Our 2020 Showcase Pitch Night Winner Karolina Petkovic is forging ahead with her winning business idea, developing an at-home testing kit for iron deficiency which relies on saliva, rather than blood. Drawing on her research undertaken at CSIRO, Karolina is now working on transforming the scientific idea into a commercially attractive prototype which has the potential to transform the way we detect and monitor iron deficiency.
For Master of Entrepreneurship alumna Karolina Petkovic, shifting her professional focus is something which she is well attuned to. Having moved countries, learnt new languages and changed professions over the course of her career, she’s no stranger to trying new things.
‘For me, studying, changing career paths and shifting my professional focus is something which comes very naturally. It’s something you can get addicted to as well – to refresh, re-energise and change your focus,’ she says.
For the last 17 years, Karolina has worked as a research scientist at CSIRO, the scientific research arm of the Australian Government. Charged with connecting scientific discovery with industry to turn science into solutions, CSIRO is well known for its ability to commercialise technology to improve the lives of people in Australia and around the world.
‘CSIRO has a great track record in commercialisation, but there’s always potential to do more,’ Karolina says.
‘I think for scientists that business side of things is often missing. When scientists acquire those extra entrepreneurial skills, it really makes communication easier on the business development side of things.’
A desire to develop her business acumen inspired Karolina to enrol in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Entrepreneurship, which she undertook on a part-time basis over the course of two years.
‘I was lucky to come to the course with an already baked idea, but Wade really helped me to finetune it.’
Karolina’s idea is Iron WoMan, an at-home test for iron-deficiency. The research project has been in development for a number of years at CSIRO, with Karolina taking the lead in thinking about how the scientific concept can be turned into a commercially attractive prototype.
‘The idea is for people, particularly women, to be able to test themselves for iron deficiency, probably on a monthly basis,’ she says.
‘It’s a really good tool to help people be more in charge when it comes to their iron intake, so they can make adjustments, whether through diet or supplements, to better manage their iron levels.’
After winning last year’s Wade Showcase Pitch Competition, Karolina has continued work on her commercialisation plan, which she hopes will come to fruition in the next few years. And while right now she’s still awaiting the outcome of a clinical trial, Karolina is focused on the future, and holds the ultimate goal of seeing the product become something which can be purchased in local pharmacies.
‘The idea is to make it accessible to everyone, with the really grand vision to make it accessible in the developing world,’ she says.
The rate of iron deficiency in the developing world is pretty shocking, sitting at around 80% in Africa. Making it available to people in those parts of the world is something I am very passionate about, as well as helping women.’
Reflecting on her experience at Wade, Karolina believes that the Master of Entrepreneurship helped her gain confidence in making decisions.
‘Wade and the whole experience of the Masters has been such a great playground for connecting science and business,’ she says.
‘The skills, learning and practical tools have also proved to be super valuable, but that’s all under the umbrella of increased confidence, because that is so often the biggest hurdle.’
‘People think they have a great idea and they would love to develop it, but they don’t know where to start. Confidence helps you get there, and that’s certainly what my experience at Wade gave me.’
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