Stéphanie Roland: The Winner of AmCham EU Youth Entrepreneurship Award 2020
It was a little company initiated during the Junior Achievement program at a young age that actually shaped Stéphanie's mindset and made her believe that becoming an entrepreneur was possible. Today Stéphanie Roland is the founder, and CEO of SAANA, a healthcare technology company built for cancer patients and survivors to support their fight. Based on patients’ conditions, smart technology, the latest science, and expert recommendations, it strives to improve their quality of life and nutritional status. Recently SAANA was also announced as the winner of the AmCham EU Youth Entrepreneurship Award, organized in collaboration with JA Europe, that aims to encourage and support the entrepreneurial mindsets of young Europeans.
We invite you to take a look at Stéphanie’s story as proof of JA’s impact in her first entrepreneurial decisions and in how the course of her near future changed while connecting the dots of her past story.
Could you share some of your feelings behind the entire competition phase until you were announced the winner?
Sincerely, I never thought I could win because of the impressive journey of the other female participants as well. So I must admit that I was as surprised as everybody when they announced us winners. It was a very emotional moment for me (even if it was only online) also because the EU Commissioner mentioned my personal story when announcing the winner that led me to create this company (I lost my mother to cancer at age 15).
How did you get the initial idea for creating Saana?
I lived in NYC for 3 years from 2017 to 2020. Because of a documentary I randomly watched on TV, I discovered, for the first time, that there seemed to exist a lot of scientific research behind the link between cancer and nutrition. I had never thought of that, as for me, cancer was in my genes anyway. I got directly passionate about the topic and spent the first year in NYC studying (as an engineer myself) the state of the art on what could impact cancer initiation and development. And the idea of Saana was born right after.
When did you meet with JA and what role did it play during your career?
As a teenager, I had created with a bunch of friends a "mini-enterprise", which is a yearly project at age 16-17 that is organized by the local JA entity in Belgium. Even if our product was not very innovative per se, it was my first "entrepreneurial" experience, that gave me a taste of which was going to become my life passion: creating projects that make sense.
Is there anything you wish you knew before starting the entrepreneurial experience? Was entrepreneurship born with you, or was it rather something that developed over time?
At school and at my university, we are taught to follow a more conventional career and studies. Therefore, I studied engineering and had planned, like others, to join big corporations or consulting groups right after. However, because I became bored with my Master, I found at my university a multidisciplinary program called 'Creation of Small & Medium Companies" (CPME) that I decided to incorporate in my Masters. That was the cornerstone of my new passion: entrepreneurship. If I had not discovered this program, I would not have developed this entrepreneurial passion. Then, I have worked only 11 months for someone else than myself :).
So I think entrepreneurship can be born with you, but it is surely something that grows within you depending on your environment (familial, at school, or other) that should nurture those skills.
Is there a story that stands out from your journey until now, a funny or a weird one?
The story that will stand out is the coming one: having a baby while trying to get a fresh new startup off the ground :). I'm having my first baby in a few days (Sept 27) and that's a challenge since we are a very small company and the team where everyone has his/her own skills. but I believe that when stars start to align, they won't stop.
What do your future goals look like?
My future goal is to prove we have a real impact on patients. If I can show that I improve the health or chances of remission of cancer patients by even just 1%, I would be the happiest founder.
At the beginning of this article, you met a young and enthusiastic winner that grew from a bold college student with dynamic choices. Today, she is a young entrepreneur making smart and creative investments, as well as a believer and an amazing mom to be.