Elise Mekkaoui, in front of the sculpture by artist Urs Fischer, on the Alan Turing forecourt, where Station F is located, in Paris, on March 29, 2024.

In her office on Boulevard Raspail, Paris, within the Agoranov incubator, where she and her associates have been based for the past six months, 26-year-old Elise Mekkaoui was still processing the news. She is one of 13 female entrepreneurs selected by Station F, the huge start-up campus founded by Xavier Niel (also an individual shareholder in Le Monde), to benefit from a mentoring program in 2024.

Using artificial intelligence to help diagnose endometriosis was the idea with which the Matricis.ai founder convinced the jury, which seeks to promote women in the predominantly male-dominated tech industry. Given how little is known about this disease, her project is ambitious: “Today, the complexity of MRI image analysis makes it difficult to diagnose endometriosis. We want to make it quicker and more reliable, to speed up treatment. This is all the more important as, in addition to the pain it causes, endometriosis is responsible for many cases of infertility,” said Mekkaoui.

She knows her subject inside out. She speaks confidently, using startup jargon peppered with anglicisms. “I learned everything on the job,” she said, laughing. Mekkaoui does not come from the world of entrepreneurship. She is neither a doctor nor a data scientist, even though her passion for mathematics prompted her to pursue engineering schools after her preparatory classes (MPSI) at the Lycée Saint- Louis, Paris, when she was 20.

In line with her values

She then failed the competitive entrance exams but her disappointment eventually turned into a springboard: She joined a top business school, EDHEC, and went on to do a double master’s in data analysis with Maastricht University. “I’ve already experienced failure, so I’m no longer afraid of it.” For a long time, Mekkaoui considered putting her skills at the service of the government, opting for internships in public consultancy and at the Inspection Générale des Finances (General Inspectorate of Finance), where she supported environmentally friendly businesses: “I was more attracted by the meaning of my work than by profit.” While she now moderates her statements, she retains the desire to act in line with her values, which she describes as “very left-wing.”

This commitment was instilled in her by her parents, who were both dedicated to public service. Mekkaoui was born in 1997 to a mother who was a French teacher and a father who was a hospital technical director. She grew up in Meaux (Seine-et-Marne), 55 kilometers from the capital. As a teenager, like many young people from the inner suburbs, Mekkaoui dreamed of living in Paris. She was a brilliant student and quickly realized that she would gain her freedom through wisdom: “Even at high school, I didn’t mess about,” she said. However, far from blindly obeying, she questioned inequalities from a young age, couldn’t stand favoritism, and even boycotted the snacks reserved for the best students organized by the head of her school at the time. Mekkaoui laughed while recounting this anecdote, finding it somewhat ridiculous. However, she knew that her political conscience was awakening in this initial attempt at rebellion.

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