165 A Disruptive Innovation: Gitte Pedersen on Leveraging RNA to Revolutionize Cancer Care with Personalized Treatment
Gitte Pedersen is on a mission to revolutionize cancer treatment. Co-founded of Genomic Expression, Gitte and her brother Morton discovered that different people need different treatments depending on their RNA. Their innovation takes on Big Pharma, which Gitte says wastes $70 billion per year on inffective oncology drugs. She shares her journey as a female entrepreneur, how to eliminate your fears, how to raise venture capital, and what it was like on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island.
Melinda Wittstock: Welcome to Wings, Gitte.
Gitte Pedersen: Thank you so much. That was an awesome introduction.
So, way back when my parents got diagnosed, and it was my mother in particular, it was clear to my brother and I … My brother has a Ph.D. in genetics, I have a background with a degree in chemical engineering and working for Novo Nordisk, I think the largest biotech company in the world right now. The standard of care options was a death sentence. You know, it was like evidence-based death. Lung cancer, you get diagnosed, and then it’s just a matter of time. You die. And that was just not okay with us, so we started looking into … No! It’s not okay.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s not okay. I mean, it’s not okay, and it’s amazing … So thank you for taking on this work.
Gitte Pedersen: Right. So, it’s tough to be a scientist sometimes, because you investigate things, and you look at data, and you’re able to understand what that means. There’s no grey here. If you don’t have that approach to it, you may be just optimistic about your situations, but we were a little bit more informed than the usual family member to the patient.
So what we did was we went in, and we looked at the pipeline of novel compounds in development, and that was pretty depressing back then, too. It has improved significantly. And then we sat down and talked to Jesper Zeuthen. And Jesper has worked on curing cancer his whole life, and he’s a pioneer in immuno-oncology. He started a genomics lab that turned into the Danish Cancer Institute, and he started spinning-out companies from that, and actually one of them, [inaudible 00:02:25] is one of the first immuno-oncology companies out there.
So his deep understanding of cancer, especially the genomics part of it, enabled us to formulate hypotheses … And mind you, at this point and time, this was a pipe dream. There was no data. But it was clear to us that unless you match the tumor up against the drug and actually interrogating the pathway, or blocking the over-expressed target … For instance, in breasts you have over-expressed HER2, and there’s a drug for that. And it works in 50% of the cases.
So we then got into the largest grant project ever done in Denmark. It was in Denmark and it was funded in part by the Danish high-tech fund, and so the budget was $32 million. So this was really a big swing using next generation sequencing in oncology.
And then we started developing our technology, and I’m not going to dive too far into that. We are using RNA, sequencing of RNA. We are not using panels. We uniquely quantify and identify plus 20,000 molecules, or biomarkers, if you want to call it that, in one essay. So it’s incredibly powerful.
Melinda Wittstock: Just really briefly … Sorry to interrupt here, but just define, so people know the difference between RNA and DNA in this case.
Gitte Pedersen: DNA is like the hard disk. It stores all the information. It’s the blueprint. The cell has 20,000 different RNA sets can be translated into proteins. But it’s similar to, again, the hard disk. You don’t run all the programs every day. You turn on a certain set of programs, and that’s what the cell is running. That information is in the RNA.
Melinda Wittstock: So the RNA is the software.
Gitte Pedersen: Exactly. Between 1-2% of the DNA gets translated into RNA at a given point of time in a given cell, and it’s different from day one to day two, it can be different. And it’s very different from a normal cell to a cancer cell. And that’s the point.
Melinda Wittstock: So what this seems to be suggesting, then, in my non-scientific brain, is that different people need different therapies based on their genetic markers, in this case the software that is their RNA. And that one size definitely does not fit all.
Gitte Pedersen: No. The sad thing is … And obviously we have to be appreciative of all the research that has been done. But we’ve been treating patients like they were one … the same group, with very large clinical studies, and just now really got to the point where this model does not work. Fully randomized blinded trials in oncology does not work. You have to create umbrella trials, meaning that you have to screen the patient, or analyze the patient’s tumor so it’s genetic observations, and only if those are present that you use this particular drug.
So you’re absolutely right. That is a major paradigm shift in the industry, and I can talk a lot about all the areas for implementation, because it takes the drug to Level 2. The drug is no longer the most important part of this. Finding out what kind of tumor it is and what kind of drugs could potentially benefit the patients, that’s the first thing you need to do. Standard care will not work in 3 out of 4 patients, so we need to stop that.
