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The HEC Trajectory Award 2017 Spotlights Two Remarkable Women

The third edition of HEC Au Féminin’s Prix Trajectoires brought together successful women candidates who often struggle against the odds to impose themselves in their respective disciplines. The two winners this year epitomize the qualities of innovation, adaptability, hard work … and courage. Florence Allouche Ghrenassia was rewarded for her visionary work establishing a company which provides hope to those afflicted by retinal diseases; whilst Edwige Ravry took the “Prix Jeune Pousse”, (literally, “Young Sprout” award) for her success as a drilling engineer at Total. More than anyone, Edwige incarnated the 2017 theme for the awards: “The era and art of switching jobs”.

Remise Prix HEC au féminin 2017

If Florence Allouche Ghrenassia gets her way, millions of people should build a statue in her honor. Literally. The president of Sparing Vision has devoted the past 16 months developing therapeutic and innovative approaches to treat blinding retinal diseases such as Retinitis Pigmentosa. Around 40,000 people in France are afflicted by this inherited scourge. Some 2 million more share the same disease worldwide. “Sparing Vision’s emerging therapy has the potential to save the eyes of millions,” the HEC Executive MBA graduate 2012 explains on her website. “We will be starting the regulatory pre-clinical phase of study this year. The first clinical validation is planned for 2019.”

Little surprise, then, that Florence became the latest recipient of a prize attributed to women with remarkable trajectories in the business and entrepreneurial worlds. “Proud and honored to be the inspiring woman and winner of the Trajectoire HEC Prize 2017,” she wrote shortly after the October 24 award ceremony in central Paris. The gala evening marked ten years since HEC Au Féminin began scouring the business world to recognize women who reflect diverse and successful careers; serve as role models; and reflect the importance of gender diversity.

Foraging a Promising Career for Total

The winner of their Emerging Talents Award, Edwige Ravry, might not have believed someone who predicted where her professional career took her this past decade. Edwige’s four-year degree in HEC’s Grande Ecole had prepared her for a classic post in the branch of economics and project management, much like the one she went on to hold down at Total between 2007 and 2013. But a mixture of accident, fate, and especially her ability to seize the opportunity, allowed the mother-of-one to leave her position as joint-venture representative and plunge into the world of drilling. Fast forward four years, and Edwige is presently working on Total’s Jack-up Rig Prospector 5 offshore in the notoriously fickle North Sea, off of Aberdeen. “Life is a funny thing!” she exclaims. “I hated sciences at school. However, now that it’s concrete and immediately applicable, I can’t get enough of it.”

Edwige Ravry - HEC au Féminin 2017

Edwige Ravry is one of three drilling supervisors overseeing an almost-exclusively male working population of 100. She juggles between the rigors of her professional life and a challenging family life in Calgary, Alberta, where she and her 6-year-old girl are based. But the 34-year-old has no regrets and is indebted to the opportunities Total has afforded her: “At times my career switch has felt like a walk in the desert,” she admits, “it’s been a humbling experience requiring a lot of patience. But four years down the road it’s definitely paying off. I am seeing first hand that having a different background from your peers gives you a competitive advantage and a creative edge.” Indeed Edwige was the first among hundreds of Total drilling engineers to recognize the potential of Additive Manufacturing for drilling activities (using 3D technology). The engineer has been given corporate support to work on a research project assessing the “rig stand-by costs”. In the long run, this could be saved by manufacturing equipment on site “at the press of a button”, thus overcoming delays related to logistics, customs and weather. “I am proud to be an example of how Total truly puts diversity into action,” Edwige insists, “and that it works!”

HEC Au Féminin’s Gala: Just a Blast!

This example of innovation, initiative and enterprise made the choice of Edwige Ravry for HEC au Féminin’s Prix Jeune Pousse a logical one.  The association’s president Evelyne Kuoh believes Edwige is one of a growing number of women with exemplary paths to higher posts in the business and industry worlds: “The aim of our association is to give them greater visibility, to share their experiences with our network,” she says. “We also seek to create links between different groups and profiles, both professional and generational.” A few days after the award ceremony, Edwige wrote on her Facebook page: “What an honor to receive HEC Au Féminin’s Award and to get to share the story of my Career Switch: a business grad with a kid becomes a Rotational Drilling Engineer.”

Her experience on the night has given the engineer a taste for public speaking and mentoring. “The prize was totally unexpected,” Edwige chuckles. “When you’re immersed in your own industry, you’re not really aware what it represents for others. Sure, I know I’m the only business school graduate to ever have reached this position at Total. But you tend to lose perspective. The gala, its mentoring sessions, its exchanges… the whole thing was just a blast!”

Challenges Ahead for Sparing Vision

For Florence Allouche Ghrenassia, the evening was also one to savor. “Thank you HEC au Féminin for this unique, great event,” she later posted.  Yet, despite the highly satisfying start to her Sparing Vision company, the challenges remain. “The retina disease we are trying to eradicate is incurable so far,” she admitted, “and we’ve diagnosed mutations in over 63 genes known to cause Retinal Pigmentosa.” She added: “We now have the challenge of raising the funds needed to finance all the clinical studies we’ve embarked on. Then, we must find a way to put the medication on the market. It’s a matter of urgency, finding a cure to allow victims of this catastrophic disease not to become blind.”

Florence’s initiative has attracted major investors from around the world, notably Bpifrance Investissement which has poured in over €15.5 million. As a result of the initial results, Saving Vision received the prestigious ILab 2017 Grand Prix in July. Alongside the HEC Au Féminin award, it has made 2017 a red-letter year for this entrepreneur. The pioneer has combined a successful professorial career at Paris Descartes University, a long tenure as director of tech transfer and licensing at Les hopitaux de Paris, and a hugely ambitious venture devoted to opening the eyes of millions worldwide.