Article about our Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Daniela Marino, in SI Style of November 19, 2020
She preferred reading anatomy books to playing outside, even at the age of eight. Today, Daniela Marino heads the successful biotech startup Cutiss. What is her motivation? What is her superpower? And when was a day successful for her? We asked her 12 questions.
She grew up in Sicily as the daughter of a post office manager and an English teacher and had only one dream: to become a scientist. She studied biotechnology and came to Switzerland 15 years ago to do her PhD at ETH Zurich.
Daniela Marino aspired to an academic career, wanted to become a professor. But a research project changed everything. Today, the 39-year-old heads the life science company Cutiss, which produces personalized skin grafts. The innovative process involves growing new skin from the body’s own tissue. This reduces scarring in people with extensive skin injuries – and improves their quality of life. The University of Zurich spin-off has been showered with awards and funding for its groundbreaking idea. Around 30 employees recently moved into the brand-new headquarters, including a 500-square-meter laboratory, in Schlieren ZH.
Daniela Marino reveals how she went from scientist to founder, what she is particularly proud of and why she prefers to talk to herself in the interview format 12 Women, 12 Questions.
1) What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Becoming an entrepreneur. Business and management science had never interested me before, my world was science, my workplace was the lab. But when I saw the first test results of our invention, it was clear to me that we could really make a difference with it. Finding my role as CEO was a big challenge, not only professionally but also personally. But my motivation remains the same: I want to help people.
2) What are your principles as an entrepreneur?
The world deserves more entrepreneurs who are down-to-earth and honest. Sure, you need a vision, but to get to your goal you have to be very methodical. You always have to stay humble and take it one step at a time. It doesn’t do anyone any good to run headlong into a wall. Scientific thinking helps me to do just that. I’m very proud of my explorer brain. (laughs)
3) What people inspire you?
My idol from a very young age was the Italian Nobel Prize winner Rita Levi-Montalcini. In my childhood room, her poster hung next to Freddie Mercury’s. I think at one point my parents were quite worried because I wasn’t interested in boys like the other teen girls my age, preferring to read anatomy books and stories about knights and fairies all weekend long. My father believes that I inherited this fascination from his mother. She was never able to attend school, became a housewife. But in self-study she was engaged in astronomy and medicine.
4) How do you make difficult decisions?
I don’t wait too long, and I’m lucky in that I use my two brain hemispheres – the rational and the emotional – in a fairly balanced way. That is to say: First, I analyze the situation in detail, weighing the pros and cons of each piece of the puzzle. Then I let my instincts guide me. My head filters the options, my gut makes the decision.
5) When was a day successful for you?
When I’m not frustrated, my husband is not frustrated, our two children are not frustrated, and neither are my employees – in short, when everyone around me is happy. I realize that this can’t be the case every day, but it’s still my aspiration. And I believe that if the people around you see that you’re doing your best, they’ll be more forgiving of you if things don’t go smoothly.
6) What is your superpower?
My multitasking talent. The fact that I can be fully present to this conversation while thinking about what I need to get done this afternoon. That skill is almost essential for survival when you’re a mom and trying to build a company at the same time. Although I have to say that we don’t have a classic division of roles at our house: You rarely see me in the kitchen.
7) Where will your company be in five years?
We have grown very quickly and want to continue to be at the forefront of our field. In five years, we would like to be treating patients in Europe and be ready for the American market. Skin defects due to burns are a problem especially in emerging countries like India or Brazil. So our goal is clearly to be global. Perhaps our “Cutiss House” will become a “Cutiss Tower” in a few years. You have to think big to achieve big things.
8) How do you recharge your batteries?
With absolute peace and quiet. Of course, that’s not available in abundance in our networked world. That’s why I don’t impose clear offline times on myself. I don’t like strict rules, I prefer to find a healthy balance. It’s enough for me if I can take a relaxing bath for 20 minutes after work – no noise, no kids, no text messages. That’s where I can recharge.
9) Who do you call when you have a problem?
Before I call my husband or sister, I talk to myself – out loud and in English. This is not a joke. When I’m angry or have a problem, I talk to myself. I started doing that as a teenager and haven’t stopped until today. That’s why there are so many mirrors at home. (laughs)
10) What moment or person defined your career today?
It was in 2013, when I was invited to a business management course in the south of France as part of an EU funding program. I was able to take my husband and my then one-year-old daughter with me and thought to myself: great, we’ll take a week’s vacation on the beach and in between I’ll take some notes. But it turned out differently: we had a fantastic course instructor who was convinced that I was a natural. I will never forget that week. That was the moment I decided to become an entrepreneur.
11) When was the last time you doubted yourself?
Shortly after starting the company, I realized that I lacked the know-how to take the next step. I needed someone to add the necessary experience in business management to my drive and commitment. It was not easy to admit to myself that I was stuck. But today I’m glad I got the help I needed. It was the starting signal for our current team.
12) What are you most proud of?
Of what we are building as a company. But not in a business sense, but in a human sense. When I was able to hire my first employee, I cried with happiness. Our employees are becoming absolute experts in a field that is very trendy, modern and innovative. The future belongs to them – regardless of what happens to our company.
Even if she can now be found more often in boardrooms: In the lab, Daniela Marino feels completely in her element.
By Marlies Seifert on November 19, 2020