Designing our Future

At a recent Women 4 Technology event as part of London Technology Week, Bailey Fisher Executive Search was pleased to welcome 75 female business leaders in technology and life sciences to hear from experts in Cyber Security, Fashion technology, FinTech & Healthcare about how their businesses are disrupting the status quo and shaping the future.  The guest speakers were Sarah McVittie (Co-founder of Dressipi); Lily Cortese (Director, Strategy & Business Operations at Johnson & Johnson Innovation); Poppy Gustafsson (COO of Darktrace) and Emily Mackay (Founder/CEO of Crowdsurfer).

Changing the face of retail through collaborative personalisation: Sarah McVittie of Dressipi

Sarah Mcvittie was first to speak. Fresh from an inspiring meeting with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg whilst on a Female Founders Mission to San Francisco, Sarah was full of confidence about scaling her business. Sarah is no stranger to building a successful business, having grown her first venture, Texperts, to a multi-million pound exit in 2008. Dressipi, the data-driven online styling and fashion discovery site that she launched in 2011 now has over 3 million users and counts big name brands including M&S and John Lewis amongst its retail partners.

Sarah shared insight into how she is providing personalisation technology to her retail partners and pioneering a collaborative approach to raise the bar in consumer services.

“Our focus is on improving key metrics for our retail partners by providing customers with true guidance to get the best products for them. This improves conversions, reduces returns, builds brand loyalty and engagement.

Dressipi is unique in the depth and breadth of data.  Our users create a personalised profile – their Fashion Fingerprint – and for each garment we apply up to 30 data points. We add in purchase data and returns data.  This combination of proprietary consumer and garment data with behavioural and transactional data is the only viable way that technology is genuinely able to generate product offerings which accurately reflect women’s personal preferences. The result is that our retailer partners have seen a 10 – 30% increase in revenue for each person using the service. They also typically see a 5% (percentage points) reduction in returns.” 

“We know that to succeed in delivering true personalisation in the fashion sector, you need a perfect combination of real world fashion advice and technology. Sarah and her co-founder Donna North have assembled a team of industry renowned stylists and world-leading technologists.  “They work side by side to capture the complexities and nuances of this dynamic and personal industry.”   

Dressipi is now pioneering a collaborative approach with a number of major retail clients to deliver excellent service as far as the customer is concerned.  Customers will be able to use their profile and access the best possible advice across a number of their largest partners, both online and instore.

“A single retailer trying to tackle personalisation is facing a huge challenge (there is a big sparsity of data issue). Looking to the future, we are working on true collaboration amongst retailers and fully integrated data solutions. This will change the way retail works both for the retailer and the consumer.” 

Innovation at the intersection of technology & healthcare : Lily Cortese: Johnson & Johnson Innovation

Next up was Lily Cortese of Johnson & Johnson Innovation in London, whose talk focused on innovation at the intersection of technology and healthcare.  An American with an MBA from the Judge Business School in Cambridge, Lily is Director, Strategy and Business Operations at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, London, focusing on accelerating early innovation and enhancing opportunities for collaboration and investment across Johnson & Johnson’s global healthcare businesses.

Day to day, Lily develops and maintains awareness and understanding of competitor innovation strategies and activities, supports portfolio management and global oversight of operational systems and processes. She facilitates deal reporting and manages key relationships to ensure Johnson & Johnson Innovation remains the partner of choice for external collaborators. Lily also sits on the Steering Committee for EMEA for the Women’s Leadership Initiative within Johnson & Johnson, an internal affinity group concentrated on accelerating women for leadership positions.

Lily spoke about the wealth of the opportunities the team sees that have the potential to positively impact human health. Managing such a large amount of information requires a technology infrastructure that allows for simple opportunity and transactional management.  “Johnson & Johnson Innovation has executed over 300 deals since the formation of our global team in 2013, and that is just a fraction of the total number of opportunities that we have evaluated.

Initially, we had a fairly static vision of the technology infrastructure roadmap to enable our teams, but the pace of change in this space is so rapid. Technology is being constantly reassessed & redeployed.  We have moved from viewing technology as simply an enabler to technologies as investable assets in their own right.”

The London Innovation Centre is one of four hotspots located across the globe. The others are in Boston, California and Shanghai. But, as Lily says “a great idea can come from anywhere” and our team is out and about all over the world looking for the most transformative opportunities.

“Our digital health scouts operate as part of these regional teams scanning the environment for technology that can have a beneficial health impact. Already we’ve begun developing a pipeline of digital health projects in oncology, diabetes, mental health to name a few.  Increasingly we are looking at collaboration between healthcare and technology. 

