Elisa Frenz, Founder and Co-CEO at SYNERGISTAS, shares her vision for creating a global healthcare model that is both sustainable and highly accessible.
Avenue Code: Elisa, you have an amazing background and now you are the founder and Co-CEO at SYNERGISTAS, which bridges health challenges and sustainable health innovation. How did you cultivate the skills to prepare you for this Herculean initiative?
Elisa Frenz: My undergraduate degree was in Intercultural European and American studies, which involved looking at the world through an interdisciplinary lens that encompassed economics, culture, language, etc. I find this skill extremely helpful in my work today as I continue to build bridges between various organizational cultures, company profiles, mindsets, and industries globally. My career requires me to be a world transcender who translates and aligns goals for different parties.
I also had the opportunity to move from Berlin to Barcelona, where I completed my Master’s Degree in Business Management. This allowed me to explore more the Spanish language and culture, including the deep dive into the Latin American culture and its diversity. I fell in love with the culture, and this experience still inspires my work today.
I entered healthcare in 2007 while still in Spain. While I didn’t have a medical or scientific background, multilingual skills were in high demand. I started by coordinating clinical trials, which involved managing multiple organizations like the investigators running the clinical trials, the pharmaceutical companies, and the service providers.
It’s in my nature to be a problem solver and identify opportunities to create change and impact. One of these projects was to expand an academy that introduced Life Science graduates into the clinical trial process. I did this after moving back to Berlin, where I developed new business strategies and healthcare concepts that could be scaled across the world. This meant looking into Asia and the US as well as Europe. My approach is very hands-on rather than theoretical, which has allowed me to learn quickly.
AC: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
EF: I founded my first startup to disrupt the way communication is handled between the corporate companies sponsoring clinical trials and the people actually participating in those trials. To pharmaceutical companies, people are the most important assets in introducing a new drug into the market, so I found it problematic that people are treated like subject data instead of humans. I fully understand the need for certain processes and efficiency KPIs, but I believe that the process and technology can and should be much more relational.
For example, I worked in a consultancy capacity to help digitize processes for running tumor board sessions. I discovered that different experts from different disciplines didn’t have the same information about patients, and I wanted to change this. It’s extremely hard to drive change in this space since experts have established long-standing processes, and I learned a lot about the challenges of digital implementation and how to bridge gaps between various hospital stakeholders and the companies developing medical software.
During this time, I built health ecosystems within German-speaking regions. I found that in discussions on global health, there was interest in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the US, but Latin America was severely underrepresented, primarily because of a lack of funding. This didn’t change until COVID-19 created a need for a truly global conversation.
AC: Part of your work at SYNERGISTAS involves fostering this global conversation. How would you explain the mission of SYNERGISTAS, and how is it being received?
EF: SYNERGISTAS is all about bridging expertise to offer something very tangible. This is a fascinating space, because there are so many small changes that can be made to create an enormous impact. But our focus isn’t talking about digital health tools; we want to address global challenges related to the climate and sustainable development, and COVID-19 gave everyone a push in the right direction.
Our goals are so big that we rely on strong partners. We work in a collaborative mode with people and organizations who also recognize the need for change. So far, we’re finding that the spirit we’re transmitting is quite engaging for traditional industries. Our perspective brings joy as we’re introducing innovative concepts and companies. On one hand, we’re forming partnerships to create a solution space, and on the other hand, we’re making use of these solutions as an answer to societal challenges. In my view, the sympathetic and creative partnerships we’re forming are a breakthrough in our ability to achieve our goals.
AC: You have great passion and a clear purpose when it comes to healthcare. How do you see this market and how do you want to contribute? What are the biggest challenges?
EF: It’s very hard to effect transformation in a setting that is extremely traditional. It’s a pity, because it limits the creativity of finding solutions, and that’s partly why I’m interested in looking into countries outside Europe: I feel there’s more willingness to explore new possibilities. In Germany, there has been limited progressive thinking in healthcare because of the thought that we have what we want and there’s no need to change.
COVID-19 showed us that we do need to change. We need agility - agility for insurance, clinics, and healthcare providers - and we don’t have it. At SYNERGISTAS, we’re not presenting ourselves as an external provider offering a defined solution. Instead, we’re taking time to talk, understand problems, make connections, and ultimately create a space to problem solve and recreate processes and systems.
I believe we need to begin by co-creating a common understanding of the problem before we can co-create solutions. Because of this, we’re open to partnering and networking with a variety of companies in a variety of industries and geographies provided there’s a shared vision. It’s a simple concept, yet it’s groundbreaking.
AC: What are the major differences that you see, with regard to healthcare, between Europe and Latin America?
EF: In Europe, the healthcare systems are rooted in solidarity, but in Latin America, there’s a strong private sector. The differences between poor and rich are tremendous in Latin America. I believe that technology and digitalization allow us to reduce and maybe eliminate this differentiation. Technology allows us to reduce the cost of healthcare, making healthcare more accessible. We’re currently working on bringing and equipping mobile health stations to serve vulnerable communities in Mexico, which is a passion project for SYNERGISTAS. We believe access to healthcare services should be available to everyone.
AC: We know that SYNERGISTAS connects people around the world to promote healthcare development in regions like Latin America. How do you see partnerships in this scenario?
EF: The most fundamental element is thinking similarly in terms of values and people. I look at partnerships as a way to extend our knowledge and increase capacities. For example, I don’t understand all of the technicalities of technologies, but I lend a strong application perspective.
AC: What is your vision for the future of SYNERGISTAS?
EF: We believe in collaboration and co-creation, which can be difficult for organizations to seek on their own. We want to bring in our expertise, digitalize it, and empower people to implement it themselves with guidance in certain areas like finding partners, bridging cultural perspectives, and creating the human touch around technology.
Our ultimate goal is to touch as many lives as possible to increase the wellbeing of the planet, giving people the ability to have a good life. This requires work, awareness, and engagement. And it requires new systems. We need to stop thinking that organizations with a purpose do work pro bono: we need sustainable projects backed by sustainable financials. Without money or monetary incentives, it’s very difficult to make change happen.
For example, in Germany, perfectly good healthcare equipment is disposed of regularly. We want to change the waste model so that we’re sending this equipment to countries that need it, but it’s often cheaper for corporations to just throw the equipment away. This is one area we’re working on changing.
AC: As a successful female entrepreneur working in healthcare and technology, what advice would you give to young women just beginning their careers?
EF: Never hold back. Don’t assume that the idea you have is too big. Surround yourself with the right people, because being in the wrong environment can be very limiting. Speak your ideas, collaborate with people who have a similar vision, and experiment with what works and what doesn’t. That’s how you find your personal niche. Next to having a good community, I would also say that finding a solid mentor will help you jump two steps at a time when you’re ready.
AC: Thank you for your time today, Elisa. It’s inspiring to hear about your tenacity and progress in creating a global conversation around improving healthcare systems.
Andressa Lopes is the Inside Sales Lead at Avenue Code. She loves to talk to people and create new possibilities. She is also crazy about plants and piano.