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EU Prize for Women Innovators

 

Meet the 2016 finalists!

We asked the finalists some questions. Click the link below each picture to read their answers.

If you print this page you will get the questions and answers of all the finalists.

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Zvia Agur

Photo of the finalist Prof. Zvia Agur is a scientist in the interdisciplinary domain interfacing biology, medicine and mathematics. She founded IMBM, a research institute for medical biomathematics, and Optimata, a company pioneering the development of mechanism-based mathematical algorithms for predicting improved patient therapy near Tel Aviv, Israel. Prof. Agur co-founded the European and the Israeli societies of Mathematical Biology, and presided over the latter.

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How did you choose to become a researcher and entrepreneur?
Becoming a scientist is not a choice – a scientist is born, not made!
I chose to become an entrepreneur when realizing that it was the best way to bring my scientific discoveries to the clinic.

What was the driving idea behind your choice?
Mathematical models of dynamical drug-patient interactions can rationalise and improve decision-making in medicine, and that I have the power to make that happen. 

Was it an easy road to arrive where you are now?
The road was rough, but it was the only way I had.

What does the term ‘innovator’ mean to you personally?
It means to have the endurance to persevere and pursue your avant-garde ideas, until successful implementation.

Was the EU research and innovation funding helpful in what you achieved?
As of FP5, my research at IMBM has been generously supported by EU funding. This funding helped opening new scientific horizons, notably, in cancer immunotherapy and in the control of cancer stem cells.  At Optimata, the support in the last four years, or so, has served for researching further applications of our unique technology. Hopefully, future achievements will justify this support.

Have you faced prejudice being a woman in research and entrepreneurship?
During over 3 decades of my career, both women and bio-mathematicians were being discriminated against in academia. A woman-biomathematician was affected twice as much. Now, as a woman-bio-mathematician-entrepreneur I am a “unicorn in the garden,”! In the long run, the unanimous skepticism about my capacity to make a difference only stimulated me and reinforced my determination.

What advice would you give to a woman making the step from a science career into entrepreneurship?
The most painstaking lesson of this step is the recognition that a good scientist does not automatically become a good entrepreneur: invest a considerable effort in recruiting the best businesspeople to drive your company to success.

Do you have hobbies or interests or another passion outside your work? 
Mostly, literature (reading/writing), and the use of fine arts as a means to bridge different sectors of society.

Is there a symbol, a proverb, a quote, an idea, that has guided you throughout your professional or personal life?
“The gull sees farthest who flies highest”
(Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970) by Richard Bach)

Sarah Bourke

Photo of the finalist Dr. Sarah Bourke is the Chief Executive Officer of Skytek Ltd in Dublin, Ireland, a company she co-founded in the late 1990s. She is a creator of several software applications that assist astronauts in controlling and managing emergency situations on board the International Space Station. Today, Skytek is a successful, global software development company serving the world’s most complex and demanding industries. Dr. Bourke is a doctoral graduate of Trinity College Dublin.

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What made you choose to become a researcher and entrepreneur?

Fate versus design led to the formation of Skytek. I met my business partner while working to promote commercialisation on University campuses in Ireland.  Together, we established our software research and development company.  One of our very first contracts was with the European Space Agency (ESA).  Through that small contract we proved our technical excellence and our relationship with the space industry has blossomed and grown ever since

Was it an easy road to arrive where you are now?

Like any new business, the early days were challenging to get our company established.  Learning how to tender effectively for research contracts and developing technology to the rigorous space qualifying standards were the key challenges I remember most from the early days.   Coming from working in a large organisation where you have support services to a small business took some adjusting to.  As CEO, I had numerous roles including photocopying and binding tenders.

In the early years of Skytek, I also became a mother and that fundamentally changed my life forever.  Gone was the freedom to work long hours and travel without notice.  Young children don’t understand you have a tender to submit, so finding a good work home balance was essential.

Building a company is like going on a voyage of discovery; there will always be bumps in the road.  Enjoying the journey is what matters.

What does the term ‘innovator’ mean to you personally?

