Maryam Sadeghi
Credit: Adam Blasberg

Co-founder and CEO, MetaOptima Technology

“As a computer scientist, if I’m going to spend the rest of my life behind a computer, I’d like to work on things I love and I can see the impact,” says Maryam Sadeghi, whose Vancouver company, MetaOptima Technology Inc., co-founded in 2012 with her husband, Majid Razmara, develops technologies to diagnose skin conditions such as cancer: MoleScope, for example, a smartphone device that scans and tracks changes in moles and allows users to send the results to their dermatologist. Knowing the power of data, Sadeghi had recognized the potential for using technology in dermatology.

After obtaining a BSc in computer engineering from Tehran’s Iran University of Science and Technology, Sadeghi got her PhD in computing science from SFU while also training in the Skin Care Centre at UBC’s Department of Dermatology and Skin Science. Winning the gold award at the 2011 World Congress of Dermatology (like the skin research Olympics, she says) in Seoul, for her skin cancer detection program, started her thinking about launching a real business and a real product.

In the scientific world, you don’t see much difference being a woman, Sadeghi says, so she was shocked by some of her early business experiences. When negotiating a deal where her husband, Meta-Optima’s chief technology officer, was present, everyone would talk to him. “I’m like, sorry, I’m the CEO. I’m the business decision maker,” she would tell them, and yet, though she laughs about it now, they continued addressing Razmara. Sadeghi also sometimes found that potential investors were skeptical about her abilities. She decided, “I don’t have to convince everyone that I see in my life that I can do it. I just need to come [up] with four or five good people who will share my dream and vision to make a difference.” Ultimately, she believes, as a scientist, that numbers will talk.

How can we get more women into STEM?

When Sadeghi talks to girls at high-school events to promote computing science, she stresses how cool it is to write games—to imagine something and create it. “Then you see others are using what you created, and you change people’s life,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a life science or medical product. There’s so many products that we use every day.”