On a baking morning in July, Diva Tommei arrives at Naples Central Station on a train coming from Rome, where she was born and lived until she graduated in Biotechnology. As soon as you meet her you risk making a fatal error, the sort of error that springs directly from the way Italian culture tends to stereotype individuals and which she will explain very clearly to us in due course. Diva comes across as a very simple young woman - by which we mean that you would hardly guess you are standing in front of the CEO of a newly founded hi-tech start up promoted by the likes of Qualcomm Robotics - and is delightfully friendly as well as looking even younger than she already is.
Diva, 33 years old, is in Naples on her way to the Avio Aero site in Pomigliano d’Arco, where she is expected for one of the meetings organized by Cristina Faccia and the Women Network team to address topics of key importance for the whole network: ‘Women in Tech’ and ‘Balance the Equation’. This particular meeting was specifically dedicated to Personal Branding. “We were looking for an inspirational speaker who could provide a successful living model of personal branding” explains Cristina, Avio Aero Compliance Leader and local coordinator of the Women Network. “We can say we achieved total success, perhaps even giving something more because we managed to deliver Diva’s strength and passion to every one of the over 200 people video linked to the conference from our four sites,” says Cristina with delight.
The testimony brought for this personal branding conference was the career path of the young entrepreneur from Rome – an ascending as well as fast-track path, as in the best success stories. After graduating in Biotechnology, and with a home background in science thanks to her father, an engineer and inventor, Diva attended a PhD in Bioinformatics at Cambridge. There came the turning point, a sliding door moment indeed, because due to her reaction (perhaps typically a Mediterranean one) to the gloomy English weather and having to spend a lot of time in a rather dark office she developed a brilliant idea in order to solve a problem. Having started to suffer from a particular syndrome called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which made her feel tired and drained of energy, she decided to use a 3D printer to create the first heliostat prototype, or by all means the prototype of the invention that would have changed her life. For Diva went on to perfect the prototype that enables natural sunlight to be brought into indoor spaces, and many of her university colleagues and friends in the UK commissioned her to build the device for them since they could certainly enjoy its benefits even though they didn’t necessarily suffer from the same disorder.
At that point she had a brainwave and decided to enroll on a course in exponential technologies and entrepreneurship at the Singularity University in California. Rather than a traditional university, this is an organization whose mission is to “educate, inspire, and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity's great challenges”. There she had the opportunity to study how to promote her business and grow as an entrepreneur, while continuing to develop her product through science. She developed eight versions of her prototype, which gradually became smarter through improved software and mechanical solutions.
In the meantime, she went knocking at several doors until she found a leading business incubator, Qualcomm Robotics based in San Diego, California. Things became even more interesting when, in early 2015, Diva and her team (which is still growing and becoming more structured) developed the product they would launch on the market: Caia. This is a robot that uses natural sunlight to brighten up indoor spaces. It works through a smart rotating mirror that absorbs the sunlight and sends it (or redirects it thanks to artificial intelligence) into the space within which it is positioned. Its name evokes the power of female deities in ancient Rome, where Caia was the goddess of fire, healing and women. “The reason I founded Solenica and created Caia was to offer people a solution, if not necessarily to my own specific issue, to the various problems linked to lack of sunlight,” Diva explains, “perhaps out of the natural inclination towards inventions I’ve always had through my family background.”
“The first impression you get when talking to Diva is of a young woman who has put her heart and mind into everything she has done, and continues to do so,” says Paola Mascaro, Avio Aero Communications & Public Affairs Leader, who led the personal branding debate alongside Diva and also interviewed her for the Women Network, discussing all the key topics on gender disparities and the women in technology. And Diva has given a powerful and tangible example of this mix, including to Federica Esposito who followed the conference by video remotely connected and had this to say: “I was struck by Diva’s innovative approach and confidence in her abilities. Looking at her results and her out-of-the-box thinking I realized I was looking at a ‘woman in tech’ in flesh and blood!”
Another striking aspect is the strong male presence among the audience that Diva interacted with. This is an indication of the wide access to the Women’s Network and the fact that gender matters very little when it comes to learning about and discovering a successful model. “I greatly appreciated the frankness and honesty with which Diva presented herself,” says Andrea Pisoni, one of the male participants who followed the event from Turin. “She didn’t try to dazzle us with an ideal story where all her choices fitted together like a perfect puzzle,” he added, “instead, she told us about a path made of wrong turns and bad choices, but which eventually led her to making the right choice. I would even have titled the conference ‘Being yourself to achieve the best results’.”
“The most regrettable thing I find,” Diva revealed to us in connection with #balancetheequation, “is the attitude that some stakeholders have towards you, particularly in Italy, when you introduce yourself as a young woman entrepreneur with your hi-tech product. They make you feel like an inexperienced young girl, or use a tone of familiarity and endearment which is totally at odds with the professional approach you are doing your utmost to show.” But Diva went on to tell us that she gradually refined her approach and her way of presenting her company, especially to stakeholders of the ‘old school’ in Italy and Europe.
Looking at the admiration and level of attention in the eyes of the audience who met and listened to her in person – particularly the men – we can confirm that Diva’s new approach works brilliantly.