For me Innovation is not just about business, it's about constantly looking at your life and the world around you and seeing how you can adapt or change things to make life better for you and others. Driving Innovation involves taking risks and not being afraid of change.  In my opinion fear and resistance to change are the greatest inhibitors to social change.

Was EU funding helpful to you?

The EU FP7 security programme has been fundamental to my company’s success.  During the early stages, the opportunity to undertake leading edge research in co-operation with key players in the European security industry enabled Skytek to showcase its skills and expertise to a European and international audience. 

Have you faced any prejudice being a woman in research and entrepreneurship?

Early in my career, prior to establishing Skytek, I experienced prejudice as a young, single woman in a male dominated environment.   Inappropriate sexist remarks were often made and some men found it difficult being managed by a woman.

With age comes confidence and an ability to manage difficult situations.  I think it is very important that I share my experiences with younger women and act as a mentor to them.  

On a positive note, I find that among the limited number of women in research, there is an excellent sense of camaraderie and friendship between us.

What advice would you give to a woman making the step from a scientific and research career into setting up their own business?

Entrepreneurship offers you complete freedom, but it also means that you are ultimately responsible for your company.   It is an exciting adventure where you get to do what you love.  But, bills have got to be paid and customers have to be satisfied.

Before you set up your business, think seriously about what you want to achieve.  Carefully research your business idea, from start-up cost to how much working capital you may require. What’s your concept? Is it unique? How will you stand out from the rest? .

A start up business needs good people; the identification of these people is crucial when commencing any business.

Finally, don’t rush into giving away large equity in your company to investors at an early stage of development.  Build up confidence in yourself and your entity before inviting others to join you in company ownership.

Do you have hobbies or interests or another passion outside your work?

As the mother of four daughters time outside the office is spent with my family.  The girls are all keen on sport, so my weekends usually involve traveling to swim meets or athletics events.  I am keen on exercising and keeping fit and healthy. Socially, I enjoy playing both Tennis & Golf with friends and family.

Is there a symbol, a proverb, a quote, an idea, that has guided you throughout your professional or private life?

“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”  (Anonymous).

Sarah Fredriksson

Photo of the finalist Dr. Sarah Fredriksson is a Founder and Chair of Genovis AB based in Lund, Sweden, whose innovative products are used by the global pharmaceutical industry for analysis and quality control of complex biological drugs. Sarah Fredriksson is the inventor of several granted patents and patent applications and co-author of several peer-reviewed papers. She has been a Board member of SwedeNanoTech and Sparbankstiftelsens Riskapitalstiftelse since 2012. She is a winner of the SNITS award in 1999, winner of the Malmö Börssällskap Award in 2004 and a winner of the Göran Award in 2007.

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How did you choose to become a researcher and entrepreneur? What was the driving idea behind your choice?
I wanted to join the research community in order to take part in something a lot bigger than myself and to contribute to that collective scientific effort trying to improve living conditions for mankind and nature.
Later I realized that science,  a passion for ideas that fulfill a need and entrepreneurship fit very well together.  I was driven into the challenge of becoming an entrepreneur without really questioning that choice.

Was it an easy road to arrive where you are now?
No, there have been hundreds of challenges to handle over the years.

What does the term ‘innovator’ mean to you personally?
An innovator recognizes an opportunity to deliver something new that changes the way we are doing things today.

Was the EU research and innovation funding helpful in what you achieved?  
Yes, it opened my eyes to the importance of network and collaborations within the innovation arena.

What advice would you give to a woman making the step from a science career into entrepreneurship?
Amelia Earhart once said “The most effective way to do it is to do it” and I agree.

Do you have hobbies or interests or another passion outside your work?
I love spending time with my family and friends and if I get the chance I enjoy horse riding and spending time close to the seaside just looking out over the sea.

Is there a symbol, a proverb, a quote, an idea, that has guided you throughout your professional or personal life?

As a little girl I dreamt of becoming a ballet dancer and I admired Michael Baryshnikov who once said “I do not try to dance better than anyone. I just try to dance better than myself” and that has since served as guide for me many times in my life. 