Melinda Wittstock: This is so interesting, ’cause it’s leading to a trend, and I guess what I would call “personalized medicine”. I think of someone like the billionaire Naveen Jain and what he’s doing with Viome around cell inflammation, for instance, and using artificial intelligence to try and figure out what’s going on in your gut bacteria. I think he’s using some RNA in that case as well, and his whole hypothesis also is that, yeah, one size doesn’t fit all.
Gitte Pedersen: No. So the cat is out of the sack. Let’s put it that way. There’s no way it’s going go back in the sack. And, again, this is a major paradigm shift in health care. Period.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, you’re potentially disrupting Big Pharma.
Gitte Pedersen: You get it.
Melinda Wittstock: I guess, right? Because what does it … What does it mean for the manufacturer of drugs? I mean, certainly it does affect their bottom line. This is inspiring talking to you, because I love when women are doing big, moonshot, disruptive companies. Like, this is a big deal and it changes so much. It can be hard enough for women, as we know, to raise capital and all of that, but when you take on a big challenge like this, what are some of the challenges that you’re facing? Say if you’re about to go disrupt … or you are disrupting Big Pharma, for instance.
Gitte Pedersen: So, obviously you can think two scenarios. Big Pharma has benefited from selling drugs to a lot of people who did not benefit from them, and if you believe my numbers, we are wasting $70 billion in ineffective drugs in oncology per year.
Melinda Wittstock: $70 billion wasted per year. Wow. That’s a big number.
Gitte Pedersen: That is a big number, and obviously there’s casualties associated with that, because the patients that get those drugs are not … They are progressing, their cancer is progressing, and they eventually going face what I call an evidence-based death.
So in that scenario you can say drugs and [inaudible 00:08:28] will not work. But you can also say, because this is the data that we are seeing, you can expand labels for really good drugs. And I have a couple of cases that I can speak to, which is in women’s cancer, which is our first focus area, we see two mains of breast cancer patients, which doesn’t have access to [inaudible 00:08:54], overexpressed in about 5-10 of the cases, the amplicon receptor. And that is a target for a drug that’s already approved in prostate cancer.
Since these patients have very poor prognosis, the standard of care guidelines in the US encourage the doctor to enroll the patient in a clinical trial. Without any data, if you just punch in “breast cancer” into clinicaltrials.gov, you get more than 2,000 hits. So it becomes impossible for this patient and doctor to navigate into a trial that actually benefits, or even one where you could [inaudible 00:09:39] criteria, because now they all have [inaudible 00:09:42] criteria.
If you take our test, we can narrow that down. We find that on an individual patient basis, 5 already approved drugs. And most of those are in clinical development for that particular type of cancer. So you can access them through the clinical trials, or you can beat your insurance company up and try to get it off label, which is, from a cost perspective, sometimes very challenging avenue. But those are the options.
Before, you had no options. Now you can navigate. So I also think that it is incredibly empowering. I know that this is exactly the kind of information that I wanted when my parents got diagnosed, because, back to “Why do I do this?” and “moonshot”, I’m a fighter. And if I believe in something, I’m going work and get it done. And I firmly believe I would have been able to help them in a completely different way that I was, because obviously we didn’t have that back then.
Melinda Wittstock: I find that when entrepreneurs, whether they’re women or men, really get into alignment with their true purpose, and often true purpose is always revealed to us often early in life with something really personal, a problem that affects us personally, like your parents getting cancer for instance, makes us want to go and solve a problem. And often when entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs ask me, “Okay, how do I become an entrepreneur?” or “What do I have to do?” or … That kind of thing. It’s, at the top of the list, has to be a passionate dedication to mission. Like, really solving a problem that is personal to you, because often …
And I’m going to ask you a little bit about your journey, because we all have these ups and down on this entrepreneurial rollercoaster, right? So to have that purpose, and you say you’re a fighter, I’m imagining really keeps you going, even when things are pretty tough.
Gitte Pedersen: Oh, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: So tell me a little bit about your journey on the personal side, like your entrepreneurial journey. What it’s been like going out there, trying to raise money, getting this together, from when you first started it. And tell me a little bit about that journey.
Gitte Pedersen: I wanted to start with something else. My mum was a politician and a feminist, and my dad was a scientist. This is a bad joke, but if you marry a scientist with a politician, what do you get? You get a very opinionated scientist.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, I imagine. Right? That’s funny.
