Vanja Plicanic Samuelsson’s passion for tech and entrepreneurship took her from being interested in natural sciences to being one of the rare female start-up founders. Her passion for developing new products and taking it all the way to the market inspired her to found Qoitech – an energy optimization company which has big potential to change the way IoT businesses look at energy consumption.
Öresundstartups News spoke with Vanja about women and tech, her own professional journey up to the current challenges of running the startup Qoitech, whose solution Otii helps IoT developers optimize their products for longer battery life and lower environmental impact.
Exploring the world of tech
Vanja’s professional growth took off in 2004, after receiving an education in electrical engineering and technology management at Lund University, when she joined European Space Agency (ESA) in the Netherlands as a trainee within the area of antenna technology. She always believed the space industry would be her “place to be” – but after a year of gaining experiences and knowledge, she realized she wanted to work in a more fast-paced environment to grow further personally and as an engineer.
“You learn your strengths, and in what type of environment they are needed and can be best utilized”, she says. Despite having a rewarding job, she soon realized that she missed digging deeper into technology. She then went on to get an industrial PhD, to fulfill her personal aspirations in combining gained skills in academia and applying them in tech industry and vice versa.
Moving back to Sweden, Vanja got a chance to continue her career at Sony Ericsson in Lund, working with mobile communications.
“It’s fascinating to see research being applied in real products for people to use. For many, research is something very theoretical and distant from everyday tech, when in fact it is an invaluable foundation”
When studying for her PhD, Vanja also gained hands-on experience that she now benefits from as a start-up entrepreneur: profound market research and how to pitch your ideas: “I’ve learned from the best. Academia is all about pitching your ideas and raising funds for your next endeavors.”
“I loved looking into the future, and working with IoT (Internet of Things) and 5G, long before they became buzzwords. Predicting potential challenges and solutions to overcome them is quite exciting and a great responsibility. Being part of a team that does that really well, really keeps you on your toes. Our vision for that future lead to the creation of Qoitech.”
In her work with researching 5G at Sony, Vanja was exploring how new, cellular IoT connectivity impacts the battery life of connected devices. She needed a simple yet comprehensive tool to conduct field testing on the topic, but it didn’t exist yet.
This was the moment when Vanja realized there was a gap in the market. She teamed up with company experts on power saving in order to compile, redesign and execute some already existing ideas. This was how Otii, the developer tool for energy optimization now offered by Qoitech, was born. Vanja and her team have a vision to make Qoitech the go-to-place for IoT developers to find tools, services and knowledge on the topic of low energy consumption:
“With the predictions of billions of battery driven devices around the globe in the coming years, we all should focus on product usability, usefulness and energy impact, as well as environmental consequences in the long run. With Otii, we want to empower developers and their companies to create sustainable solutions in an easy and affordable way”
Qoitech’s team is driven by bringing products and services to life in order to improve businesses, people’s approach and environment.
True entrepreneurship is an involved one. It is based on caring about people and the surroundings. As an entrepreneur and a leader, Vanja focuses on providing her team members with a healthy environment of transparency and trust that they need in order to work to the best of their individual abilities, which are then unified as a team towards a common goal. For her it is important to make them feel that they are a part of something bigger, fulfilling the role of contributors and owners, at the same time, with room to learn and progress. Coming from the corporate world, she first needed to adjust to the different pace and high level of uncertainties that you have to deal with when running a startup.
However, despite the high pace and obligations to all stakeholders, Vanja emphasizes how important it is to take a step back and reflect:
“There are always lessons to be learned and you need to pause and revisit the big picture, its best if you can do it on a regular basis”
When asked for tips for aspiring entrepreneurs in tech, Vanja’s advice is to learn to distinguish what is relevant for you personally and your startup – especially in tech, there are many hypes, trends and advice from all sides that you don’t necessarily need to follow. Rather, ask the question for the specific business, listen and learn, but also accept failures along the way. When mistakes are made move on quickly and learn from them, as long as it teaches you and your team something valuable, the mistake was worth it.
Women in tech
Vanja, as a female founder, is still significantly underrepresented in tech, even though the numbers are slowly growing. She reflects on it as an outdated expectations from society on women’s and men’s roles and what girls and boys are expected to show an interest in.
Vanja believes this issue needs to be addressed early, for example in schools, by leading and motivating by example. A mentor herself, through organizations such as Mentor.se and Transfer, more often than not Vanja meets students that envision tech as something too complex, brainy and boring. She wants to show them this perception could not be further from the truth. It’s important to showcase what tech really is; what you can make out of it, and where your imagination and perseverance can take you. The key is to spark the curiosity and inspire children.
One interesting observation Vanja has made is that women in tech are in general more successful than men. The explanation would be that once women enter the field of tech, they tackle it with higher interest, commitment and qualifications.
“I hope we can encourage more young girls and women to get fascinated by tech and to want to take lead. But also to encourage young boys and men to be comfortable with professional choices, roles and titles that traditionally aren’t considered respectable or ‘cool’ for them to pursue”
The times are changing, ever so slowly, and Vanja is glad that the conversation is happening, hoping that we can break the glass ceiling in start-ups, in tech and in general, for women and all who can contribute to a fruitful diversity.