Q&A  | 

Maria Cabello: Exploring deep tech in the healthcare world

Tags: 'Data ethics' 'Digital transformation' 'Ética de datos' 'Future of work' 'Innovación pública' 'Tecnología'


Reading Time: 4 minutes

Maria Cabello was the Chief Science Officer at RheoDx, a Barcelona-based diagnostics company focused on improving the quality of life of haematology patients. Maria discussed the beginnings of her start-up and where they are now, as well as many other interesting insights into how The Collider has supported their entry into the healthcare sector.

What kind of barriers and difficulties did you find starting a MedTech company? What about certifications and trials in the health sector?

We don’t have doctors on staff, so our first challenge was convincing the medical community that we could improve healthcare professionals’ day-to-day life. Another obstacle was that when first starting the pilots, testing the viability of our solution was somewhat complicated as we didn’t have clinical results.

In terms of certifications and trials, we recently found out that we succeeded in reaching our goal of carrying out the first trials in a large hospital in Barcelona. Over the next year, we plan on extending these trials in both Barcelona and further afield, in Italy. Our equipment is not yet certified, and, additionally, we predict some extra delay due to the saturation of notified bodies – which results in a long wait time – but we are looking forward to that in the future. 

What are your next steps as a start-up?

First, the clinical trials, then we’re looking at the industrialisation and commercialisation of RheoDx. We’re currently in a financing round in order to fund this.

Where does your technology come from? Was the blood/health sector your first objective? Did you pivot?

Our company was formed through the union of three different branches: the complex fluids groups from the University of Barcelona, the mathematical research centre from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and The Collider. Thus, we combined knowledge, research and entrepreneurship, respectively.

We were originally focused on the hematological sector, but we’re probably going to pivot now, more than pivoting, diversifying, because we have created a perfectly functional prototype and we’re currently exploring new commercialisation channels, including industrial or lab microviscometers, which are devices that must be both portable and cost effective.

This will allow us to gain revenue while testing our equipment in a real usability environment as we wait on our clinical trials and certification.

Your team is made up of scientists and technologists from different universities and research groups. How do you work together?

Our dynamic team is based at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. It’s composed of 10 people, and we place an emphasis on interaction, which we’ve found is fundamental for our young, multidisciplinary group. We’ve also had the chance to grow and develop as a team over the past three years, redirecting together. We’re all here at RheoDx because we love what we’re doing!

As a scientist, when did you realise that you wanted to be an entrepreneur, and do you have a source of inspiration or mentor? How did you join the RheoDx start-up?

Probably, when I spoke with Aurora, the  inventor and founder of RheoDx, and one of the most enthusiastic and persevering scientists I know. We knew each other from my time at UB, when I was completing my master’s. So, when Aurora called me from Chile about an exciting new project while I was finishing my PhD, I couldn’t say no.

The opportunity meant that I could stay in the lab while gaining first-hand experience in the IVD and business sector, which I saw as an unmissable chance.

Could you talk to us about how the combination of senior entrepreneurs and young scientists works in a deep-tech start-up?

Both experience and youth are important in a start-up. Having the experience of a full professor, Aurora Hernandez-Machado, and our CEO, Alfred Serra, who has over thirty years of experience in the in vitro diagnostic sector, was and continues to be vital from a knowledge standpoint both in terms of industry and how public institutions work.

However, the day-to-day of a start-up is relentless and takes a lot of energy. This is where the rest of the team comes in! We’ve found that this tandem not only works well for us, but is necessary.

What is your relationship with The Collider and, in your opinion, what’s the unique value provided by The Collider?

Our relationship with The Collider is difficult to define because it completely depends on how you choose to use it.

For us, The Collider acts as a tool that we can rely on to adapt to our changing needs, providing us with the help and answers we require depending on our current state. Through working with The Collider, we realised the sector that we needed to target was health care, and everything evolved from there.

What’s the importance of tech transfer? What opportunities does it present to new start-ups? Any predictions for the future of tech transfer in Spain?

I believe that the work being done by The Collider for technology transfer is necessary and beneficial for the population at large, particularly regarding the preservation of knowledge.

When looking to the future, I hope that we will see more public investment put towards tech transfer in Spain. Other countries and sectors have already achieved this, so perhaps we could look to them to copy the proper systems they have in place in order to aid in our own success.

What’s a quote that you live or work by?

“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

What has been the most rewarding experience in your career, so far?

My PhD presentation on power devices on wide bandgap semiconductors. It was nerve-wracking and a huge moment for me, but I realised that it was a day where I got to present my unique knowledge to a room full of people that were there to listen to me, and only me, in order to understand what it was that I had developed.

What professional advice would you give to those just starting out?

It’s certainly not easy, so you have to be passionate, and you must never lose your sense of curiosity. This is the advice I often give when visiting high schools, but I believe it applies to everyone. Be passionate, stay curious!

The future with The Collider

The Collider is a space where researchers, corporates and entrepreneurs can come together to explore tech-transfer initiatives and positively impact our society as a whole. The Collider is powered by Mobile World Capital Barcelona, a tech-focused initiative.