Lily talked about the entry of consumer-oriented technology companies into healthcare. “Big technology companies are moving into the healthcare space, but with baby steps.  This is due to the regulations in healthcare.  Technology companies are used to far quicker development cycles. They are used to disrupting themselves again and again, but these collaborations require a perception shift for both parties. I think this will give birth to a whole new industry.”

Lily highlighted one such transformative collaboration which is being hailed as having the potential to change the face of surgery.  Last year Johnson & Johnson Innovation announced a collaboration with Verily (Google Life Sciences) on Verb Surgical, a US-based surgical robotics company.  Verb’s CEO has termed the resulting technology “Surgery 4.0” and the company’s website talks of “A new future, a future unimagined even a few years ago, which will involve machine learning, robotic surgery, instrumentation, advanced visualization, and data analytics.”   

Pioneering a new approach in cyber defence: Poppy Gustafsson of Darktrace

Poppy Gustafsson is COO of Darktrace, which has pioneered a new approach to cyber defence, using machine learning techniques based on the principles of the human immune system. Founded in 2013 by ex-MI5 and GCHQ experts charged with protecting London during the 2012 Olympics, Darktrace now has over 250 employees across the globe, in Europe, US, Asia Pacific & South Korea, and counts some of the biggest name brands amongst its clients.

We have moved on from a focus on theft of financial assets to a situation where cyber security is becoming one of the most pervasive risks for a company. The threat is very real and attackers are more sophisticated.

Three years ago the approach was to ‘keep the bad guys out’.  But this solution is no longer adequate. Cyber breach is often perpetrated by an insider and this could be malicious or accidental.  We need a system to detect that. Darktrace’s founders paired with specialist mathematicians from the University of Cambridge and created an Enterprise Immune System.  Our immune system is incredibly complex and has an innate sense of self.  It can identify ‘other’ and will then write the code and this will become part of our immunity.  

Darktrace sits at a network level and models normal life for that network.  Any deviation is flagged up in real time. For instance, if someone steals my car and has the keys, the alarm will not be set off, but the way the car is being driven will be different. It will not be Poppy driving.  It is this ability to detect a change from the norm that we have created with Darktrace.

Poppy talked about the difficulty of keeping tabs on security as companies expand.  “The barriers are less defined, as people use their personal smart phone to connect to the business network.”

Poppy concluded with a cautionary note to us all “When we plug in our box, 80% of time we will see something nasty. It is no longer as simple as building a wall around your network.  If an attacker wants to be in your network, they will be.” 

Bringing data intelligence to the crowd economy: Emily Mackay of Crowdsurfer

Emily Mackay drew proceedings to a close, sharing the story of Crowdsurfer, the company she founded in 2012 to provide data intelligence on the multi-billion dollar crowd economy.   Crowdsurfer uses “big data” engineering to manage data from hundreds of crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending marketplaces globally. The technology captures and aggregates millions of data points on individual fundraises daily and offers access via an online dashboard or through a single API.  Crowdsurfer is Emily’s second venture, having previously founded and grown Microgenius to successful exit.

“Crowd finance is re-writing the way those with funds and those requiring funding meet. It is a multi-billion dollar, global unbundling of traditional funding systems. Thousands of platforms exist creating a complex new industry, with huge social implications for billions worldwide. An informed reaction to this huge change requires adequate data intelligence.

With Crowdsurfer we have created the most advanced interactive intelligence on the multi-billion dollar crowd finance industry. We can help those who want to interact with this burgeoning industry, whether looking to raise finance, seek out new investment opportunities or tracking the market.”

Emily and her growing team are helping organisations deploying capital, raising finance, and those tracking the market be more successful in the face of the rising tide of online marketplaces.

“I am proud that what we are doing is all about innovation:  The crowd finance industry uses web technology to connect billions of people financially, the things being funded on the marketplaces are innovative.  Crowdsurfer itself is innovative by using big data engineering to make the crowd finance world searchable and analysable for the first time.  We are sitting on a pot of data, using an innovative system to capture and analyse, then presenting insight back into the market.”

“There are nearly 2000 platforms globally, and that’s not counting China, which is a vast market on its own. We’ve mapped nearly 4 million fund raising attempts, nearly $30B in raises, and billions of data points.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, today it’s billions of dollars moving, but we see a near future where that’s trillions, and marketplaces are entirely the norm. We’re here to help organisations adapt.”

This event was the most recent in Bailey Fisher’s series of Women 4 Technology events, founded in 2008 as a peer-to-peer business forum for female CEOs, CXOs, NEDs, VPs and investors.  The event was sponsored by Mills & Reeve, Grant Thornton and technology PR company, FieldHouse Associates.

Bailey Fisher Executive Search is an independent executive search firm specialising in building the boards and leadership teams in technology and life sciences.  Founded in 1998, the company operates internationally from offices in Cambridge and London

This article first appeared in the Sept 2016 issue of Cambridge Business Magazine.