Gitte Pedersen: I have always been driven, and I got very fascinated by genomics very early on. I was still in high school, and started thinking about what I wanted to do. So there was an interest, intellectual interest that in my journey became my purpose. I don’t know if that makes sense. And then you marry that with the fact that I had … And it’s sometimes a little scary. I have a lot of grit, and everything that I really wanted, I got. I just worked until I had it.
Melinda Wittstock: So you’re one of those people that just doesn’t take no for an answer.
Gitte Pedersen: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: I can hear that in your voice. If someone said, “No, Gitte, that will never happen” or whatever, you’d say, “Watch me.”
Gitte Pedersen: Even my husband will say that. He’s like, “Oh, [00:13:22] getting married?” Yeah, he’s very happy though.
Melinda Wittstock: But that’s what you need to be an en-
Gitte Pedersen: I think that’s important because-
Melinda Wittstock: You know, and I joke. It’s not an “entrepreneur”, it’s an entre-pioneer, right? ‘Cause you’re creating something that really hasn’t been done before, I mean, the level of innovation. So it’s not just starting a business.
Gitte Pedersen: Right. And you have to be willing to walk down this road where nobody else has walked. And the fascinating thing is that, I love that. That is really my fun. And it would probably be very scary for other people, but that is my fun. But again, I do it with something that I think is worthwhile, that risk. My most valuable asset is my time, to make that change. But that’s how my mindset works, and because of my upbringing, very solid belief in myself. That belief has been supported by the results that I had both in my previous career, in my personal life.
And so, when I started this, I truly believed I could do it. Otherwise … I know so many people who told me not to. And that’s the thing that box me a little bit, I would say, because if somebody comes to you … and maybe this is a shout-out to all the spouses and friends that are potential entrepreneurs, and tells you, “I have this idea.” It’s not your job to take that dream away. Your job is to navigate that person into a productive process.
Melinda Wittstock: Wow. Amen, sister. I love that. No, really, I love that you said that, because I think all too often we get pushed away from realizing our dreams by other people.
Gitte Pedersen: Exactly.
Melinda Wittstock: Even when they’re well-meaning. You know what I find? It’s really their fear talking.
Gitte Pedersen: It is! It is their fear.
Melinda Wittstock: And projecting it on, and somehow thinking they’re protecting us. But they’re not. And one of the things that’s been interesting to me as I’ve interviewed so many women who are successful entrepreneurs, and I think all of us have this in common, that you realize pretty quickly you have to surround yourself with really positive, supportive people that genuinely want to see you fly. Like, genuinely. Aren’t jealous, aren’t trying to limit you, all that kind of stuff. Because if you have that kind of negative energy around you, it’s pretty hard! It’s hard enough as it is.
Gitte Pedersen: It’s hard enough as it is. And I can tell you that I happily curated my husband, and he was through a major test and interview. I needed somebody, because I knew I was not going to go the trodden path. I knew I had to have somebody who was supportive. And also I’m not a traditional wife in this very traditional sense. Okay, I can cook, but he needs to cook, too. And he cleans the kitchen.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, that’s awesome.
Gitte Pedersen: I wanted a partner; I didn’t want a provider! And I was always, earn my own share! Sometimes more than my spouse. So I was looking for something else. I was looking for that partnership.
Melinda Wittstock: The partner piece is really, really important, because I think a lot of women struggle sometimes. We get in our own way because we think we have to do it all. And of course it’s impossible to do everything, or to do everything well, and we can get kind of torn in so many different directions. On one hand, you’re growing a business, on the other hand, for all the moms out there that have businesses … I’ve got an 11 year old and a 14 year old, and juggling that and a partner and a dog, and trying to keep the house-
Gitte Pedersen: The dog! The dog!
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my god, I gotta walk the dog. There’s so many different things to do, and somehow, how to prioritize your life and get into a very entrepreneurial thing, which is an understanding of leverage. So where is my time most useful, most benefit to most people? And I’ve just found that I start to do that … What I learned very much in business as an entrepreneur, I start to do that in my daily life as well. Does it really make sense for me to do the laundry, or would it be much better if I just paid somebody?
Gitte Pedersen: Exactly.
Melinda Wittstock: ‘Cause it would be really expensive. It would be expensive for me to do the laundry.
