Pilar Fernandez Hermida

Pilar Fernandez Hermida is a Go-to-Market expert with 20+ years of experience in international sales, partnerships, and business development in the Health and Tech sectors.  Currently, Pilar is the founder of i-Expand, an advisory firm, a boutique advisory firm focused on assisting Digital Health companies grow and scale globally. The company also partners with accelerators delivering their Healthcare Go to Market Academy Programme to upskill cohorts in commercialization. To date, 400+ startups have been through the programme. A passionate believer in innovation through technology, Pilar has assisted both high-profile organisations and start-ups across 6 continents. In the private sector, she has been part of the global leadership teams of Cisco and Wolters Kluwer. She has also led delegations to the UN/WHO, standardised digital health solutions at national level, and helped raise 350M in funds. Pilar is fluent in 9 languages, holds 2 First-class degrees and is PMO-certified by Stanford.  In 2023, Pilar will publish her book: “Cash or Crash- How to launch your digital health business. Successfully”. 

What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before the venture/ corporate journey? 

I grew up in Galicia, a beautiful Atlantic region in Spain by a seaside village called Vigo. Looking at the Ocean made me dream of travelling -which was not a luxury for a few. So my first degree was in Translation & Interpreting, but then I figured languages were not enough: 

 I wanted to have a voice so I studied International Relations in London (combined with an evening job as a waitress” to pay for that). Eventually, that voice and impact came by the hand of technology, a career that started 20+ years ago. All I did before helped me a lot: My hospitality skills were great for sales, international relations were great for negotiations. As for translating, I have never stopped: I translate the socioeconomic benefits of technology so it gets adopted and implemented. And with i-Expand, I translate products into viable businesses. So, everything has come full circle. 

Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business/initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”

Healthcare commercialization is particularly hard. The market is flooded with product-focused literature and one-size-fits-all methodologies.  Those lean approaches do not translate well in healthcare where adoption, regulatory and reimbursement pathways vary per country and segment. 

Inevitably, many commercial plans crash. 

 So, they need senior talent to define their go to market strategy and commercialize their solutions, but often a) they cannot afford the high fees or find the right person and b) when they can afford it,  many consultants or experts are limited by scope/knowledge.   Commercialization is just too broad and nuanced. 

What did I do?  

I developed a consultancy business model and a market-focused framework  that allows us to work with our clients (typically startups and scaleups) in a joint journey where we  activate the “Go to market DNA” in them and upskill them so they learn how to do it themselves.  This way, both parties can afford it.  How does it scale?  The true eureka moment came when I designed a structure and engine to do this faster in an interactive and iterative way. And in a way that moved from product-driven strategies to market-driven strategies so the companies go where they “should” versus “where they want”.  

A company will need to iterate the Go to market model many times.  So, we basically co-create the commercial strategy together, while they learn to do it themselves.  

Who are our customers? 

Startups, scale-ups and mature companies who want to launch/grow their business with less risk, faster and cheaper.

Investors who want to de-risk or optimize their portfolio by stress-testing the commercial viability of the companies.

Hubs/accelerators that want to upskill their cohorts on commercialization.    To date, more than 400 startups have been through the courses (“Go to Market Academy” programme).  

Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?

According to a Harvard professor, 95% of the startups will fail. Most of the failures are down to the go to market strategy. We want to de-risk and help companies stack up the odds in their favour, by helping tech companies validate their choices and business strategy BEFORE they launch or go to a new market. 

That is not all. While they work with us, they will learn to do it themselves.   This way we will create commercial capacity by activating the non-commercially savvy entrepreneurs or those who lack experience in other markets. 

Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?

In my corporate life, I loved the work we did with Cisco in the area of ICT for development.   Cisco understood very well that in order to drive adoption of new technologies, we needed to develop capacity and IT skills.   So, when I was covering the United Nations as a client, not only were we equipping war-areas with essential communications but we also launched a lot of initiatives in the area of ICT for Development with WHO, UNDP, and many other agencies in the Balkans, Middle East, Latam just to mention a few.  The impact of those programmes was massive in terms of social mobility and upskilling countries in IT.   I also co-led delegations to ITU’s WSIS in Tunisia and other conferences and signed many PPP agreements.   

Recently, as founder of I-expand, the area that excites me the most is the Healthcare Go to Market Academy Programme which I have launched, to increase hands-on commercial skills for Tech entrepreneurs in a format where they can self-help themselves. Consultants need to shift the model from “holding information” to providing the tools, structure and guidance for the entrepreneurs to do it themselves.   This way we can help more startups, more efficiently.  

Last but not least, I have been working for nearly 2 years on the book: “Cash or Crash: How to launch a digital health business. Successfully“.   The book  provides entrepreneurs with the tools and structure to help them translate their product into a viable business. 

Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?

On the women topic, it is not only about asking for a voice -this is happening- but about demanding to be listened to. A lot of people are including women in the “photocall” but do they really have decision-making capacity?  I am not alone in feeling at times that we are not paid the same attention when we make a point.  My advice: Claim your spot and find your voice and an audience. Overall, whether women decide to stay at home or become an entrepreneur, we all deserve a voice.  Women are the #1 factor of societal change: They still manage the households, the children’s education and can be leaders themselves if they wish to.  Still in many countries, men decide for us what is best. We are half of the world’s population.  

On a global perspective, the change I would like to see is health for the planet and people. I work in healthcare, but we -humans- cannot survive if the planet dies out.  I believe this factor is also linked to the one above. More women in power might bring a different approach to how we handle conflict and the planet. 

Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?

Things are moving albeit still slowly.  It is not only external. There is an issue with mindset. I often feel that women shy away from powerful positions.  The reality is: it is scary.   But we can do it, we need to do it.  Women leaders can be a powerful force in bringing change and in normalizing female traits in the workplace. We are wired to be more nurturing and that can bring a lot of positive change. 

The issue is that we often lack role models.  But that can change quickly. I still remember when in Spain the leading party introduced 50% of female parity in their ranks not so long ago (15+ years). There was an outcry from the other parties saying it was “electoral” etc. What has happened? These days it is so normalized that if you do not see females “in the picture” people find it shocking.  My mother grew up during a dictatorship and she was not allowed to have even her own bank account.  As a girl who excelled at school, but from a humble and rural background,  she was only allowed to go through minimum education as “she was only a girl”, so her secondary school consisted in a seamstress and cooking course.  She made sure I did not go that path and has been the main force driving me through. I have 2 degrees, my own business and have been around the world. In one generation, we can change the paradigm. I see many countries going through that transition and it is very encouraging.

We can also drive that change in our company/ business. If you have a speaking slot, give a chance to that girl or woman that might not have the biggest title. Mentor, train, promote women. Celebrate your success so that it becomes normalized. People still sneer when women talk about their success. When  people describe a woman as “ambitious” it often has a bad connotation. There is too much bias. Look for women. When  I was interviewing digital health experts for the book, I assumed there were not enough women in the sector (I knew a lot of men). I was so wrong. Once I started to look for them, I found an incredible amount of talent. It is just that we do not drum success so much. We need more women entrepreneurs, also in Health Tech: solutions and even medicine is not female-focused and we suffer from that. 

What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?

Just do it. Do not wait till “you learn more, you are better, etc”.  Put down all those voices  that put us off doing something.   Be assertive and say no when needed.  Also, if you are not included, just get into that room and “work it”. If you are not even invited to the room: Organize your own and become a force of change by including those who are  also excluded but leaving the door open for the rest. That is what I did many times and I am still doing it. Let’s roar all together! 🙂