Two young female entrepreneurs from EPFL win the Musy Award

Clara Moldovan and Margaux Duchamp © 2021 Alain Herzog

Clara Moldovan and Margaux Duchamp © 2021 Alain Herzog

Clara Moldovan, the founder of Swistor, and Margaux Duchamp, the founder of ArcoScreen – both determined young EPFL graduates – are the two winners of this year’s Isabelle Musy Award. The award is given out every two years to outstanding female entrepreneurs from the French- and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland, and comes with CHF 50,000 in prize money.

Only 6.8% of Swiss startups are headed by women, according to the latest Swiss Startup Radar report. This is roughly in line with other countries – nowhere does the percentage exceed 10% – and female-led startups in Europe tend to raise approximately a third less capital than their male-led counterparts during fund-raising rounds. Isabelle Musy, now a retired teacher, came up with these figures a few years back in an attempt to quantify gender inequality in entrepreneurship. To help promote these ambitious young women, she worked with EPFL’s startup unit to set up the award and associated prize money. Launched six years ago, the Isabelle Musy Award is given out every two years to a startup led by a female researcher based in the French- or Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. But this year two winners were chosen among the many excellent candidates: Clara Moldovan, the founder of Swistor, which makes energy storage devices; and Margaux Duchamp, the founder of ArcoScreen, a biotech company.

Charging smartphones in two minutes

Swistor develops and markets high-performance energy storage devices that can replace rechargeable batteries. Their system uses a supercapacitor to deliver unparalleled energy density and power. “Our technology offers a genuine alternative to Li-ion batteries, which can be risky to use and are really damaging for the environment,” says Moldovan. She first started developing her technology at EPFL, creating carbon nanotubes that are aligned vertically into highly dense networks. Swistor’s environmentally friendly system can be charged between 10 and 100 times faster than existing batteries and its lifetime is 30 times longer. “You could charge a smartphone in under two minutes, for example,” says Moldovan. In addition, their system is compatible with existing semiconductor fabrication processes. “We designed it to be miniaturized and low-cost, meaning it can be integrated into electronic devices easily and without any increase in production costs,” she adds.

Facilitating drug discovery

ArcoScreen’s microfluidic system makes it faster and easier to develop new drugs for major diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cardiovascular illness. “Over 35% of the drugs currently out there work by targeting G-protein coupled receptors,” says Margaux Duchamp, who will be the company’s CEO once it is set up. The process for discovering new drugs that target these receptors can take several days and requires a hefty investment. It involves using approximate model cells that do not exactly resemble patient cells, thereby increasing the possibility of failure during clinical trials. With ArcoScreen’s system, scientists can detect molecules that activate G-protein coupled receptors more precisely and with just a single assay, speeding up the process and generating more detailed information compared with existing methods. “Because our system can be used directly on patient cells, scientists can spot potential secondary effects of new drugs even before the clinical trial phase. We have already filed a patent for our invention,” says Duchamp.