Founder-CEO Interview Series


Petronela Sandulache

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Petronela is the Founder of CorDiFio Health with the mission to raise awareness and early-detect heart disease in women. With 10 years of consulting experience in innovation and strategy, startups and emerging technologies across three continents, and in industries spanning from automotive to healthcare, from printing to financial services, she is determined to empower every woman to be in control of her own health. 

She holds a BA in Economics from the University of Rome (Italy) and a MA in International Management from the University of Sydney (Australia) and the London School of Economics (UK), CEMS – top of the Dean’s list. She loves working within diverse and multicultural teams, and speaks fluently 4 languages. New ideas, travelling, philosophy as well as good and healthy food are part of her favorite topics of enjoyment.

Her motto for CorDiFio: Talk to the women you love! And let’s make their hearts beat longer!

Founder-CEO Interview Series

With: Petronela Sandulache

What does CorDiFio stand for and why did you decide to found this firm?

CorDiFio is an awareness raising and early-detection AI-powered platform to empower women and doctors in reaching the right heart disease diagnosis in a timely manner. Time is Muscle.

CorDiFio in Italian means “Heart of Fio”, Fiorella was the name of the most important person in my life. Without her, I would not be here. She has given me life and opportunities, and three years ago, in 2018, sadly, a misdiagnosis in Rome cost her life.

At that time, I was based in Berlin, where I was innovation lead in a corporate incubator in the automotive industry. We were experimenting with AI and blockchain applied to projects in the autonomous driving space. I was at work in Silicon Valley when I received the phone call asking me to come to Rome quickly. I jumped on the first plane available but it was too late.

After this terrible loss and pain which I cannot describe, I decided to take a sabbatical year and do the things that I’ve always aspired to do. As many professionals out there, I went straight into the corporate world after my studies, and all that had been really exciting. However, I never felt that I was doing something that gave back to those who needed it the most.

For this sabbatical I wanted to give my contribution to the world and pay tribute to all the wonderful people who have helped me along the way, and so, I went to teach economics and statistics to high school students at Shanti Bhavan, a school based in one of the most challenging parts of the world. Education is the thing that saved me, and I believe that all kids deserve to be educated if we want to solve this world’s problems. This was my chance to contribute to the education of those who don’t have as many opportunities as we in the western world.

Shanti Bhavan School – Daughter’s of Destiny Documentary on Netflix – a must watch.

Women are seven times more likely than men to be misdiagnosed.

When I returned back to Europe a few months later, I wanted to learn German and coding. While doing this, I was thinking about what happened in my family and started researching.

All this to find out, that

  • The number one killer of women, more than all cancers combined, is heart disease.
  • 50% of women, following a heart attack, get diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or heartburn.
  • This causes women to die from something that is 80% preventable if caught in time.

I had to do something about it.

How can there be such a high rate of misdiagnosis of heart disease in women?

There is also a gender bias in the medical field.  According to various studies, women are seven times more likely than men to be misdiagnosed. The majority of the medical concepts of most diseases are based on understandings of male physiology, and women have altogether different symptoms than men. (Click here for source)

The tricky part with heart diseases in women is that they may present atypical symptoms which are not the classic male ones. One thing I have learned during my various interactions with global experts is that the majority of medical studies and clinical trials are conducted on men, and only recently women have been taken into consideration. This is probably due to the fact that women are a tiny bit more complex with all the different hormones and possibility of becoming pregnant.

Additionally, it is said that women are more than twice as likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than men. When a symptom is reported, it is really tricky to differentiate between mental illness versus cardiovascular or other diseases. Recently, I attended the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Summit where a few specialists brought up these concerns while adding that women face the constant risk of not being referred to a cardiologist in time.

For instance, when women visit a doctor, they sometimes describe their symptoms as having anxiety, panic attacks or having trouble sleeping. That woman probably will be more likely diagnosed with anxiety or depression, and as a result she gets sent or referred to a therapist or psychologist or asked to go home and meditate. On the other hand, men in general, would never use these words to describe their symptoms, and are more easily referred to a cardiologist for further investigation. Delays in diagnosis can be fatal. (Click here for source)

Another issue is that there are not a lot of data sets on Women’s Health beyond fertility and menopause. But menopause doesn’t kill you. Heart disease does, and it is the number one cause of death in women and men globally.

