Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

15 Female Entrepreneurs Disrupting The Status Quo

We talked to amazing women from around the globe about what drives them.

© www.christinalila.co

At AngelHack, we know a lot about women in tech issues. As a female-founded and female-majority company in the (largely male) tech space, we’re an outlier, just like females at most hackathons. In fact, we created an entire hackathon series around these issues.

Despite the obstacles in everything from capital access to safety, and the sad numbers that women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours but earn only 10% of global income, there are many women building their visions internationally. Instead of us describing what the entrepreneurship journey is like for women, we wanted to listen to pioneering females from diverse markets directly tell their stories. Meet some of the ladies shaping the future of business.

Fereshteh Forough

Afghanistan + New York, NY

In one of the world’s most dangerous and corrupt nations, Fereshteh is building a movement encouraging women to step outside traditional boundaries.

Fereshteh is the CEO & Founder of Code to Inspire.

What have you built?

We’ve literally built the first all-girls coding school in Afghanistan. We’re empowering the next generation of Afghan women by arming them with the in-demand programming skills that will enable them to achieve financial and social independence.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country?

In Afghanistan, societal norms and expectations dictate that women only take jobs like teaching — jobs that are considered feminine and where they work only with other women. There are so few women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. Women in Afghanistan don’t really have access to capital, national/international markets, or anything resembling a professional network. More than that, the office culture in Afghanistan isn’t safe or secure for women. There’s a lot of corruption preventing women from succeeding in the workplace or from creating their own business.

That’s why we created Code to Inspire in the first place. We need to demonstrate to our communities what we’re capable of.

What is the future of female entrepreneurship in Afghanistan?

As more women begin to code here, they can reshape society’s expectations about how women can and should behave. That shift in perception is the most important thing women can bring to the tech industry in Afghanistan.

Jessica Butcher

London, UK

Jessica is the Co-Founder & Director of Blippar. Being touted as one of Britain’s most successful technology ‘unicorn’ scale-ups, currently enjoying rapid international ascent. The business is currently 300 staff strong across 10 international offices, recently ranking 9th in CNBC’s global “Disruptor 50’ list alongside Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat and Spotify.

What have you built?

I co-founded Blippar 5 years ago. Blippar is the world’s leading ‘visual browser’. We harness sophisticated computer vision and AR technology to enable people to unlock the physical world around them with helpful, educational and entertaining content experiences — simply by looking at it through the camera of a smart device in Blippar app mode.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country?

It is a great time to be a female entrepreneur in the UK. Admittedly, there aren’t nearly as many of us as I’d like, but our relatively small number has created a strong community of inspirational, high-achieving entrepreneurial women who actively support each other and work together to promote the growth of female entrepreneurship.

Obstacle you have experienced as a female entrepreneur?

I’ve definitely experienced unconscious bias at times (e.g. clients directing questions to a male junior colleague rather than to me) but I think the biggest barriers can be those that women put up for themselves, which I’ve certainly been guilty of doing e.g. slight risk aversion; a tendency towards wanting things to be perfect before you put them out there (which a start-up can never be!); plus imposter syndrome.

Juliana Brêtas

São Paulo, SP, Brazil

In Brazil, you need male support to build big dreams. Why? Because like most places, women make up less than 1% of investors, who act as the gatekeepers to business growth.

Juliana is the CEO & Founder of Superela. Superela recently raised a 1 million R$ seed round (US around $300K).

Tell us about Superela.

Superela is a platform that works to empower women. Since our launch we have empowered more than 15 million women through content, a highly engaged community, and help from well-being professionals.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

Being a woman entrepreneur in Brazil is a little bit lonely. It’s hard to find other women entrepreneurs, other women investors, other women mentors to help with guidance in your business. It’s rare to see women as keynote speakers or simply even find event attendees who are women outside of event service personnel.

Elena Shkarubo

Minsk, Belarus

Elena is growing her business in what was called the “Silicon Valley” of the former USSR, and now a hub of innovation.

Elena is the Founder and CEO of MeetnGreetMe.

What is MeetnGreetMe?