Gitte Pedersen: Exactly. You cannot do everything. Let’s put it out there. You need to outsource, whether you outsource it to somebody you pay or your family members. I can share with you that my kids, they work in the house. They have their own chores, they put their clothes into their closet, they help me with the wash, and they clean the kitchen. They have their own chores.
Melinda Wittstock: I’m going to invite your kids over to my house.
Gitte Pedersen: You know what? It’s so funny you say that, because when they have sleepovers with other people, I get the call, “You know what? Your kids, they did this, they did that.” And I’m like, “They do that every day here.” When their kids come over here and we have dinners and the dinner is over, I’m like, “Okay, kids, it’s your turn now,” their kids go and clean the kitchen, and they go, “How do you do that?” And I’m like, “My kids just know this is how it works.”
Melinda Wittstock: That’s awesome. How old are they? How old are they now?
Gitte Pedersen: Well, now they’re old. There’s 14 and 16. We’re going to leave later today, they’re in boarding school, and that was a decision we made because I was … At some point and time, you have to realize that you’re traveling so much, and I wasn’t even here, and my husband also needs to travel for work and couldn’t travel because he ended up having the responsibility of taking care of the nest. And that, combined with our dissatisfaction … We had issues with the high school that we have access to where we live, made us make that decision. So again, you have to make it work in some way, and the good news is that they really, really enjoy it. So, there you go.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s great. At the end of the day, you’ve got to do what’s right, and what’s right for different families is for different families. And I think one of the things where a lot of women shy away from really seizing the day and really going for it big, is that we can get tied back with … I guess I’ll just call them beliefs, and in some cases they’re limiting beliefs, about what “should be”. And they’re not necessarily what’s right for us. It’s maybe what was right for our parents or our friends, or what a television show has told us, or whatever.
Gitte Pedersen: Yeah. Stop watching television. Honestly, stop watching television. The way movies portray women is so uninteresting. That’s one of my things. Women are always portrayed in … Not as leaders, not as entrepreneurs, not as breadwinners, not as badass women as we are! And I just can’t stomach it. I have a big thing with my husband because he wants to go watch movies all the time, and he likes that. Good movies, good cinematography. And I’m like, “Look at the cast. Look at the storyline. I watched this movie 1,000 times before. There’s a male hero, he goes through all sorts of problems, and then he gets a woman as the prize at the end. That’s the storyline.” I can’t watch more movies like that! It bores the shiitake out of me.
Melinda Wittstock: What’s fantastic though about the story that you’re telling about your life and your choices, and I think that a lot of high achieving, women entrepreneurs, is that we’re actually teaching our kids by what we do and how we show up in the world, not by what we say. So when we take on these big problems to solve and they see us struggle …
I remember there was a day when my daughter, she was only 10, and she was at a Montessori school in 5th Grade, and she asked me to come and speak to her class about entrepreneurship. And it was funny because she said, “Mom, so all my friends … ” And she drew with her hand through the air, kind of like a hockey stick type thing, like, they all think it’s this trajectory of just success. And in the investor presentations we show our numbers, and it’s all going to go up in this nice straight-line hockey stick, right?
She said, “But I actually want you to tell them about the reality.”
Gitte Pedersen: That’s so cool.
Melinda Wittstock: I know, it was really wise. And then she did with her hand this kind of, like, wave movement. As a 10 year old, watching me do this and have this understanding that you can’t really learn anywhere else. And so I think with women teaching our girls, and also our boys, to show up and really live their dreams, not live someone else’s life but really live their own and go big. And I think they learn that by example.
Gitte Pedersen: Yeah, I agree. And obviously this is something that I think about, not just in context of my daughter – but in particular in context of my daughter, and she’s seen my go through both the ups and downs. And I’ve tested my investor presentations of both of them, because at some point of time it was a little too scientific. And my son’s response was, “Ah, Mom, that sounds so awesome! You can do all of this? That’s awesome!” And my daughter goes, “So where are you in this?”
And that was the moment when I realized that I have to talk about why I was doing this, that it was a personal experience. She’s been there, through the struggle that we have had with multiple family members, and she was like, “You need to talk about that.” And that was such a moment, this insight into “What is it that drives you?” that she had and understood. It was just an amazing moment.
And at the latest, now she’s 14, in 8th Grade they had to dress up, do a dress up day. I don’t know what the whole theme was, but she dressed up like the President.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s awesome.
