Can 5050tech solve the female founded startup funding problem

I was lucky enough to be one of the not so important persons (we were in the presence of a Dame, a Barnoness and an OBE…nuts!) to go along to Doteveryone’s #5050tech inaugural pitch event today. For those of you who have had their heads buried in the sand, this is an event for early stage female founded startups to pitch to investors. An event that ultimately hopes to make a dent in the female entrepreneurs struggling to secure investment issue.

This event had 2 weeks from announcement to application closure, received 184 applications from which 12 were selected. Needless to say, the demand is there and this is just from the women who plucked up the courage to apply.

What stood out most from the morning was the eclecticness of the women that braved the stage. Women who were clearly not all from a business background but were experts in their field or had a passion for what they doing, having clearly identified a need. There were academics, geeks and women who’d only been internally facing in their career. But all twelve were solving real problems. All too often entrepreneurship is worn like a badge, a brag you trott out on a Friday night at Silicon Drinkabout. Ok, they weren’t sexy but since when does tech need or have to be sexy. Tech is exciting because of it’s ability to disrupt business as usual, been used as an enabler to solve problems that clearly need to be addressed including taboos or issues that make us feel uncomfortable. There is a real danger that the best talent will be lost to the sexy startup syndrome because so many developers are jumping on the bandwagon, wanting glamorous names on their CV as experienced by Prompt. Those in the know know better, just have a look at the number of exits in consumer vs B2B tech companies each year.

The intimacy and personalisation that mobile tech offers in health tech was clearly demonstrated by Prompt – a mobile app for early onset Dementia. Having personally experienced this with my guardian and her mum, I know how this impacts the sufferer as well as the family. Fear and denial by the suffer is one of the biggest challenges that has to be dealt with. Like any memory loss disease, it’s the family members that recognise and accept the issue first, Prompt is potentially a great coping mechanism for all concerned. Also, as this solution is utilising machine intelligence (machine learning + artificial intelligence), the data will be of real benefit to cognitive impairment research institutes.

Crack+Cider (love the name) confronts the issue of giving to the homeless. Let’s be frank, most of us are finely attuned to homeless blindness as we pass them by doorways, tube station walkways etc. We also have an inherent fear that giving money to the homeless is helping to sustain a drink and alcohol problem. Crack+Cider allows you to give money guilt-free, they buy essential items like coats, sleeping bags etc and distribute to homeless charities and organisations.

Quidini solves the loss of customer business due to queues in bricks and mortar businesses costing UK retailers £1bn annually. These guys are already generating £1m annual revenue, are in 800+ stores and are used by 6.3million shoppers.

The other startups were Edukit – Tripadvisor for connecting educators to pupil programmes, HelpingB – crowdfunding for social good products, Squeaky Clean – on-demand window cleaning, Ding – IoT startup connecting doors to mobile phones, myHealthHub – helping Clinical Commissioning Groups connect to hard-to-reach communities, Literacy Tool – browser plugin for empowering scientific knowledge aka Pinterest for science, Retvas – analyses images of the retina and automatically finds pathological changes in the eye, VOLO – platform matching charities and volunteers, and Yardstic – using big data to measure social impact initiatives.

Stat of the day comes from Yardstic…

$60billion of aid goes untracked each year

Last night was the first time I’d watched Internships – a film about a couple of ‘old’ ex-salesmen who enrol onto the Google internship programme. Whilst initially dismissed at the secondary screening process by the selection committee because they didn’t fit into the standard “smart young engineer” profile, one of committee members (a 23 year old Manager) reminded them of what made Google great. Bringing people into the business who did not fit into a mould, the fact that these two guys weren’t your typical Stanford or MiT Computer Science graduates meant their approach to challenges during the programme would be totally out of the box and based on life experience rather than formed by theoretical learnings. They succeeded in the programme because they understood the importance of the humansation of technology, it was merely helping people live better lives. Today was somewhat reminiscent of that sentiment, it’s time for the tech ecosystem to move beyond the boys club mould it’s currently got itself bugged down in. 5050tech presents an opportunity to support female led startups (smart ones at that), not because they are female but because these are validated, investor ready startups. I mean you’re telling me a cereal-only cafe in Shoreditch can raise funding but these women don’t deserve it…come on! Clearly not all these startups have the potential to be a billion dollar business (though Quidini is the most obvious if it’s able to scale and dependent on their revenue model) but neither does the cereal cafe, the hundreds of dating apps churned out monthly or many of the fintech businesses that attracted the lion share of funding last year.

One of the women I spoke to made the poignant point that if Doteveryone fails to acquire funding for these startups, it threatens the success of this specific objective. This indeed is a risk but one worth taking. They have started the ball rolling by sourcing the startups worthy of investment, now it’s over to the investor community to do their part.