MeetnGreetMe is an online platform for global travelers to book offline concierge and lifestyle management services, delivered by locals. Local MeetnGreeters provide international guests with a personal approach, customized adventure tours and authentic experiences in more than 150 cities around the world.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

It feels like I’m a visitor in a men’s world — a visitor that is sometimes very welcome, and other times — not at all. When I happen to mention that I run my own business, some people think they misheard or didn’t understand me correctly, so I often find myself repeating what’s been said and explaining what I mean — as if being a female entrepreneur is different from being a male entrepreneur in terms of function and core responsibilities. The majority of people at home think that the success of a female entrepreneur is directly proportional to the contribution and help coming from her partner or husband, which is really weird to me.

Obstacle you have experienced as a female entrepreneur?

I used to think that being an entrepreneur utterly excluded the mere thought of becoming a mother until the stars were aligned and the success of a business venture was evident. Then, through talking and sharing with other female entrepreneurs who used to have the same kind of worries, I realized that my thought process was linked yet to another stereotype — that of a male success story where the guy builds his career and climbs to the top while his wife or partner takes care of the rest.

No one said it would be easy, but difficult doesn’t mean impossible.

Kristel Kruustük

Tallinn, Estonia & San Francisco, USA

Kristel won AngelHack 2013 first in Estonia then globally in San Francisco. Her company recently raised $6.2 million to expand its services. Working in hackathons, we see stories like hers spark so many seeds of inspiration in places like Estonia, which is now becoming a hub of entrepreneurship in Europe!

Kristel is the CEO & Co-Founder of Testlio.

What is Testlio?

Testlio is a community of ridiculously passionate software testers. We are connecting enterprises with the best testers in the world to provide amazing customer experiences.

Obstacle you have experienced as a female entrepreneur?

I wouldn’t call it an obstacle, but definitely a funny story. I once met another startup founder who told me that I was only able to raise Testlio’s seed round ($1M USD) because I’m blonde and a female. Go figure. After that I was also able to close Series A… I think as an entrepreneur you constantly prove people wrong.

Is there anything unique you think women can bring to the business, tech or startup world (either globally or in your country)?

I don’t think it’s about uniqueness. There are a lot of things that we (women) can do, and those are all the same things that men can do. Every person has their strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to focus on the former! It’s proven that companies that have more diversity are more successful.

Comfort Avunze Sakoma

Abuja, Nigeria

CEO, Poize Capital Global & Lead Advisor, Poize Insider Network

“We need to glorify the struggle and the hustle of entrepreneurship and not only the rewards.”

What is the Poize Insider Network?

To boost the competitiveness of the Nigerian economy, I launched the Poize Insider Network in 2016 through which I provide Business Development Support for more than 200 women-owned businesses, helping them to leverage technology, develop effective brand strategies, pursue global partnerships, and expand their trade capacity. The network has trained 2,100 female business owners in Nigeria since March 2016.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

Women are constantly finding themselves in positions where they have to work significantly harder to ascertain their credit, business, and social worthiness. Nepotism is also a big problem. It’s not uncommon for the most qualified person for the job to be overlooked in favor of a close ally. This discourages some women from competing and stalls their growth.

Conversely, Nigeria is paradoxically the absolute best country on Earth in which to be a female entrepreneur. Our public and private sectors, and international non-profits have really rallied behind us to propel us forward through access to information and funding. Many funding programs over the years have been aimed at women, with unprecedented amounts of support available to those willing to search.

What is the future of female entrepreneurship in your country/region?

The future of female entrepreneurship in Nigeria can be strengthened if we can engage in self-reflection and tough conversation. We need to challenge the notion that most successful women get to the top through questionable means by glorifying the struggle and the hustle of entrepreneurship and not only it’s rewards. We need to spend less time at roundtables discussing the lack of access to finance and instead discuss the hard truth that many of our businesses aren’t bankable because they often lack a brand, presence, and /or records: financial and otherwise. We need to tackle our fear of technology and embrace the internet not only for social media and email but for research and collaboration. We need to get off the ‘title high’ and learn how to synergize so that we’re not a community of CEO’s of Zero. We need fewer speaker presentations and more mentors who are willing to swing open doors, make introductions, give a startup a free desk to work on for six months.

