There’s much to celebrate this International Women’s Day. The 2023 Rose Review, a report on gender diversity in UK companies, found that the number of female founders is growing, with women establishing more than 150,000 new companies in the UK — more than twice as many as in 2018.
The review, commissioned by Alison Rose DBE, the CEO of NatWest, has seen great improvements since the first report was published in 2019, which revealed that up to £250 billion could be added to the UK economy women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as men.
There is still some progress to be made in the tech sector, however; gender diversity has not progressed in tech as much as it has in other sectors, according to businesswoman and peer, Martha Lane-Fox. In fact, 87% of all venture capital funding in Europe was raised by male-only founding teams last year, with investment even scarcer for underrepresented groups.
To explore what the current landscape is like for women in tech, we spoke to three female founders to learn about their startups, what inspired them to innovate, and the challenges they’ve experienced along the way — with some sage advice for all budding entrepreneurs.
Riham Satti is the founder and CEO of MeVitae, an Oxford-based startup that uses AI to help organisations eliminate bias in their recruitment processes, building a more inclusive and diverse workforce.
Using your brain to mitigate bias in recruitment
Bias is neurological. As an academic with a background in medical engineering and clinical neuroscience, I love trying to understand how brains work. But while we can’t remove bias, it is possible to mitigate it.
Many companies want to ensure they are building a more diverse and inclusive workforce, but it wasn’t until I researched the hiring space that I discovered how fragmented it was. Hiring should be skills-based, but often the best candidates would be overlooked because of unfair processes. At MeVitae, our aim is to use technology to mitigate cognitive and algorithmic biases.
Making the application process a level playing field
It’s likely that you will have experienced an online application process, where typically you submit a CV or cover letter, or fill an application form online. This information traditionally goes into an Application Tracking System (ATS), which is how organisations manage their hiring processes. With an ATS, recruiters can schedule interviews and screen applicants.
To try and remove any bias in this process, MeVitae redacts identifiable information in CVs and cover letters. It does this in real time and redacts over 20 parameters, including gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, age, university name. Once the hiring manager decides who to progress to interview stage, the machine automatically swaps out the redacted for the original. People don’t even realise they are using our system because it is seamlessly built into the application process.
OpenAI has been a great help for us in tackling some of the challenges with CV and cover letter formatting. There are so many variations — I’ve even seen a CV presented as a Monopoly board! —but OpenAI’s Davinci models have helped us find solutions that complement the IP (Intellectual Property) we have built.
First Attempt in Learning: Advice for entrepreneurs
We started MeVitae to help other businesses increase diversity inclusion in the workforce, and the companies we work with have already seen an increase of up to 30% diversity inclusion in their teams. It’s great to see the impact we are making.
I’ve never liked the word ‘fail’ — as an entrepreneur, the biggest fear is failing; it can be paralysing. But someone told me something that changed my view: if you take the word and spin it on its head, it stands for ‘First Attempt In Learning’. There’s no such thing as fail, it’s just a learning on your journey.
And always align your company with people and businesses that share your values. MeVitae was part of the Microsoft Partner Executive Summit, and afterward I reached out to Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella. He replied to say how important diversity and inclusion is for him. It confirmed to me that company culture comes from the top and sets the tone for the type of organisation you will work in. When organisations embrace diversity, equity, and inclusivity, they’re more likely to have a great team, and subsequently great performance and outcomes as well.
Audrey Limery is the founder of Kweevo, a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that offers digital solutions to help businesses manage their supply chain more efficiently and sustainably.
An app to decarbonise and democratise
I received my very first computer when I was a teenager, and I remember how exciting it was to open the box and set it up. It marked the start of my journey in tech, and the excitement still hasn’t gone away.
After years of working as a supply chain analyst, I saw a need for a system that could accelerate data and insight generation for companies, to ultimately help them optimise and decarbonise their supply chain. And so, I created Kweevo, a no-code analytics platform that can move businesses from a traditional linear supply chain to a circular one.
As much as we are helping companies to make conscious decisions to decarbonise their supply chains, we are also empowering their employees, regardless of how much tech experience they have. Kweevo is intended for use cross-functionally by people of all tech abilities, ultimately democratising analytics.
