Europe, Interviews

Ivana Kostić – Co-Founder of Health Tech Lab and Technology Transfer Associate at the Innovation Fund

Meet Ivana Kostić – a bioengineer and co-founder of the Health Tech Lab. Learn more about her journey from Belgrade to her PhD at the MIT Portugal Programme, how she’s disrupting the health care industry and who she would invite to her ideal dinner.

What role does technology play in your everyday life?

Serbia, the country of Nikola Tesla, has respect towards technology and its usage in everyday life. On the other hand, our brain is sometimes our best digital tool, according to Tesla. At the time, he was not thinking only about devices when talking about technology, but also about wireless communication of our brains which down the road inspired wireless communication of today.

Technology plays a huge role in my everyday life. I notice this best when I exclude it from my life. During my work, I use computers, networks and various kinds of communication tools to be able to connect with colleagues from other countries. As Technology Transfer Associate at the Innovation Fund I have a chance to approach most innovative technologies first hand and imagine their potential usage. Within Health Tech Lab where I am the Co-Founder we encounter and help novel health technologies. As International jury member within United Nations based World Summit Awards I get to learn about innovation in digital world among all 180 UN countries. During my trail running training I use my smartwatch with GPS to show me the way forward.

Overall, I would say I have a digital mindset, but I do like to rewire my brain from time to time in nature, with paper books or just close by some water. 

Tell us a bit about your journey? How did you get to where you are now?

It all started at the University of Belgrade and studies of animal and human physiology, learning the mechanism of functioning of humans and animals, physiological and pathological. After few internships abroad in Brazil and Germany, I got inspired by the work of engineers and entrepreneurs producing novel solutions for the pathological conditions and learned more about the development of drugs and technologies for patients. This decided my next step – PhD studies within Bioengineering systems at MIT Portugal program. More on my road you can see in the MIT Portugal student profile interview.

Just before graduation, I had a chance to organize MIT hacking medicine event – originally from Boston, MIT – in Belgrade together with local organization which further initiated everything I am involved today.

In 2019, our ideas and efforts got awarded internationally for the first time. Health Tech Lab was one of four finalists from more than 200 application worldwide within Paris Women In Tech Challenge, face to face with NASA, USA, Worldwide Women In Tech from Canada and Paris Women in Machine Learning from France.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

On the way definitely my family, mentors, characters from the books I have read and some everyday heroes helped tremendously in building up the person I am today and interests that I have. Little bit of serendipity is always helpful as the circumstances in life and business are not always ideal.

Utterly, it all depends solely on yourself and your goals and beliefs. My constant curiosity and non negotiable attitude towards achieving my wishes and goals enabled me to achieve everything I had in mind. And it’s just the beginning. 🙂

What is the hardest lesson you have learned as a founder and woman in tech?

Borders of all kinds, ancestry, gender… they all affect the tech and free flow of ideas and solutions that lead to successful businesses and they all take away a lot of time and they all still do exist.

I am working today in order to live in the world of tomorrow where we will talk about ‘solutions in tech’ in general, irrelevant of the gender / country / origin. In other words, we all need to cross the gap in the world of gender divide, digital divide, technological divide, health divide, scientific divide and all other divides and accept the differences as something beneficial rather than alienated.

What are three tech trends you see happening in the next 5 years?

I am a huge fan of disruption and disruptive technologies. Their main characteristic is to appear when you least expect them as a result of settled information, ideas and multiple technologies in the span of several years. They only seem sudden, but are sharp and long distance jumps from the well established. Therefore, I am curious to see what will and how disrupt the current trends of IT, machine learning and AI. From this point we cannot see the disruption very well.

Technologies from wet labs are usually overlooked. The main reason is time and investments it takes to develop them. IT and fast growing techs are always in the first row, but many innovations and disruptive techs are coming from labs, such as biotech and regenerative medicine solutions.

In my industry, which I would define as health industry, the biggest impact is coming from interaction and integration of bio and tech. This is one of the goals for Health Tech Lab as well as what we predict the 5th industrial revolution will bring — Enabling the innovative technologies to interfere more with biological systems for higher performance and overall healthier and merrier lives.

What is the thing you’re currently most excited about?

Currently, I am very excited about opportunities of regional and international growth of Health Tech Lab. This offers multiple possibilities for us and for other developing countries which in our vision will be able to tackle some of their most persistent, health issues.

Which job in tech, other than your current one, would you like to have?

In the near future, I would like to see the missing results from my PhD studies published and technology transferred successfully in health industry. Our solution will impact greatly the lives of patients with specific, heart problems. I see myself within the big team making this happen.

If you could host a dinner party with 3 influential people in tech, who would you invite and what would the setting be?

Something I miss very much from Boston, MA is food from place called Life Alive. 🙂 I would make sure that their food is served during the dinner.

The dinner itself would be happening at the time when getting from one corner of the world to another would take few minutes and of course we would travel in several places related to the topic, Elon Musk style. 😉

Finally, the guests would be:

  1. Neri Oxman, a great professor and artist with multiple talents.
  2. Dava Newman, a woman with innovative ideas in space industry.
  3. Bertalan Mesko, the Medical Futurist.

The title of the dinner would be The next disruption in Health (to discuss the next disruption in health and arrange the collaboration), with a tribute to Marie Curie not only as a woman in science, but also someone who truly dedicated time, efforts and her whole life for an ideal and an idea for the benefit of others. This is very rare today. 

Ivana Kostić is the Co-Founder of Health Tech Lab, created for making an impact in the local and global health tech ecosystems. HTL emerged after her initiation and organization of the 1st MIT Medical hackathon in Belgrade – MIT hacking medicine. She is also the Technology Transfer Associate at the Innovation Fund and MASHAV alumni.

Ivana earned her PhD degree from the MIT Portugal Program / Bioengineering Systems in collaboration with portuguese lab -Biomaterials & Stem Cell-based Therapeutics Lab- and -Karp Lab- at MIT together with Brigham and Women’s and Boston Children’s Hospital. These joint efforts were oriented towards developing minimally-invasive and more effective therapies for ischemic organs. The collaboration is still ongoing.

Her initial interest in this area was sparked by Physiology studies at the University of Belgrade and an additional rich practical knowledge gained through the IAESTE internship in Brazil and the First BSRT Summer School for Regenerative Medicine in Berlin.


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