24/08/2017 – Leadership / Technology / Entrepreneurs

Female Trailblazers in Tech

With 50 per cent less access to funding and attracting only seven per cent of venture capitalist money to support their ventures, women entrepreneurs in tech invariably have the odds stacked against them. Nonetheless, those that are successfully financed typically perform 63 per cent better than their male counterparts, according to HBR. The following 10 female founders are prime examples of such trail-blazing tenacity.

 

With 50 per cent less access to funding and attracting only seven per cent of venture capitalist money to support their ventures, women entrepreneurs in tech invariably have the odds stacked against them. Nonetheless, those that are successfully financed typically perform 63 per cent better than their male counterparts, according to HBR. The following 10 female founders are prime examples of such trail-blazing tenacity.

 

Somewhat depressingly, an enormous amount of data compiled for the 2013 book ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ by Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook’s celebrated Chief Operating Officer – presents an overwhelmingly convincing case that success and likability do not go together for women.  Sandberg discusses how “success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women”.  The higher on the corporate ladder a woman climbs, the less likeable she is perceived to be.  In the case of a man, the opposite holds true.  And while attitudes have arguably become more progressive in the years since Sandberg’s book was first published, the need to highlight the successes of women in tech – a field in which they remain significantly underfunded and under-represented – nonetheless remains key to encouraging more women into the sector and to apply for financing in their startups.

 

Encouragingly, myriad female-positive initiatives have emerged in recent years to actively impact the gender disparity in the tech sector – from Girls Who Code, a non-profit project aimed at keeping young students interested in learning computer science, all the way to Female Founders Fund, a venture capitalist firm working towards getting more women financed in their startups.  Alongside those, numerous individuals have risen to prominence to inspire a new generation of women in tech.  The following list profiles 10 enterprising female entrepreneurs who have successfully overseen rapid expansion within tech-oriented companies that demonstrate amazing potential for further growth.  

 

1. Reshma Saujani – Girls Who Code (New York)

 

There exists a trend for women to become less interested in coding the older they get.  And surprisingly, in the US at least, there are also fewer women today involved in computer science than there were in the 1980s.  Inversely, technology is one of the fastest growing industries, with 1.4 million new jobs in the US alone predicted to be available by 2020, according to Girls Who Code.  Graduates will fill 29 per cent of those jobs, the firm says, while women are expected to fill just three per cent.

 

Reshma Saujani’s non-profit initiative, Girls Who Code, focuses on girls between 13-17 years old – the age bracket at which the biggest drop in interest occurs.  By encouraging more girls to code and learn about computers while they are young, Reshma hopes to empower more women to become ‘change agents’ in their communities and to actively contribute to an economy of which they form a vital part: the Internet.  Indeed, women are responsible for 85 per cent of all online consumer purchases and have a 600-per-cent greater social media usage than men.

  

Established in 2012 with a class of just 20 girls, Girls Who Code now supports 40,000 women across all 50 American states.  Moreover, the firm is today one of the biggest and fastest growing companies on this list, with backing from AOL, Google, Microsoft and AT&T.  

 

2. Ayah Bdeir – LittleBits (Lebanon/New York) 

 

Ayah Bdeir is the owner of New York City based startup that provides the ‘Lego of electronics’.  She is also a high-profile speaker on the importance of creating gender-neutral STEM/STEAM tools for children and adults alike, and has delivered talks at TEDX and SXSW about her vision of the future for open source technology.

 

Ms Bdeir has been recognised by Fast Company as one of the ‘Most Creative People in Business’, and was named a Fellow by Creative Commons.  Her work with open source hardware and the democratisation of technology has made her a pioneer of the Maker Movement, earning her endless respect within the technology sector. 

 

Launched in September 2011 and now available in over seven countries, Ms Bdeir’s product, LittleBits – www.littlebits.cc – are easy-to-use, snap together modular building blocks that enable users to easily create any invention that comes to mind.  So far, the open source library has over 60 modules, with plenty more to come.

 

Alongside being a founder, Bdeir is also an interactive artist who explores the representations of identity within the Arab world 

 

3.  Melanie Mohr – YEAY (Berlin)

 

As only the second female founder ever backed by Grazia Equity, you know Melanie Mohr has something special to offer the world.  Her company,  YEAY – www.yeay.com – has been variously heralded as ‘the Snapchat 

of shopping’, ‘QVC plus Tumblr plus Snapchat’ and the result of ‘if Ebay and Snapchat had a baby’ – a revolutionary e-commerce shopping platform that aligns firmly with Gen Z. 

 

The app provides a platform for users to sell items with vertical videos – a game-changer for the current mobile shopping market.  With female leaders primed to take over the e-commerce world, expect to see big things from Ms Mohr and her young international company.  “Mobile video shopping is the future,” she tells us.  “In five years, traditional e-commerce websites will be the same as how we look at mail-order catalogues now.”

 

Ms Mohr previously ran her own media platform APOLLO.TV – a creative space for viewers to watch videos on the latest in art, design and technology.

  

YEAY launched its open public beta version in June last year, yet prior to the launch the app had already gained 7.5 million followers on social media platforms.  One of the fastest growing startups in Berlin, the firm is on track to continue its tremendous expansion in the coming years.  “In the end, you can’t have any growth if you don’t have a good product,” Ms Mohr notes.  “The most important thing for us has therefore been to develop a product that fits into the lifestyle and the momentum of a generation.”