Claudia Gärtner

Photo of the finalist Dr. Claudia Gärtner is a Founder of microfluidic ChipShop in Jena, Germany. Microfluidics or “lab-on-a-chip” systems are considered as the enabling tool for a novel way towards analytics and diagnostics enabling the production of a wide range of tailored-made products and on-chip applications. In 2002 she was nominated for the German Founders Prize and received the Thuringian award for the best business concept for ChipShop. She leads a wide variety of research projects for the development of lab-on-a-chip systems for life science applications.

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Was it an easy road to arrive where you are now?
Starting the company, inventing, developing and fabricating novel things, being in a high tech or internationally active environment was natural and easy to follow. Managing growth is a surprising challenge when you face it yourself despite everybody warning you beforehand. My challenge has been the growth and building a team with the right mix of technological excellence, inspiration,  leadership and entrepreneurial spirit to create sustainable growth in the company.

What does the term ‘innovator’ mean to you personally?
My own perspective as an innovator is to create new things that are of use to people. That is my major aim, to bring creations successfully to the market and create commercial prosperity for my company, microfluidic ChipShop, for the benefit of my team and our customers.

Was the EU research and innovation funding helpful in what you achieved?  
The EU funding gave us a great support on several levels: Funding the development, enabling a European network of excellence in the R&D projects and supporting the international awareness of the results through fostering participation in conferences and exhibitions. These projects enabled us to have a huge product and technology portfolio, become well-established internationally and finally to keep the company shares, besides a minor fraction, in the founders’ hands.

Have you faced prejudice being a woman in research and entrepreneurship?
Personally I never felt underprivileged as woman, neither as researcher nor as entrepreneur. In the male-dominated high tech field in an interdisciplinary field of science and engineering women are much more visible than men – the same is true for the few female students in chemistry. Sometimes this gives pros, sometimes cons.

What advice would you give to a woman making the step from a science career into entrepreneurship?
Science & technology as well as engineering offer a perfect base for any career since you will be equipped with a solid knowledge base combined with analytical thinking. Starting your own company is fulfilling but takes time.

Do you have hobbies or interests or another passion outside your work?
Two main passions fill up 24 hours 7 days week: Having three kids and a fascinating job. Neglected hobbies are horse-back riding, skiing, skating, breeding all kinds of animals, reading, fashion and plenty of other interests that have  no room in the daily schedule. 

Is there a symbol, a proverb, a quote, an idea, that has guided you throughout your professional or personal life?
Finally everything works – but you need to work for it.

Pirkko Härkönen

Photo of the finalist Prof. Pirkko Härkönen is a professor of Medical Cell Biology, University of Turku, Finland and a co-founder of Hormos Medical and Pharmatest Services, CRO. Her research in hormonal cancer has contributed to the discovery of ospemifene, a clinically used hormonal drug, by Hormos, and the development of preclinical models offered by Pharmatest for testing novel drug compounds for breast and prostate cancer treatment.

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How did you choose to become a researcher and entrepreneur?
My research topic on steroid hormone action hormone-regulated cancer led me to collaborate with researchers of the local pharmaceutical company (Orion Pharma), which was developing a new antiestrogen, toremifene, for treatment of breast cancer. This experience and expertise encouraged me to join other researchers in starting a new project and founding a new company (Hormos Medical) for developing novel selective antiestrogen (SERM) molecules for preventing osteoporosis and for other indications. Through long-time efforts of many people this work led to discovery and development of ospemifene, now accepted for clinical use as menopausal hormone therapy and in the market (Osphena, Senshio).
Research on the SERM project provided development and establishment of many in vitro and in vivo models as university research products. This prompted an idea of founding another company, Pharmatest Services, a CRO, which would offer clinically relevant preclinical models for testing investigational drug compounds and other in oncology and skeletal diseases.
Besides being a co-founder and serving as a board member and scientific advisor, I have participated in the activities of these companies by providing ideas, expertise and models on the basis of my university research. In addition, I have trained or supervised the doctoral thesis of many researchers, who have then moved to or worked in the companies.

