THE BLOG
07/19/2014 12:36 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2014

Women in Business Q&A: Dr Karin Hehenberger, Founder of Lyfebulb

Dr. Karin Hehenberger is the founder of Lyfebulb, an educational and social platform dedicated to helping those with chronic illnesses lead their optimal lifestyles. Prior to founding Lyfebulb, Dr. Hehenberger held executive positions in the life sciences and devoted her career to identifying, analyzing, developing and promoting products across the therapeutics, devices and consumer healthcare industries. Most recently, Dr. Hehenberger was a member of the management team at Coronado Biosciences, a company focused on autoimmune diseases and cancer. Dr. Hehenberger has more than 15 years of experience in the healthcare industry, which she entered after obtaining M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and conducting her post-doctoral work as a JDRF fellow at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School. Her research focused on diabetes and its complications, an area in which she has continued to focus throughout her career. Dr. Hehenberger is considered an expert in the field of Metabolic disease and is an invited speaker at numerous conferences on this topic, as well as the subject of innovative products across therapeutic areas. She is a Senior Advisor, Biotechnology and Medical Innovation for the Department of Endocrinology and Surgery at the Karolinska Institute, the Scientific Advisor to the CEO of Helsinn, and sits on the boards of the Lighthouse Foundation and the Rolf Luft Diabetes Research Foundation.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I believe that my education and upbringing have given me a solid background from a knowledge and ethics basis. My parents are very honest and hard-working people, who early on, taught me that one has to fight for what one wants, and nothing comes for free. We were a very academic and athletic family, most of our time together focused on either doing some sort of sport, or reading/learning. This meant that we did not spend "frivolous" time -- no beach holidays, no time during the weekend just for relaxing, and there was always a competitive part involved.

Later on, I continued with this approach, and it is not until lately, that I have understood the pleasures of "doing nothing", although it is still very hard for me, not being productive at all times. This behavior has given me a strong work ethics, but especially as a younger professional, I was very intolerant of laziness and non-performance in others. I think it affected my career and my personal relationships.

My struggles with my health have clearly affected me as well. I benefited from the fighting spirit my parents engrained in me, but again, my lack of health at some times, made me not like myself very much. Being so very sick multiple times during my early and later years, has taught me not to take anything for granted, and to understand disease and health better. It is made me who I am today, and I think most doctors and healthcare professionals as well as biopharmaceutical executives would be better leaders if they had faced adversity in the form of disease.

Being a woman in an environment dominated by men, is another important part of my career and what has shaped me. I understand better how to deal with work situations and even personal relationships with men, rather than with women. This has helped me but I am still struggling sometimes to be a great listener to women, and to be as tough on women as I can be on men!

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Lyfebulb?
Everything I have done in the past is coming together at Lyfebulb. My experiences as a scientist/medical doctor, investor/analyst, industry executive and patient advocate are all critical to what we are trying to accomplish. One given advantage is my network in all these different worlds, and my understanding what is missing or what can be used to Lyfebulb's benefit. I can also see synergies more easily, since I have been in positions much like the people I am trying to engage. Leading a company is hard, and my multiple roles within senior teams have taught me what works and what does not.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Lyfebulb?
So far there have been mostly highlights since we have only been around for 6 months! It is fantastic to be creating my own path and my own environment for other people to engage in and with. My highlights have been the interest gained from young people who want to join us, and the overwhelming feedback from patient communities who are helped by what we are doing every day. That is what makes me tick, and what makes me grow. If I can help even one more person each day I am a happy camper. More superficially, I am happy about our content development, including our name and logo. Makes me proud.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to have their own business?
Be prepared to work hard, develop a strong business plan and seek help from trusted sources! Although you can feel you are doing everything for the first time, others have been there, done that, and they are often willing to share experiences. Ultimately, you are the decision-maker, and do not hesitate to make hard decisions early on. Most personnel questions are not going to improve, and if there is bad chemistry in a team, you have to solve it very quickly.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have historically been lousy at this, allowing my career to take precedence over everything. With this business, I am passionate about what I am trying to accomplish, and key is to surround yourself with loved ones who understand and support. If they cannot or will not, they are probably not right for you. Most importantly, I think, is respecting people's time and passions. If you are a hard-working, ambitious person, you need to allow for your partner, or friends/family to share some of their stories and challenges with you as well. That way, you are part of their world, and they are part of yours. Being open with the issues you are facing at work, will allow better understanding for late night assignments, or canceled dinner dates. However, it is critical to take good care of your body and mind, so not missing out on exercise and relaxing time, is important to the success of your business. I do my best work when I am in good shape physically, and my mind is rested.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
There are many issues, and some advantages. Details such as being softer spoken and smaller, can impede being heard - literally - but more importantly, some men just cannot deal with women who are strong and successful. In my opinion, those men are not worth bothering with, and I have never been one to try to manipulate my way into good graces of someone who just doesn't approve of my gender. I just work harder, and show results. If that is not enough, shame on them! The perception that women need to work doubly hard to get the same recognition is true in certain environments, but women also do bad things to themselves, such as quarrel with other women, instead of sticking together. If I had to name one issue that I faced all throughout my career, it is the latter. Communication between women has to be so very careful, since women tend to interpret emotions and words very differently than men do.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It has made a huge difference! Since I have embarked on several different careers within healthcare, I have needed different mentors in each environment, and I have never heisted to reach out. Starting with my parents, then my PhD advisor at the Karolinska, followed by several strong people whom I am still very close to, professionally this has helped me tremendously, and I have listened and learned. In fact, my best moments have often been when one of my mentors have related his or her experiences to me over dinner or drinks, and I have eagerly taken it all in.
Personally, it is a different story - I have not had the same kind of mentorship - most of my mentors have been failures in their personal life. Maybe not to the outside, but I know that their careers have taken precedence and their relationships and marriages have taken a toll. Since my friends are mostly in high-powered jobs, their personal lives have never been a priority. I feel that I am in a great place both personally and professionally now, but that has taken a long time to achieve.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
My Mother is a strong leader of our family and I admire her tremendously. She has managed to raise three daughters, move often due to my father's job, and still maintain a certain peace within. She maintains a fantastic home, where everyone feels welcome and she invested her life in us three girls.

My PhD advisor is another strong female leader, who has dedicated her life to medicine and science, without losing her touch of femininity and caring. She always has time for those extra few comforting words, and that second look to make sure all is well. I learned a lot from her and her commitment to work, her patients and her family.

I have a lot of respect for other female CEOs and leaders. Being a leader is difficult, and anyone, woman or man, in that position, has accomplished a lot in my eyes by just accepting the challenge and persevering.

What do you want Lyfebulb to accomplish in the next year?
We want to grow our community of people following us online and offline. We would like to expand our content and make people really appreciate our advice regarding lifestyle and change behavior to become healthier and happier people in general. We would like to identify new, innovative solutions that can benefit a large group of people, and expose these solutions to our constituents and eventually participate in the development both financially and advice-wise.

Most of all, I want us to grow to a strong team of professionals, that all have in common that they are passionate about our cause, and are here for the right reasons. With that passion comes success, and we will generate revenue to allow for further expansion and more people will be embraced by the Lyfebulb story.