Dr. Eriola-Sophia Shanko, or "Sophia" in short, is the founder and CEO of ShanX Medtech. ShanX Medtech is an Eindhoven-based startup developing antibiotic efficiency testing devices. However, what led Sophia to found the company? Here we find Sophia's story to entrepreneurship, and we get her advice to young, aspiring entrepreneurs.
Sophia is a MedTech entrepreneur focused on realizing adequate antibiotic treatment and solving the ever-growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Therefore, she leads ShanX MedTech in developing and commercializing a diagnostic device for antibiotic testing to enable doctors with same-day, evidence-based antibiotic prescriptions.
"Antibiotics have significantly impacted our lives by allowing the treatment of bacterial infections. However, not all antibiotics work for all bacteria. It is essential to treat a bacterial infection with the correct antibiotic. Otherwise, with erroneous or delayed antibiotic administration, we risk infection complications or hospitalizations, contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistance. An example of erroneous antibiotic treatment was my mother, who back in 2008, contracted a multi-drug resistant infection in the intensive care unit. To combat the infection, the doctors quickly provided antibiotics and waited. However, the antibiotics did not work. This precious time that was wasted worsened the infection which in turn required more extreme, brutal measures to treat. In the end, my mother recovered, but that experience traumatized both her and the almost 19-year-old me. "
These events inspired Sophia to work on antibiotic testing. Three reasons formed her decision to start ShanX Medtech in 2019.
"First, and most crucially, back then, I was not equipped with the right tools to do anything substantial on it, I was still in my bachelor's, and I had no network or resources to enable me to do something. Just to put this into perspective, this was during the economic crisis that impacted Greece massively. Second, I was under the assumption that it was local poor infection management. Finally, I was expecting that someone else would have done something about it by now. In 2016, during my MSc thesis at ETHZ in Basel, I found out about the limitations of fast and effective antibiotic testing, and in 2019 I finally felt ready and equipped to do something about it. This, of course, coincided with my PhD."
Sophia started her PhD in November 2016 and defended it in May 2021. Her PhD research was focused on investigating the effect of increased kinetics in sensor-antibody binding events due to magnetic mixing. In the middle of her PhD she founded ShanX MedTech and started building an antibiotic efficiency testing device in parallel to her PhD project. "For a couple of years, 80+ hour work weeks became a thing, but it was worth it since developing fast antibiotic testing diagnostic tools became my purpose," she said.
Sophia's journey started with her love for math leading to a Bachelor's in Automation (Control Systems) engineering from the University of Applied Sciences in Piraeus, Greece. Coming from a financially disadvantaged background, she knew she had to excel in her studies to get a chance to achieve her goals. Her exceptional BSc thesis outcome allowed for a fully-funded MSc in Smart Systems Integration (semiconductors) by the European Union. Sophia's drive to work on diagnostics enabled a PhD at the Eindhoven University of Technology. Other than an internship here and there, Sophia recognizes that her track has always been under the university umbrella. Moving away from academics, she entered the MedTech startup world.
"The start of ShanX Medtech has been very much out of my comfort zone. I had to learn a lot about business development to ensure making the right steps, especially in the beginning. For this, I read a lot of books and enrolled in many courses to switch my academic mindset into a business-oriented one and overall learn about business creation and management. I still have a lot to learn, but at least I can now recognize my strengths and limitations. I can also recognize who has strengths in my limitations, and I either employ them or simply ask for their help. "
Throughout Sophia's journey, she had a steep learning curve while developing ShanX MedTech. Looking back, her most significant three learning opportunities over the past two years are establishing trustworthiness, building good relations, and making peace with failure.
"By being honest and making good on your promises, you can establish long-lasting connections. This applies when we are forming new relationships with ShanX Medtech. For example, you can build trust by providing data to support your claims but honestly, share what it is you don't yet know. Second, people are genuinely interested in helping you without expectations other than sharing your drive. This played an important part in developing the vision, especially in the earliest stages of the company when the budget was limited – it is all about the people! Finally, I learned to make peace with failure. What I have understood as a first-time entrepreneur is that I am flirting with failure frequently. It is okay to make mistakes and not to know. I am not my company. The company is this beautiful organization with a vision, and we all do our best to fulfill it."
Being among the few female MedTech entrepreneur, she generously shares her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and which qualities to nurture.
"When you have an idea to solve a societal problem and drive to solve it, nothing can stop you. You need to wake up with that same drive every morning, despite things happening outside your control. If you manage to dissociate yourself from the negativity throughout the day or even the year, you got this, baby! It's fine to be sad about things going wrong, not happening, or frustrating you, but do not dwell on it too much. Be sad for a bit and get back on track.
Furthermore, it is important to build a good team and good connections in line with your goal. Talk to as many people as possible! Find mentors in your professional and personal life to help you grow. Also, find people you are inspired by - younger or older than you, it doesn't matter– simply put: build bridges with different people.
I would advise every aspiring entrepreneur to evolve or nurture their adaptability, persistence, and work ethic. Being flexible with change and being resourceful in changing circumstances. Furthermore, persistence is key because you wake up fully motivated, and one thing after the other happens. It is important to wake up every morning with the same drive despite your circumstances. Finally, work ethic is essential because it's not all sunshine and roses. You need to work hard for what you want."
Sophia knows how to turn adversity into opportunity, and she hopes to inspire others to follow entrepreneurship. Ask yourself, which issue in the world frustrates you immensely and does not have a proper solution? How can you be part of that solution? Which steps do you have to undertake to get there? Wherever you are in your journey, you can always take small steps in the right direction towards realizing your purpose. You can take a page from Sophia's book; start applying for a scholarship, talk to your professor/TTO office about your ambitions, re-purpose your efforts, build new connections. Whatever you do, please know:
"The smallest action is worth more than the greatest intention"- adapted from Oscar Wilde.
We are looking forward to her next steps together with her team at ShanX Medtech. Sophia has recently received the InspiringFifty Deep Tech Benelux+ award.
For more information, visit ShanX Medtech's website: https://shanxmedtech.com/