What does the term ‘innovator’ mean to you personally?
The term “innovator” means to me an attitude of looking for new ways of thinking and looking for possibilities of applying research results to solve diagnostic and therapeutic problems in medicine or relevant problems in other fields of human life and society.

Was the EU research and innovation funding helpful in what you achieved?  
An early partnership in an EU project and later EU projects or EuroTransBio granted to me or the companies have been of decisive importance for the success of the projects and progress of the companies.

Have you faced prejudice being a woman in research and entrepreneurship?
I have not experienced personal prejudice but during my research career I have seen a change in the general attitude from one of certain reservation to appreciation of entrepreneurship and industrial research among university researchers. 

What advice would you give to a woman making the step from a science career into entrepreneurship
My advice would be to be brave and determined and carry out as good and high-level research as possible and maintain good networks in pursuit of your goals.

Do you have hobbies or interests or another passion outside your work?
Literature and gardening are my dear hobbies.

Is there a symbol, a proverb, a quote, an idea, that has guided you throughout your professional or personal life

I guess that endless interest in research, optimism and persistence have guided my work.

Sirpa Jalkanen

Photo of the finalist Prof. Sirpa Jalkanen is MD/PhD, Professor of Immunology who has discovered unique molecular mechanisms regulating harmful cell trafficking and demonstrated the value of these molecules as drug targets to prevent harmful inflammations and the spread of cancer. She has co-founded two biotech companies, BioTie's and Faron Pharmaceuticals in Turku, Finland, now listed on the New York and London stock markets, and is exploring her discoveries in phase II/III clinical trials.

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What made you choose to become a researcher and entrepreneur?
I consider it as a fate. Being a clinician, I wanted to check, whether I can ‘survive’ as a scientist and when I did, I chose to continue in science and not to return to the clinics.  I have always wanted to know the answers to unknowns and when I found some potentially exploitable it formed the basis for the entrepreneurship.

What was the driving idea behind your choice?
As a clinician, I could have been able to help quite a limited number of patients during my whole career. I was thinking that concentrating to unravel the mechanisms regulating cell trafficking, which is a fundamental feature in harmful inflammations (such as arthritis, psoriasis, diabetes etc.) and cancer spread, I may discover something that may help a huge number of sick people.

Was it an easy road to arrive where you are now?
Science is never easy. It requires curiosity, persistence and hard work. (All easy things have already been found)

What does the term ‘innovator’ mean to you personally?
To generate new data that leads something concrete, a new product or ways to treat a problem – it is comforting to have been able to do such things

Was EU funding helpful to you
In years 2000-2004, validation and development of compounds and ways to target VAP-1 was conducted by my group together with BioTie Therapies and 3 other partners (me being the coordinator) and it was funded by FP5 (TUNEUP). Currently, the clinical trial targeting CD73 is funded by FP7 (TRAUMAKINE, coordinated by Faron Pharmaceuticals).
Overall, this funding has been and still is extremely important.

Have you faced any prejudice being a woman in research and entrepreneurship?
Personally I have not recognized/realized any prejudice or mistreatment because I am a woman.

What advice would you give to a woman making the step from a scientific and research career into setting up their own business?
If you have something to be exploited in industry, go for it. Use professional help, whenever needed, because the commercial world is very different from the academic one.

Do you have hobbies or interests or another passion outside your work?
I really like cooking, gardening, swimming and skiing. I also have a big family (husband, 3 children and 9 grand children) – thus, I am babysitting often and enjoy it a lot.

Is there a symbol, a proverb, a quote, an idea, that has guided you throughout your professional or private life?

The work that is not visible, is not worth of doing.

Sylviane Muller

Photo of the finalist Prof. Sylviane Muller (France) is co-founder of ImmuPharma, a drug development company based in London (UK) in 2000 . She discovered and deciphered the mode of action of the P140/Lupuzor peptide, currently evaluated in a phase III clinical trial for lupus by ImmuPharma. Lupus is a serious autoimmune disease for which there is no specific treatment. Prof. Muller is research director at the CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique, France) and Professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies of Strasbourg. She received two CNRS awards.

