address real-world problems.
What's the best piece of business advice you've ever been given?
I’ve taken so much advice from those who have gone before me, although ‘listen to your end users’ is the one that resonated with me the most. We engage with clinicians from the outset. They have a wealth of information gleaned from dealing with sepsis and other health conditions on a daily basis - their input is invaluable.
Why did you choose a career in science?
I enjoyed science from a very young age. I love the problem-solving aspect of science, working with the underlying principles of things and looking for the why. I chose to study Pharmacy as it provided a good mix of fundamental science and clinical application. Harnessing the power of basic science to address clinical problems is what motivates me.
Do you have any tips for people looking to progress their career in innovation?
Get out there and do it! If you’ve got a great idea and you think you can be brave then surround yourself with people who are better than you and work in collaboration. You will raise your game.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m a Welsh girl who loves her rugby! I love spending time with my 5-year-old twin nephews, watching them grow and develop has been a wonder. I maintain my creativity through my photography. I also love going out for food with friends and family.
Which women inspire you and why?
I am inspired by anyone who is doing whatever they can to make a difference. People who have used their personal circumstances to raise awareness of what needs to be done. I am inspired by those who are living with the consequences of sepsis, those who have lost a loved one to the condition and campaign in spite of their grief to try and ensure that others don’t have to go through the same.
What are the biggest challenges for the future generation of women in innovation?
I hope the future holds a time when we don’t need to single out women in innovation because it is the norm, that the Women In Innovation award need no longer exist. We can be so competitive but this a time when we need to support each other, work collaboratively and become role models for the generations to come.