Network your way out of isolation
Coming up with the idea and developing it is one stage, the next is taking your idea out into the world. But the isolation as a founder, particularly as a black woman, was one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome. It’s crucial to go out and find your community. Be willing to ask for help; network with the wider tech community and be willing to get to know people because you cannot make it on your own. You’ll soon find the right network, the right community, and you can grow from that.
Being in the Barclays Black Founder Accelerator 2021 cohort helped boost Kweevo’s visibility, and the Microsoft for Startups program has been instrumental in providing support and resources. As Kweevo is hosted on Microsoft Azure, it means we can get hands-on advice.
Build your own box
Prior to Kweevo, when I was working in the corporate world, I would often feel like I was being put in a box. I wanted to step out of that, so I built my own box. I encourage other female founders to do the same.
We need more women creating, innovating, and bringing solutions to the world. Each person is unique, and there are so many pain points in this world to solve – if everyone contributed their ideas and innovations, it would help make the world a better place.
Truthfully, women in business have more hurdles to overcome. It’s even harder for women entrepreneurs, and harder still for black female entrepreneurs. But I believe the more we push, the more often we will be able to break these barriers, and things will change for the better.
And lastly, but most importantly, always be kind.
Dr. Thuria Wenbar co-founded E-Pharmacy with her pharmacist husband, Dr. Oskar Wendowski. They are redefining accessibility to healthcare by utilising asynchronous consultations and helping patients access minor health services and prescription medication more easily.
Why don’t you fix it?
I come from a family of doctors. We came to the UK from Iraq as asylum seekers when I was a child, and my parents continued working as doctors. I was coding from the age of 7, but when it came to my career path the expected route for me was, naturally, medicine. I embarked on my doctor training, and had a revelation — medicine is pretty much a math algorithm and a lot rests on data.
When I qualified in 2017 and entered the world of work, I was frustrated by the inefficiencies within the healthcare system. Pre-Covid, I was working as an emergency medicine doctor, and I noticed that a quarter of patients coming into A&E were there for minor health issues.
Upon seeing the challenges with hospital policy and regulation changes, I’d complain to my husband, Oskar. One day he said, ‘Why are you complaining? Why don’t you fix it?’. So, delusionally, I thought I could fix the NHS. Spoiler alert, it didn’t happen that way. But instead of being deterred, we found where we could make most impact, and we started E-Pharmacy as a B2C company selling prescription medication without making patients see a doctor.
The importance of technology in healthcare
We focus on minor, low-risk health conditions that people struggle to get GP appointments for or are too embarrassed to go to the GP about. There are never going to be enough doctors or clinicians to run the 10-minute face-to-face appointments that the healthcare system demands. So, we really need to have systems that allow for asynchronous healthcare. That’s where our solution fits in.
Our system asks the patient the same series of questions that they would get in a face-to-face consultation with a doctor. We do backend checks to ensure the person is real, is over the age of 18, and it’s clinically appropriate for them to have the requested drugs. We run their answers against a prescribing safety assistant built with the help of AI. Next, we have a clinician check over the decision. We handle technology, the prescription, the fulfilment, and the aftercare and work with partners to make sure the medication is advertised correctly and meet regulations.
The difference that data can make
We joined the Microsoft AI for Social Impact programme, and our team learned about all the different AI services within Azure. By utilising machine learning algorithms to build decision trees, we’ve had some fun experiences where the system has been trained on inaccurate data — for example, assuming people with short names are not real people because of the volume of identity checks that fail when people use nicknames.
There is so much data in healthcare, and this can help inform decisions. For example, if you take a population sample with ages, demographics, genders, and ethnicities, you can —with decent accuracy — predict what diseases are in that cohort. But there’s always a human touch in the process — a human will check over the decision tree that’s come out of the algorithm.
We’ve seen that there’s a customer demand. We initially launched with eight medications, and now we’re expanding to cover 430 medications in our metaphorical cabinet. Where we would love to get to is empowering the consumer so that when they go to purchase makeup to cover their acne, instead they are offered acne treatment via E-Pharmacy.
Bet on yourself
We used to be such a small team that I’m hardwired to try and do it all, but delegation is key. We went to Techstars New York to speak to other founders, and they were all very much ‘we’re not doers anymore, we are delegators’. And that’s my advice for all female entrepreneurs — delegate. And crucially: bet on yourself because no one else will.
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Tags: entrepreneur, Female Founders, International Women's Day, sustainability, tech