Gabriella is the CEO and co-founder of VacTrack; a digital patient-centric platform that provides seamless vaccine tracking and guidance. Her mission is to improve population health through digital health innovation by aiming to improve vaccination access, adherence and advance data-driven research in the vaccination space. As a company, they are committed to delivering accessible healthcare and believe that technology has the power to democratise medicine.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I went to UCL to study Biomedical Sciences before coming to Oxford and am now pursuing a medical degree at KCL. The idea for VacTrack came about from a personal experience when I needed a vaccine for travel. Upon booking an appointment at the GP, I realised I had no idea where any of my vaccination records were stored and had to ask my mother to send me photos of my red book and any other certificates. When the GP was swiping through them on my phone, she told me she was shocked that my mother had even had these stored at all! So, once I got my vaccine, I realised no one should be this unequipped with their vaccination records when we have all this technology at the tips of our fingers, with no one being too far from a tablet or phone. This was the pivotal moment that led to a discussion with my co-founders Louis and Emily, who also came from scientific backgrounds, about why there wasn’t a digital solution that allowed you to not only store your vaccine certificates in an app, but also to get travel advice as well as reminders for boosters that was highly personalised. It seemed a bit ridiculous that something like this wasn’t already available. After we saw a tangible need for the product, with the help of an initial investment, we created the app that we had envisioned.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
It is about finding solutions to problems that have not yet been solved and creating something with that vision that leaves you at the constant service of others. Intervening and playing a part in a creation that can improve lives on a global scale is a truly rewarding part of being an entrepreneur.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
Early on, when we started talking to a lot people about the idea, including parents, investors, frequent flyers and medical professionals, we noticed that there was a genuine interest for this solution across the board. Once I saw that other people were willing and ready to invest their time, energy and finances into bringing our vision to life, that’s when we knew we were onto something. It was obvious that our passion had spread to those we were sharing it with, as well as the reasons for wanting to start it that resonated with a lot of other people’s personal experiences and then it was pretty much full throttle ahead. We were convinced that we had found a gap in the market and that others needed what we had to offer. For such a long time, people have been frustrated that the vaccination record remains paper-based and moreover, the opportunity to receive personal recommendations on vaccines instead of being confronted with an overload of information online that is not relevant to you has been a welcomed feature for everybody who has tried it!
What would you say are the top 3 skills that are needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
I’d say the first is the ability to pivot and be flexible in your ideas as the start-up world is incredibly dynamic and consistently full of ups and downs that you need to be able to adapt to in order to grow your company in the way you envision it. Secondly, I’d say teamwork, I have had the pleasure of working with two of the most fantastic people I know, and our working dynamic has definitely contributed to the successes of VacTrack. Thirdly, I would say confidence in your communication skills. Pitching your idea as well as networking are crucial components to a start-up in order to truly engage your audience and attain your goals.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
My favourite part of being an entrepreneur is the exposure to a huge network of people that you are fortunate to meet. Establishing rapport and fostering relationships with people in the same industry who can share their own stories and experiences to help you better your journey, is incredibly invaluable.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I’ve always followed trends and thought leaders in the space of health tech and innovation, and Bill Gates has always stood out as the standard toward which we should aspire. In particular, his work in both biotech and digital health through his foundation, has emphasised the fact that tackling health crises requires intervention at population scale, which aligns with our mission of accessibility for the masses.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would love to have a conversation with him about the vaccine world in general and what has prompted him to do so much work in this space. It would be extremely enlightening to draw comparisons between his passion for vaccinations and the passion that created VacTrack.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Once we had launched the app, we started speaking to people to get feedback. I guess the most satisfying part was realising that people were really engaging with the solution we had created. We were fortunate enough to receive a lot of media coverage and to have been featured together with Bill Gates in a magazine, so that really spread the word about what we were doing. The most satisfying part I think was realising that people were really engaging with the solution we had created. We were getting a lot of feedback, and receiving constructive and complementary comments was eye-opening and helped us shape VacTrack to what it is today. We were also very fortunate to have been receiving media coverage including the magazine feature with Bill Gates. Being invited to speak at both UCL and Oxford about women in medtech was also very satisfying to be able to spread the word.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I learnt to pivot and be willing to change ideas – sometimes it is very easy to get stuck in a stream of thought that you think is working and think will bring you the next milestone. It is really important to be willing to change when it becomes necessary and find another stream that can develop your company in a different way. Also, with Covid, it has become hard to meet people and get into people’s timelines on Zoom. I guess this loss of intimacy has led to a few mistakes as sometimes your messages do not fully come across and you cannot engage with people so fully like before.
How have you funded your ideas?
We were very fortunate to have been funded thus far by George Farha. I had reached out to him a couple of years ago during my role as sponsorship officer for the UCL Swimming Club and we maintained a good rapport ever since. Once the idea of VacTrack came to life, he was really interested in getting involved and invested the money we needed to start building VacTrack.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Yes, we were semi-finalists of the TATA Varsity pitch competition and also got through to the international round of the TATA Social Enterprise challenge. We were grateful to also be part of the Future Leaders Accelerator Programme last summer which provided us with some beneficial tools and advisors to help us grow our business.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Just purely the fact that you are able to engage with so many different people from professors to supervisors and staff from so many different fields who are all more likely to help you because you are an Oxford student.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
The most important resource I’ve found has been the people I’m surrounded by. I’ve learnt a lot by listening and engaging with people daily, from founders to other business professionals who can give you tips and advice.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Honestly, I really cannot say that I have. When we started off, I did think challenges would arise, but it was the complete opposite. We were always welcomed and encouraged regardless of our gender as the idea was strong.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
There are a lot of funding agencies that are very focused on helping women. They provide useful tools and provide motivation and examples of some great women to follow in the footsteps of. However, we have taken a more non-gender focused approach to our company.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
I think Entrepreneurs Uncovered is already a great initiative. Teaching and educating women about the possibilities that are available to them is key. If there are more women speaking up about their own experiences in tech, the world will start perceiving women in start-ups as unremarkable and nobody will question their place in entrepreneurship.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
I would say, do not let being a female get in your way and instead, use it to your advantage! After all, half the population is female and there is a lot of support out there regardless of your gender, so as long as you do not put this in the forefront of your mind, you will be fine!
Any last words of advice?
Go for it and see where things go. If you are truly passionate about your idea and are willing to put in the effort, people will want to invest their energy into you. Keep speaking to people as everybody has something to offer that will help you build your idea and with every conversation, your ideas will develop tenfold. In the world of entrepreneurship, there are a lot of ups and downs, the rewards are really satisfying and you learn new things every single day. However, it is important to protect your time and strike some sort of balance so that whilst you immerse yourself in your business, you can also take time for yourself.