The future of female entrepreneurship can also be strengthened by women taking more seriously the process of politics. My best friend’s father said to me once, “If you don’t do politics, politics will do you.” We need to organize as an electorate, raise money for women to run for office, and once there, we need to give her the support and incentive to speak up against anything that threatens our business environment or our fundamental human rights. We need to apply for every grant, every training, every waiver, and when we’re denied- we must be willing to ask why, to learn from that, and come back stronger. Our collective future, as Nigerian female entrepreneurs, is only as strong as our resolve.

Is there anything unique you think women can bring to the business, tech or startup world’s (either globally or in your country)?

Since women are more likely to operate social enterprises (businesses that do well and do good) we have the power to redefine capitalism and return the focus to people and environment; two things we can’t thrive without. This powerful combination provides the greatest benefits to nations as they industrialize and grow because it takes care of its two most precious resources.

In Nigeria, and certainly in places around the world, we’re proving that you can run a profitable company that makes its shareholders happy, while simultaneously lifting up the people and communities around you.

Oleksandra Rohachova

Kyiv, Ukraine (now — New York, USA)

Oleksandra is the CEO of INKHUNTER.

What have you built?

We have built one of the best Augmented Reality applications in existence today & the #1 tattoo app in the world.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today where you work?

In Ukraine, there are still barriers created by a stereotyped gender policy and male dominance in big business/politics, but it’s more remnant in the older Soviet Union generation. The effect among younger generations is much less detectable.

In comparison to the US, in my culture people are less tolerant yet they say what they think very straightforwardly, so here I never know what people actually think about me or how my gender relates to my work and abilities.

Obstacle you have experienced as a female entrepreneur?

A few times, I’ve encountered people who didn’t believe that a “cute blonde” could be an intelligent person running a company. One was hesitant to shake my hand. But over time, even people’s deeply engrained stereotypes seem to wear away. So, don’t waste time being angry at people for the messaging they let sway them, just show them a strong opposite example 😉

melek pulatkonak

Istanbul, Turkey

Melek is the Founder of the Turkish Women’s International Network and BinYaprak.

What have you built?

We have built a global sisterhood network for women to inspire and empower one another by sharing candid stories and building connections with the motto “If she did it, so can I!”. We now have 10 chapters in the US, Europe and Turkey.

Last year, we launched a digital sister network, called BinYaprak, to connect women in 81 cities across Turkey with the same motto and belief that “one person” can make a difference and be the change she wants to see.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

I am a Turkish American, and as such I never felt like I belonged to either Turkey or the US — I was always “the other.” “Being different” trumps being a woman when doing business. I thrive by way of diversity and use it as an advantage to bring a different perspective to problem solving and leadership. To give you an example, I was told that “women don’t collaborate with each other” or that “nobody will pay a membership fee for a network in its infancy.” Being an optimist with a different point of view, I kept on exploring. And guess what, women do support other women!

Is there anything unique you think women can bring to the business, tech or startup world ?

We are wired differently. Seriously, male and female brains work differently. Different experiences, points of view, communication styles — they all bring diversity to the innovation table. Gender is only one aspect of this diversity. Smart businesses will definitely tap into women to boost their culture of diversity.

Iuliia Shykalova

Philadelphia, PA; Originally from Kyiv, Ukraine

Business Development Executive, Hideez creating digital keys & cybersecurity hardware. Formerly COO, PocketBook.

What have you built/are you building?

Back in Ukraine in my COO role, I grew PocketBook into a 100 million dollar business. PocketBook still remains a leader in e-readers across the former Soviet Union.

In my current role as a Business Development Executive, I am building out new opportunities in the US and worldwide for a very promising endpoint security & authentication start-up from Ukraine, called Hideez. We just participated in the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas!

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

Although I traveled extensively prior to my move to the US, I don’t think I fully grasped the true meaning of feminism. In Ukraine women don’t fight to have the same rights as men, they just work 3 times harder to succeed. An average woman from Kiev will have at least 1 Master’s degree, speak 3 languages, spend a full day in 5-inch heels working even harder than her male counterparts — and will still make every effort to cook a 3-course meal for her family.

