Marianna, can you introduce yourself? Tell us more about your background.
I am a dynamic, versatile, and ambitious person who enjoys challenging herself in various fields. I have always been fascinated by different subjects and activities, including studying, dancing, reading, writing, and sports. This attitude has influenced my professional career, which started after I obtained a BSc and MSc in Biomedical Engineering in Rome.
In 2013 I moved to Switzerland to pursue my PhD at EPFL, which not only gave me a new title as a Doctor in microtechnology but also enabled me to develop important management and soft skills. I then joined the Swiss tech startup scene in 2017, and worked with two startups as a scientist and project/marketing manager, respectively. Today I am the CEO and co-founder of Beyond Scroll, an EPFL spin-off committed to unlock the full potential that green hydrogen has for our planet’s energy transition. With my greatest satisfaction to combine many of my passions in my daily activities, science, languages, communications, and most importantly my purpose of bringing value and creating positive impact on the society with my work.
What is your opinion on the state of women in tech right now?
Based upon my personal experience, I can say that women are actively present in science and tech. I remind many femaley fellow students at the university and then, during my time at the EPFL, several women doing a PhD or a post-doc. Also, many female colleagues from institutions and research centers in Switzerland and Europe were working on the collaborative project my PhD was funded by, and the project coordinator is a great female scientist and manager too.
Interestingly, the first startup I worked for was also led by women at the C-level. So, in my opinion, women in tech are quite well represented today and are doing a great job for our society as well as men. However, what is an important matter for me, independently on numbers and quotas, is that every professional should get the same chances to be considered for a position, should be judged based upon her/his skills, achievements, and motivations, and finally gets recognized according to the value brought to an organization or the society. And this independently on his/her gender or ethnicity. I hope this will be true in all the countries of the world one day.
Which measures can help to motivate more females to become founders?
I think that many have been already put in place and we can witness an increasing number of startups led by women. In different competitions I have recently taken part to it was highlighted how the number of applications from women-led startups increased with respect to the previous years. This is encouraging for other female scientists or professionals and makes them aware that the entrepreneurial path is possible for every human being burning with passion and motivation to achieve her/his goal and change the world for the positive. Obviously, the society has to be ready and allow women to perform their professional roles aside their personal ones when it comes to matters such as maternity. This is, in my opinion, the most important topic because it is what still refrains many women from being one or another, an ambitious professional or a fully committed mother. I personally did not give birth yet, but I have been inspired by many successful women who managed to excellently play both roles in their life and this gives me hope that more women will be able to do the same, including myself. For this to be a reality, we need flexibility and lack of bias. Already the covid pandemic taught the business world to operate more flexibly. Of course, this “flexibility” mindset we gained is a great ally for women in tech, because it may be applied beyond these circumstances.
The most satisfying moment of your career so far?
One of the most satisfying moments is from last year but let me give you some background first. When my co-founder and I started two years ago, we did not have a strong network nor a tangible asset, we only had a brilliant idea we knew was worth it. We received a wave of “Nos” from everywhere, but we never abandoned our dream. Our commitment was so strong that we were able to bring so far our idea and work so hard that we managed to be among the top 10 startups in engineering in Switzerland according to the well-known competition >>venture>> of 2022. This was an enormous surprise for the whole Swiss startup community who had heard almost nothing about us until that time. Not only we had a huge visibility, recognition and growth boost, but we also converted one of the very first “Nos” in a convinced “Yes”. That was one of the most satisfying moments in our journey, even if more recognitions came later, and this demonstrated us that everything is possible if you believe in yourself and your vision. Resilience is indeed the most important tool an entrepreneur should have and a “No” for us is even more powerful than a “Yes”. A Yes is financial fuel, a No is a motivational fuel.
Can you tell me about the specific challenges you faced as a female entrepreneur in the technology industry and how you overcame them?
I can say I did not face challenges specifically for being a woman. However, at the beginning of our journey, my co-founder and I were often challenged with respect to our vision of a hydrogen-based economy – which today is much more welcome due to the latest geopolitical developments – and to our personal relationship since we are a couple in life. We were often asked questions about how we could combine our professional relationship with our personal life and sometimes received “discouraging” comments. These did not influence us, since we have been always conscious of the great work we do together, and started to vanish with time as we have been advancing and proving our good work. So, this makes me think they were mainly due to the initial lack of trust that every entrepreneur faces once he/she starts his/her journey, especially when introductions are cold. After that, I do not remind any other big challenge related to this topic or to the fact of being a female CEO.
A female that inspires you.
It is difficult to choose one. I feel inspired by women in different frameworks. Recently I watched a movie “The Swimmers”, the life story of teenage Syrian refugee who swam alongside a sinking dinghy of refugees with her sister. After many struggles she managed to accomplish her dream to reach Rio 2016 Olympics. How can’t you be inspired by stories like hers?
Then my role model, Ursula von der Leyen. Being the president of the EU commission and mother of seven at the same time is just amazing… The perfect example of an extremely successful woman as I was mentioning before, both in career and life. Despite being criticized, she has succeeded in her two roles as well as in making issues such as childcare and family policy important political concerns in Germany. How can’t you be inspired by such a woman?
Then, in the field of science and technology, the Italian neurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini who won a Nobel for discovering the Nerve growth factor, as well as Mary W. Jackson, NASA’s first female African American engineer who led programs promoting women in NASA’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers.
And, of course, all the amazing female entrepreneurs and mentors I found on my way since I have started this journey and who have genuinely encouraged me to pursue my dream. I thank them all.
