INTERVIEW WITH LOULIA KASSEM – CEO REA
A Smart Panty Liner for At-Home Preterm Birth Diagnostics
Most pregnant women who are at risk of preterm birth are hospitalized but end up giving birth at term. Rea develops a smart panty liner that analyzes vaginal secretions and alerts the doctor via app if the mom-to-be has to go to the hospital. This solution allows the pregnant woman to be monitored in the comfort of her own home, sparing her from potentially months of unnecessary hospital stays and overtreatment with medications. www.reatest.ch
What inspired you to start your company?
Starting Rea was a unique opportunity for me to pursue two of my main passions in life: entrepreneurship and women’s healthcare. I was also able to build on my past experiences as I hold a thesis on women’s healthcare biomarkers and have previously founded and led a company. Working on a lifesaving technology and being one of very few women leaders in the Swiss startup ecosystem made me more determined to do it.
Who would you consider to be a significant influence on you professionally and can you explain why?
My grandfather was an entrepreneur, he founded a textile company in the late sixties, which my father later grew and internationalized. Our company was shipping tons of textiles to the United States, China, Russia and different countries in Europe. I was raised in this context. Early on, I learned from my father how to do business, deal with clients, negotiate deals and seek new business opportunities. I was indeed influenced by his innovative personality, work ethics and dedication for hard work.
What are the current challenges in the medtech industry and how do you see it changing in the next 5 years?
Switzerland has a high concentration of medtech companies and medtech know-how. Yet, realizing strategic business models for technologies that lie at the intersection of medtech and digital health is still considered challenging. It is so complex and brings together numerous stakeholders. A lot of investment is required before a product can be brought to market. Moreover, extensive regulatory obligations and increasing quality requirements further prolong the process of market approval. In the upcoming years, the approaching change in the MDR and IVDR will place financial burdens on the industry. Startups will be hugely impacted by this change, as more time, efforts, and expenses will be needed for product documentation and subsequent approval.
What are you most proud of achieving with Rea?
I feel lucky and proud to have the chance to lead my company towards developing a technology that would make a difference in the lives of millions of pregnant women and their babies. I am proud to raise awareness about the shortcomings in technologies developed for women and the lack of global efforts put into that domain; highlighting the existing gap between today’s current hot topics in diagnostics and the actual needs of women.
What are your plans for the future, and where do you see Rea in another 3-4 years?
My biggest goal for the moment is to find the right people to expand my team and to bring Rea’s technical and clinical development forward. In 3-4 years from today, I see Rea’s product in the hands of the women who would benefit from it, hopefully making a difference in the rates of preterm birth around the world.
Was there any piece of advice you received during your involvement with the W.A. de Vigier Foundation that stuck with you? Or a certain meaningful anecdote that you could share about this time?
I am thankful to all members and organizers of the W.A. de Vigier Foundation who ensured a safe and smooth experience for all candidates given the challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. My journey was stimulating and inspiring at the same time. Not only did I have to prove my business idea but also my leadership abilities, management skills and entrepreneurial character. In the end, I learned quite interesting things about myself and I am grateful for those insights.
– Thank you, Loulia!