Obstacle you have experienced as a female entrepreneur?

I have seen the age-old drinking tradition men back home often engage in, come in the way of a professional negotiation process. This is one of the biggest reasons that women so rarely worked in sales 10 years ago. The situation has significantly improved over the years and I no longer see it happening on the same scale.

ijeoma oguegbu

Lagos, Nigeria

Ijeoma is the CEO & Founder of Beavly and part of Startup Chile’s S Factory focusing on women entrepreneurs.

What have you built/ are you building?​:

Beavly is an online marketplace connecting people to learn skills alongside professionals who offer to teach people in their workplace for a fee. We launched the platform in Nigeria with a focus on industries such as fashion, cuisine and beauty. Beavly currently seeks to promote talent-based careers, and in the future mature into a hub for professionals in top lucrative industries to network and grow talent.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

Two words. Admirable and daring. When you have the guts to go after what you dream for — that’s awesome, and even more so when you are a lady. There is so much societal pressure, especially in Nigeria, to conform to a certain standard of one’s career journey. And so, the ability to push back from that and be different is often seen as inspirational.

What is the future of female entrepreneurship in your country/region?

The startup ecosystem in Africa is developing very fast, and women are becoming even more aware of the vast opportunities that lie in investing in technology. The confidence level of African women in technology is rising off the charts. Their success stories will propel the next generation.

Katalina Mayorga

Washington DC

Katalina is the Founder and CEO of El Camino Travel and is involved in many female empowerment networks in DC.

What are you building?

El Camino Travel is the answer for millennials who want authentic, immersive, and off the beat experiences.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

It has never been a better time to be a female entrepreneur in the United States. Yes, things can dramatically improve, however, we are definitely having a moment and coming out in force, with no apologies for our vision, ambition, and passion. The support networks that are growing out of this drive are also lending to this catalytic energy of female entrepreneurialism.

What is the future of female entrepreneurship in your country/region?

These past few years have been a defining moment for young female entrepreneurs. They are leading some of the fastest growing and most innovative companies in various industries. Within the next decade, these women will become seasoned leaders and the next generation of young female entrepreneurs will be looking up to them for inspiration and guidance. What is exciting about that statement, is that those young women will have a whole host of female role models to celebrate. Their success will be normalized and not seen as an extraordinary feat.

Gamze Ates

Based in New York City with operations in the Southeastern region of Turkey

Gamze is the Founder & CEO of My Beachy Side.

What is My Beachy Side?

It’s a fair-trade beachwear accessories brand that provides income opportunities to women who are underprivileged, are victims of domestic violence, as well as to Syrian refugee women in the Southeastern region of Turkey. We utilize local NGOs to access the workforce in the areas where job access for women is limited or does not exist.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

Being a female entrepreneur in New York is very different from being one in Turkey. I have experienced this firsthand as I’ve lived and worked in both areas. I see the educational gap and local traditions to be the biggest challenges in Turkey. Women still need permission from their father or husband to go to school or work across most of Turkey’s eastern region, whereas in the western part of the country we have highly educated women taking up CEO positions in multinational companies. Entrepreneurs need to understand the cultural differences and implications of local customs. Politics can also be a real challenge if you are not careful.

On the other hand, it feels immensely gratifying to be an entrepreneur in Turkey because of the potential improvement we can bring to these women’s lives. Turkey has its own gender gap and human rights issues, and now the country is hosting and aiding more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees; mostly women with children and no husband. Every entrepreneur does what they do to generate impact, and I think Turkey now more than ever has a huge potential for a boost in social entrepreneurship.

An “unexpected” fact about you?

I will be turning 50 this April. My Beachy Side is the second company I have built. The first one was a shipping company acquired by DHL after which I continued as an executive in the corporate world. I guess once you are an entrepreneur, you are always an entrepreneur!

There is no right age or the right part of the world to start. You just have to follow your dream and work hard for it.