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How did you choose to become a researcher and entrepreneur?
To be honest, my early studies did not preordain me to be a researcher and even less to invest myself in the creation of start-ups. When I was 18 years old, my long-lasting dream was to work in a laboratory as a technician in medical analyses. While I started in such a laboratory after successful studies in a specialized course, someone, decisive in my life and working herself for years in this routine lab, changed my mind. She advised me to continue my studies and go further. It led me back to University to pursue my Masters, which in turn focused my career.

What was the driving idea behind your choice?
I am committed to the values of academic research that offers me the possibility to discuss in greater depth and stimulate exchanges of ideas and information with other passionate people. In my lab in CNRS I have this possibility and I do it with young researchers, experienced technicians and genius engineers, and also external collaborators who are working all over the world. Yet, when I realized that our data could be valued and contribute to improve the diagnostic of certain diseases or even treat patients, this increased enormously my own motivation. Not only to feel useful but also because if scientists do not do it, who will do it!
I had the huge chance to meet individuals, in our own Unit, who had the culture of patents and valuation of basic research, and also to meet entrepreneurs who trusted in our findings and invested their money in us. Today, with my teams, I develop new therapies that could benefit millions of patients throughout the world and significantly improve the quality of life of all those women and men who suffer from autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

Was it an easy road to arrive where you are now?
The answer is obviously, no. In this field, we have to constantly introduce new and innovative ideas and concepts. This means that we have to work hard but also continuously prove our capabilities and convince. However, every stage of my career has come as a surprise to me and I would say that today, I consider that I have the great privilege of being in a job that provides the opportunity to learn and always learn, and to exploit the results we generate in my team.

What does the term ‘innovator’ mean to you personally?
A person with a creative spirit, imagination, a sense of bifurcation, who thinks “outside the box”, takes risks, is not afraid to be rejected and proves he/she was right by the results he/she generates. 

Was the EU research and innovation funding helpful in what you achieved?
Yes, a lot! I thus had great opportunities to share other ideas, strategies and concept on a topic of my scientific interest and also regarding the managing of projects. I also had the great chance to travel, discover nice places in northern and southern Europe, other historical cultures, other culinary delights.

Have you faced prejudice being a woman in research and entrepreneurship?
Not really, but perhaps I didn’t see it!

What advice would you give to a woman making the step from a science career into entrepreneurship?
Just do it with motivation in your capabilities and consider that women and men have the same chance of going on to win if they have good ideas and a fair spirit. Do not expect to have a lot of free time, but remember to take the time to enjoy the journey you are taking with your associates and partners. Keep some time for thinking and projecting you into the future (even if each plan has to be continuously reconsidered). Don’t forget to have a family if it is your choice, it helps you a lot.

Do you have hobbies or interests or another passion outside your work?
I have very little time left but I like reading contemporary novels and also literature from classical authors. (The books I could not understand when I was in school!) Also I love cooking for my family and a few days per year, I enjoy going sailing in Brittany with my husband who is a true sailor.

Is there a symbol, a proverb, a quote, an idea, that has guided you throughout your professional or personal life?
Two maxims I use frequently:

  • Celui qui ne risque rien n'a rien: nothing ventured, nothing gained
  • On ne parle bien que de ce qu'on connaît: we speak well only of what we deeply know

Kira Radinsky

Photo of the finalist Dr. Kira Radinsky is the CTO/co-founder of SalesPredict in Netanya, Israel, where she pioneers predictive data mining using web information to predict sales conversions. Dr. Radinsky gained international recognition for her work at Microsoft Research for developing predictive algorithms that recognised the early warning signs of globally impactful events, such as disease epidemics and political unrest. In 2013, she was named one of MIT Technology Review’s 35 Young Innovators Under 35 and in 2015 Forbes named her one of 30 Under 30 Rising Stars in Enterprise Tech.

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What advice would you give to a woman making the step from a scientific and research career into setting up their own business?
I meet many talented women who strive to take their scientific inventions and wish to build a business. Many fear the uncertainty that comes with building a business. If you are going to start a new dream - be prepared to not only walk on unpaved ground but to actually find the way.
It takes a lot of courage to make a scientific idea work and many take it. Actually making a business out of it is a different challenge - but not less fun. Try to think about a business as this scientific idea that did not seem to work through all its way but at the end you made it work.
Focus on this moment of success. Remember it through the hard and good times of making your dream not only a scientific discovery but actually a step of taking it to the world and making a change.