According to a research conducted by BCG and MassChallenge, when female entrepreneurs present their ideas to investors for seed capital, they receive significantly less – a disparity that averages over 1 million dollars – compared to men. However, businesses founded by women ultimately generate higher revenues – more than double per dollar invested – compared to those founded by men, making women-led companies better investments for funders. As a female founder, how much do you identify with this study and what are your personal opinions on the matter?
It is hard to answer this question since we are currently engaging in our first financing round. Additionally, I am leading the company with a male co-founder which makes our founding team perfectly gender balanced. Who will invest in Beyond Scroll will invest in a game-changing idea which will generate high-impact and high revenue streams thanks to a great team. Now, to answer your question, I think that generally women face more challenges when it comes to negotiating, since socially perceived as “demanding” or “unlikeable” when we do it. This may result in much less successful negotiations in any domain, leading to “worse” deals for a female founder when raising capital with investors. But let’s remember that not only men are investors, the number of female investors is also raising, and I am sure the investment landscape will further change. According to several studies, women are showing more discipline with respect to men, invest with purpose and take the right kind of risks. This may reflect the finding of the research you mention of higher revenue by women-led companies for similar reasons.
Can you tell us more about Beyond Scroll and what inspired you to start the company?
First, I would like to start from the name. Beyond Scroll. Scroll is the core component of our technology. It means basically spirals. This is the technology Dr. Luis Mendoza, co-founder of Beyond Scroll, has been developing for the last 14 years at different research institutes/university in Switzerland and Europe. With our company we aim to go beyond the limits of this technology, beyond its applications as conceived today, and beyond time by creating positive and durable impact for future generations. So you understand better now where our company’s name comes from.
Said so, Beyond Scroll is the result of years of research, work, and passion of two sciencepreneurs fueled by a strong commitment to achieve ambitious goals. Luis as a technology innovator who has been devoting his career to the scroll compression technology and to solving environmental and engineering challenges, and me as a startup angel, as I like to define myself, with several years of experience fostering startups growth thanks to management, fundraising, sales and communications skills gained alongside my career in tech. Once I identified a high-reward project in terms of impact, value creation, technology and market potential, as Beyond Scroll is, and which matched with my inner vocation for chasing challenges and creating impact, I knew it was the right time for me to start my entrepreneurial journey.
How does your technology contribute to the transition towards a more sustainable and clean energy future?
Our technology represents a key component to unlock the full potential of green hydrogen in the global energy transition. We call it the green hydrogen “efficiency booster”. We believe in a future where energy can be produced smarter starting from the resources offered by nature and without harming our planet’s ecosystem. As sciencepreneurs in the cleantech field, we feel called today to find solutions to several challenges, not only the decarbonization of the economy, but also the decentralization of power production to achieve energy independence and the need to guarantee affordable and clean energy to all. Green hydrogen has the potential to be the common path to all these goals, however there are still open challenges that need to be solved. And these are mainly linked to the low efficiency of its production process and the consequent lack of infrastructure. And it’s where we came to bring solutions by introducing to the market and more specifically to the hydrogen value chain a new component, our oil-free scroll compressor for low-pressure hydrogen compression. Thanks to our compressor, the production efficiency can be considerably increased, thus making the full production/storage process less energy intensive and green hydrogen cost competitive with respect to alternatives. We bridge the gap of the hydrogen compressor market today lacking a solution at low pressure (1 to 30 bar). Our goal is to allow hydrogen to realize its critical role in the global energy transition and advocate for a hydrogen-based economy by fostering the growth of a safe and sustainable infrastructure.
What are your strategic partners?
To date, our main supporter has been the EPFL, which is currently funding our activities through a prestigeous grant, the Innogrant, and allowed us to build the first prototypes. Thanks to MassChallenge Switzerland accelerator we also managed to establish a collaboration with some of their partners, who helped us to connect to potential customers and can support us with manufacturing on a larger scale. In addition, we have been working hard to create synergies with big players along the full hydrogen value chain. A few days ago, we were awarded the “Tech of the Future” prize from the HyAccelerator program of Snam, Europe’s leading operator in natural gas transport and storage, with an infrastructure enabling the energy transition. This is a key milestone for our company towards the industrialization of our compressors and their deployment in the European hydrogen network.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or developments for Beyond Scroll?
Beyond Scroll is today actively seeking investment, so our activities are mainly focused on fundraising, besides product development. We validated our product-market fit and we will soon start to hire personnel to support our product and business development efforts. These are the two main roles we look for to grow our team as well as a project manager to lead the projects we are creating. We not only aim at technology development projects but also at establishing key partnerships in the hydrogen value chain which may bring to international collaborations for our product commercialization. In this framework of course falls the collaboration with Snam and the co-development project we will soon start.
What is Marianna Fighera human and entrepreneurial vision?
I think that it is really time for many large companies worldwide to stop “greenwashing” and “actually act” for a sustainable and environmental conscious economy. This change cannot be just pushed only by startups and governments. We need the support of the private sector too.
Not only final consumers are waiting for this, but also employees and other stakeholders who always more need to feel their time is well invested in projects for the good. We will see a raise of purpose driven workforce who will have to be motivated and encouraged to commit to a purpose, and this is tremendously important for startups. To be successful, we need people aligned with our company’s values and engaged with our vision.
As entrepreneur my vision is that our world will surely rely on hydrogen to solve the challenges related to our energy needs mentioned before. And this will require a holistic approach involving incumbents, governments, private sector, and young and resilient entrepreneurs. I strongly believe this will not only allow to divest from fossil fuels, but also to achieve energy independence and hopefully hinder the outbreak of wars caused by such concerns. As human this is my hope, as well as to give us a chance as mankind to live in a green and healthy planet also thanks to Beyond Scroll.