Yuanheng “Sally” Wang

New York, New York (Significant part of our team and our customer base are in Asia)

Yuanheng is the CEO and Co-Founder of DocFlight.

What is DocFlight?

DocFlight is an international telemedicine company connecting Chinese patients with top US doctors. We aim to bridge the treatment gaps between China and US, helping more Chinese patients to regain health and enjoy their lives with the world’s best medical resources.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in China?

Today, Chinese women are becoming more independent, entrepreneurial and willing to start a business. According to a white paper issued by the State Council of China in 2015, the number of female entrepreneurs accounted for about one quarter of the total number of entrepreneurs in China. About 55% of new internet businesses were being founded by women.

Many female entrepreneurs like me, who live and have received education in foreign countries, now return to build our businesses in China, where the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation environment overall rivals that of the US.

Obstacle you have experienced as a female entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur usually requires long-hour commitment to the business, with a lot of pressure both physically and mentally. I receive more suggestions to give up than male counterparts because many of my friends and relatives consider I should quit and be focused on starting a family, taking on the traditional role of women. The pressure of marriage became paramount when I reached 27 years old. In China, single women older than 27 years old are called “left-over” girls.

My extended family still has lingering doubts on my decision to launch a startup, even though my company has secured funding and is growing into a formidable business. But I never regret my choice to build DocFlight. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, I realized the challenges of patients to get good medical treatment and the vast differences between US and China in terms of quality and access to good care. I was determined to start a tech business to narrow this gap and benefit more Chinese patients in the most cost-effective manner.

Another challenge is raising capital. Just like in much of the world, the majority of VCs in China are men, who tend to be more likely to give funding to male entrepreneurs. Additionally, some VCs also care a lot about the family status of a female entrepreneur and question their commitment to the business if they are going to start a family.

Is there anything unique you think women can bring to the business, tech or startup worlds (either globally or in your country)?

In China, women make about 80% of decisions in household purchasing. Understanding female consumers and satisfying their unmet needs is important for consumer facing businesses. Female entrepreneurs have a better understanding of female consumer behavior than their male counterparts. Therefore female leaders are more likely to make business decisions that better address the concerns of female customers.

Additionally, studies have supported that women are better at communication, gentler in management styles and more considerate than males, which could reduce the friction inside the team and create a collaborative team to achieve the common goal of the firm. I see this playing day in and day out at DocFlight.

Bengu Atamer

London, UK

Co-founder & COO of BuzzMyVideos.

What have you built?

BuzzMyVideos is a next-generation media company that has successfully built a proprietary technology platform which captures data and utilizes analytics to effectively create, curate, distribute and monetize online videos.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

The UK is a fast growing market and the people are highly enthusiastic and entrepreneurial with a great eye for opportunity. The opportunities for women to pursue great careers are increasing and I personally know a lot of great business women holding senior-level positions at various corporations.

It is however less common to see women take the leap of faith necessary to launch their own entrepreneurial adventure, mainly because it comes with a high risk not everyone is ready for or has the chance to take.

Is there anything unique you think women can bring to the business, tech or startup world?

Needless to say, women are great at multi-tasking! As an entrepreneur, you need to wear many different hats, sometimes simultaneously, hence it is a unique and vital strength to have. Especially within the first couple of years of establishing a business, you are required to make many quick decisions, everything from small everyday ones to highly critical ones that can change the course of your business. At the same time you have to run the business, operating as a director, customer happiness agent, people operations manager and finance manager simultaneously.

Tatyana Mitkova

Mountain View, USA / Sofia, Bulgaria

CEO and Co-founder of ClaimCompass.

Tell us about what you have built?

ClaimCompass gets airlines to pay you up to €600 for screwing up your flight.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur today in your country/region?

I’m currently part of the #500strong family (the program of 500 Startups in Mountain View) and feel supported and inspired. There are so many great examples of female venture partners and founders around me!

Is there anything unique you think women can bring to the business, tech or startup world (either globally or in your country)?

A different perspective. Diversity. Their unique ideas. They can become the role models for the next generation of girls.

Do you know any female entrepreneurs that have inspired you? Let us know in the comments below!

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