Gitte Pedersen: And she came into my room and said, “Mom, how does the President dress?” And I pulled out (she’s my size now), my suits. And that was what she was wearing. Because she’s seen me reach and get to certain next levels, she believes that, that that’s possible. And she is so engaged in understanding how the world works, and she speaks up for girls and women and beats up older boys. When they ask sexist … Even her dad. “That’s a sexist comment.” And yeah, they get slapped.
Melinda Wittstock: My daughter is so similar. That’s funny. This beautiful story you tell about her asking you, “Where is your why?” And all of this. And I see so many entrepreneurs actually make that mistake. We get so caught up in how our product works or what it does and all that kind of stuff, and we lose our why. And when we talk about our why, other people can really attach onto it.
My why, in this case, and I want to move the conversation a little bit into this whole concept of women really helping other women. Certainly I’m old enough to remember a time when I looked around, I didn’t really have any female entrepreneurial role models. There was really nobody … You know, it was very lonely, right? So many of my mentors were men, because, first of all, there weren’t enough women, and then the women that were a little bit above me kind of tended, not in all cases but in most, to be not that supportive. In fact, really quite competitive! I hope that that’s changing. There’s really enough oxygen for all of us to really help each other up. What has your experience been with that? Have you had a lot of or any female role models? Have women been supportive for you? And do you perceive that this is changing a little bit in society, where women are really helping, stepping up to really affirm and acclaim each other, even write checks for each other in an entrepreneurial context?
Gitte Pedersen: I will start out saying that I think it’s changing, and that we can just see, to watch television, the whole mood, too. And combine, you know, let’s speak up. On a more personal level, I’ve received checks from many women. My lead on my first [inaudible 00:27:00] was a woman. I’ve had Pipeline investors in my … I think it was her third round. I have also men as investors, but what I experienced is that, especially the Pipeline group, and I don’t know if you’ve … I guess that’s how we met, right? Was it Springboard? Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Through Springboard Venture Forum, yes. Yeah, I’m a 2011 alum. When did you come through?
Gitte Pedersen: Me, too. We must have met.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, you’re 2011 as well! Okay, so I was in the media tech group and you would have been in the health-
Gitte Pedersen: I was in the health group.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, okay. Two different groups.
Gitte Pedersen: So I think that both Springboard and Pipeline Angels is a great example of network that are built to support women, and where they’re also writing checks. And on a, again, very personal level, because of that experience, one of the things that I’m doing right now is creating a group of women in my neighborhood, my hood. And these women are excellent. We are having fun and we’re going to write checks.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, wonderful!
Gitte Pedersen: So I’m creating my own little investor group, and I made a commitment, too. And it’s very similar to use. I want to support 10 women, 10 female entrepreneurs, over the next 10 years. And it’s simply my way of giving back, and between the two of us, I believe that I’m also going to make money, because I’ve seen these entrepreneurs. I’ve seen the portfolio of Pipeline Angels. There are 40 companies now, and I meet them at different places. Actually, I meet people who I introduced to the network, who got funded and came up to me and said, “Thank you so much.” That was so amazing. Now I’m a Springboard alum and Pipeline Angels invested in me. Because obviously you can spend a lot of time in other places and waste that time, and once again, you can’t get that back. It’s simply never coming back.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s true. It’s interesting when you said, “and you can make money, too.” You’re giving back, or I like to say, “giving forward”, because in investing in these women, you’re also doing well. You’re doing well by doing good. And I think that’s really important. It’s not like you’re giving anything anyway. You’re investing. It’s wonderful. I have that same moonshot. I want to go a little bigger.
I stood there, funnily enough, on Necker Island, where I also had the pleasure of meeting Sir Richard Branson on this beautiful Caribbean island, and I want to ask you a bunch of questions about your experience there as well, but standing there thinking, “Right, I want to be the change that I want to see in the world. I’m just going to start being that.” And I think at that moment, that’s where I thought, “Right, okay, so now I’m going to write my book and I’m going to do this.” You know, I didn’t really have the podcast idea yet, but I did have the idea that I wanted to invest in 100 female founders in the next 10 years.
And the first part of the investment, really, was this podcast, in a lot of ways – because we’re so many of us who are doing these amazing things, and sort of succeeding or entre-pioneering in silence. And why? We should be celebrated for what we’re doing. There’s a lot of different forms of investments: that’s one of them, really affirming and acclaiming each other, and being there to mentor and help each other. But also, yeah, writing checks! So that’s awesome that you’re doing that. Congratulations on that.
