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Nina Bufi

A Journey from Childhood Curiosity to Interdisciplinary Healthcare Innovator

Nina Bufi grew up in a household of engineers, where her father's unique approach to bedtime stories ignited a lifelong passion for science.  Instead of fairy tales, she learned about the wonders of physics and engineering through practical demonstrations, like using a ball and light to explain lunar phases.  This early exposure laid the foundation for her academic and professional journey.

Excelling in various subjects at school, Nina had the potential to venture into diverse academic fields.  However, her experience with a government institution that involved youth in the lawmaking process for safeguarding children's rights solidified her inclination towards science.  This opportunity provided her with a glimpse into the practical impact of scientific knowledge in policy-making.

Nina’s pursuit of academic excellence led her to École Polytechnique in France where she explored her interest in biology while maintaining her engineering focus. This duality in interests then took her to McGill University in Canada, where she conducted pioneering research in biomechanics.  Her work concentrated on helping individuals recover their voices post-surgery and developing exercises to facilitate vocal cord rehabilitation.

Driven by a deep-seated fascination with biology, Nina pursued a Ph.D. in biophysics,  applying principles of mechanical engineering to study the immune system.  She discovered that changes in the mechanical properties of immune cells during inflammation have significant implications for immune response, revealing a critical physical-biological interplay.

Throughout her career, Nina has been drawn to interdisciplinary fields, seamlessly integrating diverse disciplines.  Her unique approach to science, combining the rigors of engineering with the intricacies of biology, has established her as an innovative thinker and a leading figure in biophysics, mechanical engineering and healthcare.

Early Career Lessons as a Start-Up Executive

Nina’s first executive healthcare role was as the COO at Sensome, a spin-off from École Polytechnique which was focused on developing an in-house microsensor for invasive medical devices.  Its first application was the Clotid smart Guidewire for facilitating smoother stroke interventions.  The technical challenges were significant as they aimed to integrate a microsensor, just 15 microns thin, into a neurovascular guidewire.  As Nina described, this task was akin to “shooting for the moon” due to its complexity and the delicate balance of maintaining the guidewire's mechanical properties while adding the sensor.  In her role as COO, Nina was deeply involved in a range of responsibilities from fundraising to regulatory affairs, clinical operations and team management.

Nina quickly learned the challenges of scaling a startup.  Initially, small teams operate without a formal management structure, but as they grow, the need for organization becomes apparent. The critical challenge, as Nina observed, was implementing a structure that doesn’t stifle creativity and fluidity. This led to her discovery of "teal organizations," a concept under the umbrella of self-management, which emphasizes a non-hierarchical approach to leadership.  Though she had no formal management training, Nina was fascinated by the concept, so she implemented a version of the methodology in her startup.  

Although she achieved notable successes, Nina encountered difficulties, primarily in driving change management.  Her scientific training had equipped her to devise solutions for tangible problems, but managing people required a different approach. Recognizing this, Nina pursued training in change management and executive coaching. Her goal was to understand how to initiate the willingness to change and to develop solutions that encompassed the team's needs and perspectives.

Supporting the Journey to Innovative Management Systems

Nina is the driving force behind a collective named "Open Opale" (Opale being the French word for 'teal'). This collective, comprising leaders who share a passion for organic organizational structures and adaptable management systems, has grown significantly and focuses on the creation of adaptable management systems.  This approach has led to impactful initiatives, like transforming a major French bank in Poland.  

Although her background is deeply rooted in tech and innovation, Nina's venture into management systems often surprises many.  Her skills in team facilitation and collaboration are particularly effective in projects like due diligence, where she has to motivate a diverse team of experts and business professionals. 

Nina's unique ability to 'spark joy' and provide autonomy has made her projects highly regarded, even those perceived as side tasks. She notes, "I've always managed that quite brilliantly... I know how to spark joy and how to give people space."

Her journey has also evolved into specialized coaching, focusing on guiding CEOs and leaders towards non-hierarchical management systems.  Nina has seamlessly integrated her executive coaching skills with her scientific and technical acumen. This unique combination has enabled her to manage teams effectively and foster environments conducive to innovation and growth.

Nina’s Path from the French Ministry of Health to NLC and Biogen

In 2019, Nina established her own consulting business, leveraging her expertise in medical innovation and teal management. However, the onset of COVID-19 led to a pivot in her career.  Towards the end of 2020, she worked as a Venture Partner for NLC Health, assessing early stage healthcare venture opportunities, often spin outs from university technology transfer offices across France, Italy and Spain.  

In late 2021, Nina received a call from a headhunter for a position at the French Ministry of Health.  Serendipitously, Nina received a second call around the same time from the head of a newly formed digital health unit at the Ministry who was familiar with Nina’s work on self-managed organizations.  This unplanned alignment led her to join the Digital Health Ministerial Delegation as eHealth Projects Director.  

At the Ministry, Nina was instrumental in helping to steer a €650 million plan to support the digital health innovation ecosystem.  Notably, she influenced the launch of PECAN, a specific fast-track reimbursement pathway for digital health solutions.  She successfully advocated for the interests of young startups in pricing negotiations, ensuring a level playing field in the market.  However, her efforts to implement self-managed organizational structures faced challenges, particularly due to resistance from traditional leadership styles within the Ministry.

Nina’s expertise attracted the attention of Biogen's head of digital health and she joined Biogen in May 2022.  As the lead of Biogen Digital Health Ventures, her focus was screening and selecting digital therapeutics (DTx) in order to build a pipeline of digital assets.  Unfortunately, in September 2023, Biogen announced that it would be shutting down Biogen Digital Health in order to “leverage external capabilities and partnerships to capture advances…that are closely linked to evolving R&D and areas of focus.”

Nina’s journey through a variety of diverse roles highlights her adaptability, leadership in innovation and her ability to influence public policy and corporate strategies.

The Evolution of Digital Health 

Nina offers insightful predictions for the development of digital health in the next three to five years.  She emphasizes the emergence and significance of platform-based solutions and is particularly focused on Digital Therapeutics (DTx).  She believes their success hinges on capturing the consumer market, as she is skeptical about the viability of their reimbursement models and prescription rates.  She mentioned that “DTx needs to adopt consumer-centric business models, drawing expertise from companies like Amazon that excel in customer focus.”  

Nina sees a promising opportunity by targeting consumers' willingness to pay and specializing in niche markets.  An example Nina cited was the development of a DTx for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), demonstrating the potential in addressing specific, narrow needs. This approach could be pivotal for DTx companies, allowing them to thrive in a market where broader business models may not be as effective.

Nina’s Next Act

Nina has identified three types of roles where she truly excels. The first is as a CEO, Chief of Staff or as a senior-level leader in a start-up. These roles allow her to be at the forefront of strategic decision-making and organizational growth.

Her second area of expertise lies in business development, either within a medical device company or in the pharmaceutical industry.  Here, her focus is on innovation, specifically identifying emerging players and forging strategic partnerships, leading to successful commercialization.  She finds this role particularly rewarding as it moves beyond early-stage innovation, bringing her closer to market launches and patient impact.

The third role that resonates with her professional aspirations is in venture capital.  She views this as the cornerstone of the innovation ecosystem, offering a unique vantage point to influence and shape emerging businesses.  Her varied career experiences, spanning multiple roles of varying durations, have shaped her adaptability and versatility.  Venture capital, with its long investment cycles, presents an opportunity for her to test her skills and endurance over extended periods, a challenge she finds appealing and well-suited to her diverse skill set and experience.


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