Melanie White: Innovating with Purpose – A Journey from Childhood Inspiration to Med-Tech Leadership

Thanks to CSIRO for introducing TechDiversity to Melanie White, Co-founder and CEO of Inova Medical.  She is also part of CSIRO’s ON Accelerate program Alumni, female founder of an early stage start up, med-tech innovator, mother and passionate about women seeing themselves represented.

We invited Melanie to participate in our Question and Answer (Q&A), as one of our pillars of communication is storytelling, and it is the most impactful way for us to communicate with our community.  We know this Q&A will be an inspiration to anyone considering a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

What made you want to become a scientist? Did you envision you’d become a founder of a med-tech company one day?

My interest in creating solutions for medical problems started when I was a young child.

When I was five years old, my aunt, who had cystic fibrosis, needed a lung transplant. During the long wait for her new lungs, she was on oxygen 24 hours per day. I really wanted to do something to help, so tried to make her a new pair of lungs instead. I raided the kitchen cupboards, and found pink sponges for lungs, sandwich bags for pleura, and straws for bronchi. I assembled these with tape and elastic bands, and proudly placed them on her chest while she was napping on the sofa. Thanks to incredible generosity of her donor and the donors family, my aunt received her new lungs and was able go to uni, travel, and become an award winning photographer.


While I had this fascination with science, I never expected that I would become a med-tech founder. I love that there are so many ways to be a scientist; it’s an evolving, multifaceted career that is very rewarding.

I relish being able to use tech to create meaningful impact. I use medical devices daily (hearing aids), and have so much appreciation for the people behind the technology and advances that improve my life. I want to be part of creating new tech that will solve problems, address unmet clinical needs, and improve quality of life.

I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I do.

As a founder, scientist, member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Women On Boards and the Graduate Management Association – what are the main barriers you see OR have experienced that still affect women’s access, support and trajectory in med-tech?

We need to normalise women starting careers in STEM, and staying in STEM careers.

The data show us that there are marked gender differences in STEM graduates, and once these women start their careers, their progression trajectories differ to their male counterparts. If they choose to pursue a career in medtech, the funding landscape is significantly skewed towards funding male led companies; a recent Forbes article notes that ‘female-only founder teams reached their highest-ever percentage, but this is in the context of just five per cent of funding flowing to all-female teams in 2023, and three percent throughout 2022, and two percent across 2021.’

I was very fortunate to attend a girls’ school that focused on STEM, and this had a significant bearing on how I perceived the options open to me. For me, it was normal to pursue subjects like chemistry, biology, and math that lead into an undergraduate science degree, and it was totally acceptable to blend these with humanities; there was no pressure be either science or humanities focused, so I felt free to blend both. In my year group, [x] percent of girls went on to study STEM at university. Once I started work at a university, my research team were predominantly women, so again, it felt normal for me to be there – but my experience is not the norm. As my career progressed, I realised that whilst there were many women in early and mid-career roles, senior roles were still male dominated.

Data from the OECD show that there are marked gender differences within STEM; women make up 32 percent of STEM graduates across OECD countries. Data from 2019 show that Australia is slightly below the average, sitting at 31 per cent. The STEM Equity Monitor shows that the proportion of women in STEM qualified occupations in Australia was only 15 percent in 2022, up from 11 percent in 2009, the year I started my first post-graduate job (reference). Women who continue to pursue careers in STEM face a 17 percent gender pay gap (reference).

What needs to change to see more women entering and staying in med-tech or becoming a founder? Why is this important for the future of innovation in Australia and what’s the cost if we don’t do more?

Diversity is a catalyst for innovation – we need diversity at all levels – gender, age, skill, culture, neuro and thought. I’m pleased to see more diversity now, than when I started 14 years ago, but there is still a lack of female founders. This needs to change. Addressing how women are valued in STEM careers, and the gender gaps in pay and the funding landscape are critical to seeing more women  choose and stay in STEM careers, take on leadership roles, found startups, and deliver great new tech to market. Only then will we truly ensure we achieve our potential as a nation of innovators.

How does Inova Medical support diverse representation in tech?

I’m really proud to be part of an organisation that supports diverse representation in tech. Diversity is apparent at every level of our organisation.

This brings a range of experiences, viewpoints, and heuristics to our discussions, and how we approach and solve problems.

This is important because diverse teams deliver stronger results; by the time we settle on something, we’ve already seen it through a number of lenses in the development phase. We’re also more open to feedback and potential pivots because we value diverse thought and perspectives.

What’s your advice for women with ambitions to either start a deep-tech venture or push past the barriers?

Your Team is so important; take the time to build a team of people that have the right skills, and are also a good fit for the type of culture you want to build in your organisation. You will be spending a lot of time together, so taking time to build and grow a strong team is a must. Remember that if you are a founder, you have the opportunity (and responsibility) to build the team, and set the organisational culture. It’s a chance to put your values into action.

There are so many ways to find and build a company. Reading widely about other startups, successful companies, leaders, and leadership styles really helped me. I really enjoy case studies to learn about what works, and how to turn things around when it’s not going to plan.

Your time is precious, and finding the balance between work, family, education, time to recharge etc. can be challenging. Choosing which opportunities to take can be difficult, but having a ‘no regrets’ mind set helps. Even when something unfolds totally differently to how I expected, I still try and learn as much as possible from it. One of my co-founders recently reminded me of an apt proverb: ‘The fines blades are forged in the hottest fires’.

If you could travel back to when you first envisioned starting Inova Medical, what brief advice would you give your past self?

Really simple things – but ones which have massive impact – like trust yourself Mel! I’d also remind myself of the importance of mentors in the way we learn. I’m fortunate to have incredibly inspiring female mentors who have taught me so much, and shown me what can be possible. We are so fortunate in Australia that as a nation we are taught to give back. I’m fortunate to have had a number of sage, inspiring women to look up to. I am incredibly grateful for the support others have shown to help me achieve my dream, goals and create impact.

How has your journey through CSIRO’s ON Accelerate program influenced Inova Medical’s trajectory?

Our participation in CSIRO’s ON Accelerate programme has been incredibly valuable. The theory and practical skills learned during the course gave the Inova Team a shared  language and knowledge base to discuss commercialisation. The support, both during the programme and afterwards, is unsurpassed. The ON Team generously opened their professional networks to us, helping us to connect with and learn from some of Australia’s best ecosystem members. The mentorship and advice we have received is invaluable.

As a female founder in med-tech, how do you navigate challenges and foster innovation?

Innovation is part of my DNA, and being a scientist, I love an evidence based approach. Learning about evidence based management, and how to harness this to be a better scientist was a turning point in my career.

I love the effervescent nerdiness of conversations with other STEM people – talking about new tech, different approaches, or shared problems is brilliant when you find ‘your people’. Inspiration, and innovation, flow from these conversations.

Yes, there are challenges, but that is where the fun begins – and it is being adaptable, and curious, that always guides you to the solutions.

In what ways does Inova Medical reflect your passion for diverse representation in tech?

As someone who is deeply passionate about diversity and inclusion, I’m proud to have built a team that is reflective of our community. The Inova Team and our interns represent a number of different cultures, we range in age from early 20s to our 50s, and our skills are diverse yet complementary.

This is our super power. It is what separates us from homogenous teams, and the risks of ‘groupthink’. As a woman in tech, I have long believed you need to see it to be it. As a leader, every day I commit to giving all young Australians a chance to see it – and I trust in future to be it.



Watch this video by Catriona Dixon of Toothless Parrot Communications at the ON Core event where she discussed Melanie White’s impact.

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