Gitte Pedersen: And I’m a little older. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, and this is really my next page. I think that being part of a group that supports entrepreneurs, female entrepreneurs, and create solutions … I have my filter. I still can’t understand why we need another messaging app, and that is a billion dollar worth … You know, I think venture capital is so on a strange track. Because if I was sitting, making those investments decision, I’m being, “No flocking way do we need another messaging app, but we do need this, this, and this.”
Melinda Wittstock: We do need to cure cancer. I mean, right?
Gitte Pedersen: Still need to cure cancer! I’m totally with you, yeah! And other diseases, too!
Melinda Wittstock: Right? Of all the things to invest in, and this is why I think when VCs are so blinkered, and there are pattern recognition theories about investing in young men in their 20s wearing hoodies that have dropped out of MIT or whatever … Right, Stanford. There’s three of them you have to have gone to and dropped out of, and you have to be 20-something wearing a hoodie and have a [00:31:52].
Gitte Pedersen: Exactly.
Melinda Wittstock: Right? But women come into this a little bit later in life, they tend to, with a lot of expertise and a lot of knowledge about an industry that they can disrupt, and yet these VCs … I feel like sometimes when we’re pitching to them, all they’re hearing is “La la la la la la la la la la la”, right? And they’re missing out. They’re leaving a lot of value on the table.
Gitte Pedersen: They are missing out.
Melinda Wittstock: Is the answer to this really just, the more that we get to the point where we have been exits and things like that, we sell our companies, that we really plow that money back into other women? That’s what’s going to change it?
Gitte Pedersen: Yeah! Between the two of us, I think Silicon Valley is starting to realize that they’re biased. It’s so openly out there now, both in terms of the harassment and the numbers, right? 16% of the companies are female founded. That’s not right.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it isn’t.
Gitte Pedersen: They did a study in Sweden, and it was very, very well done, because we can all have these opinions about whether there’s biased and to what extent it exists. But they had two groups, one male group and one female group, pitching the exact same story to a group of investors. And then they had the investors do some feedback on the presentation. And it was evident that they put a lot more trust in what the male group was saying and had a lot more doubt about the female group. And on paper, these were exactly identical. They had the same background, same credentials.
So bottom line is, we’re being judged differently, even though all the formalities, all the facts, are exactly the same. And you just need to understand that.
Melinda Wittstock: I mean, practically, what can women do? When we understand that and we think, “Wow, okay, so the men that we’re pitching to already have this bias?” We’ve all been acculturated in a certain way, right? What are ways that we can get around that? Do you have any kind of tips or advice for women who find themselves in an Angel or a VC pitch in a room of men?
Gitte Pedersen: I am actually not pitching to VCs right now. I have decided not to waste my time, so I’m focusing on other types of investors, and I have been very successful in the past doing that, and that’s how I’m going to continue to raise my funds.
Melinda Wittstock: So many women, I mean, I decided the same. So, really funny, with Verifeed, my company, I decided the same thing. I decided at the end of the day it was a waste of time. I was just going to create my own path, and so many women I know have gotten money from individual investors, family offices, or have grown business that grow on revenue, and that’s awesome, right? Because it’s non-dilutive! The problem is, it can take longer, right? If you want to go seize a market, then you need a market to go scale.
Gitte Pedersen: I think that, and you have to know that, the biggest amount of the wealth is asking the [inaudible 00:35:04] women. You have to understand that we have to disrupt the model. And there’s definitely things out there saying that there’s other ways to do this – that the VC model is going to be the one that’s going to prevail over time. It may prevail for some companies, but not necessarily all.
And there’s always been, and again, this is just my feeling … I’m trying to do something that is incredibly hard, and I don’t want investors that just want an X return. I want investors that are as invested in the mission of my company, because otherwise, they’re going to have problems with the ups and downs of that journey.
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Gitte Pedersen: So that’s it.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, they would. Yeah, that’s important advice, I think, for women, is to really make sure that the investors that they bring into their company actually are aligned on that mission. So, how are some of the ways that you qualify that? When you’re talking to investors, to figure out what is a good fit.
Gitte Pedersen: I have, in past investors, like Investor’s Circle and Pipeline Angels, they’re both in past investors. And then I have … It’s just all in my network, because, as you mentioned before, I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, and I have a phenomenal network, male and female, founders and CEOs, that has been willing to support me.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful. So, we have to wrap up, but I wanted to end this with talking about your time on Necker Island. What did you think of the island, what was that like? Just tell me all about it.
