Dr. Isabell Franck
Founder of franck.AI
Founder and CEO of franck.AI Isabell Franck has the vision of a software product that makes zero waste production possible in order to increase the efficiency of manufacturing. She combines data science and machine learning with the field of engineering. In this interview she reveals what it means to her to be a CEO of a company she created and how she tackles struggles that cross her way. She’ll also explains what influences her and how intrinsic motivation and external factors come along in a reciprocal nature. She touches upon the issues of founding, employing and communicating within a company and after talking to her we have to say: Her thoughts and actions underlie an inspiringly positive and encouraging approach.
Q: Hi Isabell! When was the first time you thought about building franck.AI?
A: It all goes back to my research time at university. Our supervisor gave us the opportunity to work independently and try out different things. This opened my eyes that I wanted to create something. I realized I loved building up things. To me it is important that you can drive things forward and that I understand the background. I was lucky within my PhD that I found something like this and that I got some positive feedback in the industry. There was demand for this. Slowly, I started bringing pieces together, always creating a bigger puzzle which constantly evolves.
Q: Tell us a bit about franck.AI…
A: Industry 4.0 and Artificial Intelligence are on everyone’s mind these days and we already have concrete and effective solutions in practice. At franck.AI, we provide innovative software solutions that systematically combine machine intelligence with process knowledge. Using formalized expert knowledge and existing data, our products calculate the unknown parameter values and machine settings required for a high quality component. We dynamically optimize production.
Q: Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur? Where, for example, did you see yourself when you were a kid?
A: As a kid, I thought of being an astronaut or a pilot at first. Smiles.
Q: And as a student, where did you see yourself?
A: When I was a student I realized that there were many opportunities. I tried out different things to see what it was like working in consultancy or in a corporate. I was really fascinated with the variety of opportunities and I tested them to see what was best for me. I was quite open-minded regarding choices then I didn’t have a clear picture in mind.
Q: When you look at your career what would you consider your biggest challenge?
A: I think being a CEO of a company is really challenging. It’s a combination of smaller things. You think about finances, the strategy, how to get to the goal, how to adjust it, how to bring it forward and who will be on the team. That’s all really motivating but challenging at the same time because there are so many decisions you need to make. Probably, later on, I will have larger challenges but I think right now being the CEO of a company is a big challenge.
Q: Being the CEO involves a lot of responsibility, is it about the consequences?
A: I am not afraid about the consequences I just want them to go into the right directions. It is more that there are so many things going on at the same time.
I am not afraid about the consequences I just want them to go into the right directions .
Q: What motivates you most about your CEO role?
A: I like to push things forward . I love the product that we develop and I love to work with great people, and as the CEO I can decide who is in my team.
Q: How do you pick your team?
A: It depends on the position. For example, for an intern position it depends on the topic as well as on the applicant – whether the applicant is motivated and what the future might hold for the intern and us. I also like to have different personalities on the team: such as a more experienced person and a less experienced person – just different personalities and different knowledge. What I look for the most is motivation and intelligence; those are the most important traits. Sometimes it can take very long to pick a team, it also depends on the applicants of course.
Q: What was the reaction of your family and friends like when you wanted to start your own company?
A: My environment supported me: family, friends and different programs. During the first steps I think this is really helpful to make the blurred picture clearer. I wasn’t quite sure in the beginning
whether it would work the way I wanted it to but these external factors motivated me and pushed me to go this way. I think that if you find the way for yourself and people feel it, they try to support you. Obviously, they also make you aware of the risks but in a constructive way.
Q: What surprised you the most?
A: I am still really surprised about the support also from people who didn’t really know me beforehand. People from other businesses offered help. There was this CEO of a software company who offered a meeting to give me some advice. They spent hours of their time on it just because they wanted to give back from their experience, that was really helpful. I was surprised about the positive feedback and the amount of people who offered support.
Q: Did or do you have a role model?
A: Not a specific one. I have a great female mentor, she inspires me. There are different people that inspire me depending on the challenge I am having. I have two or three different people I really look up to.
Q: Who are these people?
A: One is my grandfather, who expresses things really good and who is very calm. Another one is Elke, my female mentor. She is very helpful and a real role model regarding driving things forward. She is very passionate about her things, and so am I.
Q: When you feel that you need support, what do you do?
A: If I need something specific, I contact people directly. But I also learn everyday by talking to people. This is where I get inspiration, advice and support.
Q: What would you do if you weren’t afraid ?
A: Maybe it’s because I take on things positively – I don’t necessarily feel fear, rather nervousness before big challenges. It’s hard to say you are afraid of something. I think it’s good to have respect
from certain decisions or actions and to think it through thoroughly, to think about potential consequences. Being afraid is a good thing and not necessarily negative.
I think it’s good to have respect from certain decisions or actions and to think it through thoroughly, to think about potential consequences. Being afraid is a good thing and not necessarily negative.
Q: Now it’s 2019 – where do you see yourself in 2025?
A: Such a tough question! I mean, five years ago I had a different image in mind and 10 years ago it was a different one as well. I just don’t know where I will be in 5 or 10 years. I would like to have an environment in which I can really change something and in which I have the money and the team to push things forward. An environment in which people like to work and support each other in a sustainable way.
Q: What does it take to be the CEO of your company?
A: Perseverance is important because not everything always works out fine. People often think that if you have a smart idea everything works out. The idea is only the beginning. Plants need water to grow and to evolve. Duration is really important and motivation as well. Being grounded, to be authentic. To not have a hierarchy in the way you treat people matters. Through motivation and vision, you will figure things out.
Q: Do you think there are “CEO-skills” you can learn?
A: Regarding the hard skills you can probably learn mostly anything but personality-wise you just are who you are. You shouldn’t learn to be different than you are. The more a person gets to try out the higher the chances are that the person can identify his/her personality. In terms of management skills, you probably have it in you already but you’re not aware of it. You can uncover potential which is not visible yet but can be made visible through providing a nurturing environment. I also develop and discover new skills all the time.
Q: Do you think that the lack of provision of these environments is a reason why we have less women in tech or in management positions?
A: Yes and no. Not every woman wants to be in tech and not every man is in tech. Women often don’t think about going into tech because they don’t know of it as a great field to work in. More
important to bringing more women in tech would be to help women identify during school what areas exist and to encourage them to try it out. Then, they can decide whether it is suitable for them or not. The earlier this awareness happens the more probable it is that they might follow a tech path.
Q: What do you think can be improved?
A: For instance, if you’re finishing high school and thinking about what you could study it is difficult to imagine what tech subjects might look like. The university side should draw a clear picture of what subjects exist and what the content includes: they should picture the variety of what is possible in this field. Starting from MedTech to classical mechanical engineering and to civil engineering; to show the different perspectives of those subjects. Otherwise people have a wrong image of the tech field – maybe a really masculine and cliché one.
Q: Do you think that the tech industry needs to change?
A: This might also help in addition. Industry-wise, it would be helpful to have more women in the area because that will show others that it is an interesting field. You wouldn’t have to change
anything, having more women in the field would by it self change the industry. It is kind of a chicken-egg problem. I noticed that other countries don’t have this problem, e.g. the US, Spain and France do have a lot of women in tech.
Q: What advice would you give other young women that want to go into the tech field?
A: Just do it .
Q: If you had to describe the tech field in three words what is it like?
A: Underestimated potential. Quite interdisciplinary. Innovative.
Underestimated potential. Quite interdisciplinary. Innovative.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: Not now.
Q: Thank you Isabell!