 

4 & 5. Tatiana Livesey & Diana Isac – Winerist (Moldova/UK)

 

Tatiana Livesey and Diana Isac are two more female bosses solving a problem within e-commerce – this time for wine-loving tourists.

  

Both born in Moldova before moving to London to work in finance for several years, Ms Livesey and Ms Isac came together in 2011 to pursue their true passion and create Winerist.  Their website – www.winerist.com – is a global wine travelling platform dedicated to helping wine lovers find the perfect destinations via a free online booking service.

 

The pair have spoken widely and publicly about the challenges they have faced being female founders, and business-owners in general.  Their article, ‘Beware of Startup Prostitution’, is a good read for anyone thinking of starting a small- to medium-sized enterprise, offering well grounded tips for entrepreneurs, based on the duo’s own experience.

 

Featured in Harper's, Financial News, Los Angeles Times, Tech City News, and more, Winerist won Travel Website of the Year in 2014.  

 

6. Esther Karwera – Akorion (Uganda)

 

25-year-old Esther Karwera co-founded Ugandan agritech start-up Akorion in 2014 and is today the company’s Chief Business Development Officer.  Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum selected Ms Karwera as one of ‘Africa’s breakthrough female innovators of 2017’.

 

Her company, Akorion (www.akorion.com), has developed software (EzyAgric) to create a marketplace that gathers smallholder farmers and service providers like financial institutions, input companies and insurance companies in one place.  The innovation essentially connects Uganda’s smallholder farmers into digital value chains, helping them sell directly to agribusinesses.  It also undertakes digital soil testing and has harnessed the power of mobile money to support farmers’ operations.

  

As Akorion’s website states: “smallholder farmers…are the people who are contributing the most to the economy of Uganda, to the food basket – and they are the same people that are being left out in terms of getting information about services and getting [access to] markets.  That is what drove Akorion to using ICT to build a better platform where farmers are able to get closer to service providers easily and at a more affordable price.”

 

Since launching in 2015, the firm has developed a network of 42,000 farmers in Uganda.  The company’s growth is supported by a network of village-based service providers – mainly young people, thus also helping to address the youth unemployment that represents a pervasive challenge in rural areas of the country.  

 

7. Anu Duggal – Female Founders Fund (New York)

 

Anu Duggal is a successful serial entrepreneur turned founding partner of Female Founders Fund.  The company’s focus is on areas where women have been shown to have the most market impact – e-commerce and other web-enabled products and services.

 

Self-described as “an early-stage fund investing in the exponential power of exceptional female talent”, Female Founders Fund (FFF) – www.femalefoundersfund.com – seeks to address the issue of women receiving significantly less financing than men.  The Funds motto:  “It's not just about women.  It’s about talent”.

  

Having previously set up e-commerce company Exclusively.com, Anu Duggal – who holds an MBA from the London Business school and speaks fluent French – established FFF in 2013.  Today, the firm has 26 companies within its portfolio.

 

8.  Akiko Naka – Wantedly (Japan)

 

Akiko Naka is the founder and CEO of social recruiting site, Wantedly – en-jp.wantedly.com.  Ms Naka’s advice to female entrepreneurs is to “not be too conscious about your gender”, and to look on it as a positive if you gain advantage in terms of publicity for being a minority in your industry.

 

Having previously worked at Facebook Japan and Goldman Sachs, Ms Naka started building Wantedly at the tender age of 26 – the aim being to create a product that would help reduce the number of people that are unhappy in their careers.  Since then, Wantedly has grown to become the largest social recruiting site in Japan, with over 1.2 million active users and well over 20,000 corporate clients.

 

9. Aisha R. Pandor – SweepSouth (South Africa)

 

Aisha founded SweepSouth – www.sweepsouth.com – in South Africa in 2014 with her husband, to assist homeowners in finding reliable and trustworthy employees to assist with errands and housework.  The platform allows homeowners to quickly and easily arrange a house cleaning service, and it aspires to bring new tech to an industry that is invariably seen as lagging behind the times.

  

Ms Pandor’s background lies in science, having received a PhD from the University of Cape Town in Human Genetics.  She also holds a Business Management certificate from the UCT Graduate School of Business where she became the first student to graduate with two different qualifications on the same day.

  

Ms Pandor and her husband (co-founder Alen Ribic) are looking to expand their business to include services like plumbing, grocery shopping, nanny services, and so on, for “a one-stop-shop to a happy home”.

 

10. Sic Zhang – Momo (China)

 

 After graduating from South China Normal University with a Graphic Design degree, Sic Zhang has proven herself to be an incredible businesswoman, showing that an MBA is not a requirement to excel in your career.  Ms Zhang is one of five founders of an extremely popular social app in China, called Momo – www.immomo.com.  The app reportedly boasts over 300 million registered users who are all looking for love, friendship and community in China.

  

Ms Zhang today leads the development team in the US market for offshoot company Blupe – another location-based social networking app.

 

Meanwhile, Momo is now the leading live mobile broadcast platform in China and its share price has more than doubled since the beginning of 2017.  Indeed, the growth of video platforms such as Momo has put mobile broadcasting well and truly on the investment map.

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