Is there a symbol, a proverb, a quote, an idea, that has guided you throughout your professional or private life?
"I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb"

How did you choose to become a researcher and entrepreneur?
Since I was a child I dreamt about discovering and understanding the world. I knew I want to make an impact that will push humanity one step forward. That what drove me to research - as it is the cutting edge of what we know. I have made discoveries mainly in building artificial intelligence algorithms capable of predicting world impactful events, such as disease outbreaks, riots etc.
I very quickly discovered that many economic factors have correlation with possibilities of treating disease outbreaks. I have decided to build a system to try to predict those factors and quickly discovered that to actually make it work I would need extremely higher granular micro-economic data in addition to the macro economic data my algorithms were mining from the web.
But I felt I was playing in a sandbox. How can I make a real difference if I only stay in the comfort of academia without really making my algorithms work in practice in the real world.
This what drove me to take the discoveries and to become an entrepreneur - that not only dreams about science and make initial discoveries but actually builds them for impact.

How did you choose to become a researcher and entrepreneur?
The motivation to move into science derived from school. Seeing the fascinating changes in particular in the life sciences at those times inspired me to follow-up and achieve innovations through making new technologies and products happen. Studying chemistry and biology gave me a perfect background for a science career. Together with my entrepreneurial background from my parents, I ended up where I am: With my own company in a multidisciplinary high tech field covering life sciences, engineering, optics and a lot of enthusiasm in an international surrounding.

What was the driving idea behind your choice? 
To be an entrepreneur was always my choice. I wanted to create new things, make own decision and take responsibility for the and simply to shape my own way. Doing this in my own company is much faster than everywhere else what gives additional fun.

Susana Sargento

Photo of the finalist Dr. Susana Sargento is an Associate Professor with Habilitation at the University of Aveiro, Portugal and the Institute of Telecommunications, where she is leading the Network Architectures and Protocols group. She co-founded a vehicular networking company, Veniam, a spin-off of the Universities of Aveiro, Porto and Instituto de Telecomunicações, which builds a seamless low-cost vehicle-based internet infrastructure. Dr. Sargento has also undertaken the roles of Vice-President of Engineering and Head of Corporate Research.

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What made you choose to become a researcher and entrepreneur?
This has actually run smoothly with life. Being a researcher has started with the will to know more and more, always going further and working on different and evolving areas. The path to entrepreneur was due to a well-succeeded research: we were able to build something unique in the world, so let’s make it available to the world!

What was the driving idea behind your choice?
As previously stated, work on different and evolving areas.

Was it an easy road to arrive where you are now?
It is never easy. Going from an idea and prototype to a product, and sell the product is a long path. The path from researcher to an entrepreneur requires a complete change of mindset: the technical part and product are important, but the business models, management, marketing and securing investments are completely different challenges.

What does the term ‘innovator’ mean to you personally?
Being able to understand how a new research can modify the peoples’ lives in a near future.

Was EU funding helpful to you?
Absolutely! We have built a vehicular network infrastructure in Porto partly being funded by the European Commission through the 7th Framework Program (FP), under Future Cities project.

Have you faced any prejudice being a woman in research and entrepreneurship?
It is never easy to be a woman in a technological area, but other than that, I have seen no prejudice with respect to entrepreneurship.

What advice would you give to a woman making the step from a scientific and research career into setting up their own business?
I would give 2 advices:
1 – Think big! Try to understand what you need to make your innovation worldwide.
2 – Get connected to someone experienced in the business area and learn as much as you can.

Do you have hobbies or interests or another passion outside your work?
My hobbies are mainly related to relaxing in family, but I also do some sports (running and swimming) whenever possible.

Is there a symbol, a proverb, a quote, an idea, that has guided you throughout your professional or private life?

I don’t know if this is a quote, but I remember it a lot: Do not be the best, but be your best!