Can you share more from the findings of your research?

When I spoke with various women survivors from heart attacks, all of them tell the same story apart from one patient who used to be a cardiac nurse. She identified the problem, told her doctor what she had and got a stent for her heart.

Unfortunately, for most other women, their problems started in their early 30s, and were told “It’s in your head, because you are stressed, or got married or because you’re in a new country.”

An American woman and her husband who lived in Zurich happened to experience this. She was told that the reason she was unwell was because she was experiencing anxiety from living in a different country, adapting to a new culture, trying to learn German and looking for a job. The high level of stress and anxiety continued for several years.

A few years later back in the US, at the age of 48, she one day felt a deep pain first in her back, then chest, then jaw. She had a really bad feeling, and upon arriving at the hospital by ambulance, was told that she was having a heart attack. She died in the emergency room and they resuscitated her. She died in the operating theatre and was resuscitated a second time. She eventually survived the operation. Finally, the diagnosis was SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection).

Having heard these women’s stories, I started contacting international experts, including Dr. Alyson McGregor, a Professor of Emergency in Boston, and a TED Talk-speaker, which left a deep impression on me, about how male-centric medicine often endangers women’s health.

I told her my story, what I was trying to do, and she told me to push ahead. She said that raising awareness for heart disease in women is much needed and with my motivation as a Change Agent I can drive part of this change. Since then, with her encouragement, I started CorDiFio’s journey. Dr McGregor believed in the cause and now is also our Scientific Advisor, which is a huge honour for me.

What does CorDiFio do?

CorDiFio solution is a dedicated heart disease awareness & early detection AI-powered platform to empower both women & doctors to reach the right diagnosis in a timely manner. “Time is Muscle” for heart diseases.

Initially, the platform has 3 pillars: 

  1. Education & community – it is all about raising awareness through education and encouraging people to talk in their communities about this issue. Everybody talks and knows about breast cancer, which is fantastic, but breast cancer kills less than 3% of women. (Click here for source)

2. Doctor engagement – it is key for women to ask their doctors the right questions and have their doctors as their health partners. Doctors are time poor and so, it is critical for a patient to be fact-based when it comes to identifying health problems. Doctors are here to help us.

3. Personalised insights – we conduct a risk assessment and generate a heart health score that a woman and a doctor can look at together. This component will leverage AI to underpin the personalised scoring and reporting on various risk factors.

CorDiFio can also help doctors save time. Even if it’s just five minutes, the benefit behind that can be huge. Our goal is to accelerate detection and identification of heart problems before they become big. We should not have to wait for a heart attack. We do not want more women to lose their lives when it is 80% preventable.

If we can raise awareness the same way for breast cancer and identify the problem when it’s small, we can push down those horrible statistics. We want the impact now. We can achieve it because as women, we can get together and start making a difference. Men are invited to be part of this effort as they have important women in their lives to care for… their mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, colleagues.

I’d like to highlight a last important point: heart attacks in women are also more aggressive than in men, as women are three times more likely to become disabled. And when a woman becomes disabled, she loses her job and will need to depend on her family or the government. Imagine, big productivity loss for the whole society as well.

Where are you at today?

I am proud to mention that we have applied to various startup programmes in Europe and got accepted in all of them. Such an honour and validation that we are on the right path. Now we are part of Strategyzer’s startup program – we were one of the 10 startups out of 200 applications to make it, BlueLion’s LikeMinded program in Zurich as well as Tech4Eva – the first startup accelerator in the field of FemTech in Switzerland and a partnership between EPFL and Groupe Mutuel.

As a startup, CorDiFio is still in the early stage of its journey, and with our global core team we are progressing our product development trajectory and market testing. Also, we are grateful for being endorsed by a strong team of advisors from different sectors and with an extensive global network.

Currently, we are in discussions with various funding entities and now looking to engage especially with investors who are interested in impactful projects like ours with a deep societal focus as well as deep tech/AI component.

In addition to our product development, we are building a global community of women and men ambassadors who want to make a tangible difference in people’s lives.

Together, let’s make women’s hearts beat longer! Thanks to you.


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