Gitte Pedersen: It started with being in the Top 10 at the Consumer Electronic Conference, competing with a robotics company and a [inaudible 00:36:59] app, and it was just insane. I’m like, “How did I end up there?”
Melinda Wittstock: That’s fantastic. Congratulations on that, that’s awesome.
Gitte Pedersen: It was crazy! I was a little bit like a deer in the headlights, because I was such an oddball in all this fantastic gadgets and fun things, and now I’m trying to cure cancer. So I didn’t get to the Top 3, but the organizer of this event, Bill Tai, immediately came up to me and said, “I’m inviting you to Necker. You have to come. I’m personally interested.” So that was how I ended up at Necker, and again, I was still a little bit, “Why? Why me?”
Again, I was the only female on Richard Branson’s private dinner that they arranged, and we all sat down, and then Richard sat down, and of course he sat down next to me. He’s amazing. I was a big fan before. I like his fun nature and unconventional, not button-up suit type …
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. He didn’t challenge you to, like, swim around. Did you swim around Necker Island? I know a bunch of us entrepreneurs, he would say things like, “Let’s go for a swim.” And people say, “Oh, yeah, sure, I’m just going to go swim.” And then you find out that you’re actually going to swim around-
Gitte Pedersen: Well, he’s a bit kite-surfer, right? I was actually taking kite-surfing lessons, but I didn’t get out on the water with him, but some of the other people did. That’s his thing, right?
But again, back to the dinner, he talked a lot about some of the fun things that he’s done, the little jokes he’s done, and it’s just hysterical. How can you not love that? Right? He doesn’t take himself serious.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, business should be fun.
Gitte Pedersen: He wants to have fun.
Melinda Wittstock: There’s no reason why you can’t have fun. I think that’s one of the great things about being an entrepreneur to begin with, right? Is that you can really create your own conditions and combine a mission, like a powerful mission like yours, with fun, and create a great company culture at the same time. Yeah, that’s awesome. So when were you there?
Gitte Pedersen: The other thing … Let me just finish up, because that was one thing that I always really appreciated about Richard Branson, that he incredibly successful, but also fun-loving. And then the whole extreme sports tease, which … I love sports, so I love that, too.
But the other thing that I really, really admire about him is that he puts his money where his mouth is, and he’s such a humongous supporter of entrepreneurship. When I entered into the BDI when I was in the passport control, they always asked you, “Where are you going?” So I said, “I’m going to Necker Island.” And the young gentleman who was looking at my passport said, “Oh, that’s wonderful. I am in Richard Branson’s entrepreneur program with BDI. He’s always giving back. He’s helping his local community, the guy who was teaching me sailing had his first investment from Richard Branson. It’s just amazing. That’s why I’m such a big fan.
Melinda Wittstock: A huge fan, me, too. And one of the things now that’s really exciting is re-making and re-building the Caribbean after all these catastrophic hurricanes to withstand hurricanes. That’s a nice big moonshot, and so many. What an amazing experience. There’s something very magical about that island, and of course, it really has been destroyed. Tremendous beauty. I have no doubt that he’ll build it up better than before.
Gitte Pedersen: I think that he is much more than you get on paper, and having the opportunity to meet him in person is really amazing. He’s genuinely interested in what you’re doing, and I think he touched and helped many people. Many, many people!
Melinda Wittstock: Certainly has. Oh, Gitte, I could talk to you for much, much longer, but I know that you have a special offer for our listener, and you have a huge following on Twitter with DNA Barcode, and any of our listeners can Tweet you a question about health care, and you will follow back and Retweet, is that right?
Gitte Pedersen: That is absolutely correct. That’s part of my other mission.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s awesome.
Gitte Pedersen: And it’s tied into my understanding of science and I think there’s a lot of misinformation or complicated information out there. I’m trying to make it palatable for everybody so they can understand it. Obviously I’m references scientific literature, and all that. I am a scientist. But if you have a question, just Tweet to me. It’s @DNABarcode, and I will Tweet back and answer, and I will follow you back.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s fantastic. Gitte, thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom and such a powerful mission with us today on Wings of Inspired Business.
Gitte Pedersen: Thank you so much. Thank you for making this podcast with me, I really appreciate it.