Winning Women in Tech
Pop quiz: Are businesses with more women in leadership roles likely to be more profitable?
In a word, yes. A 2016 survey of more than 20,000 publicly traded companies in some 90 countries found that having women in at least 30 percent of leadership or ‘C-suite’ positions adds six percent to a company’s net profit margin.
Despite this, women remain grossly underrepresented in the tech industry, and women-run tech companies receive only a fraction of venture capital dollars.
The situation in Singapore is no different.
Women make up only five percent of entrepreneurs in tech startups and eight percent of corporate board membership, according to numbers from Female Founders, a non-profit organisation with the mission of promoting gender equality in the tech industry.
But expect the status quo to change.
Together with professional development platform Lean In China and boutique event agency TechRock, Female Founders organised the Singapore round of She Loves Tech 2017, a global startup competition open to female founders and businesses that positively impact women.
The initiative’s goal is to serve as a platform for tech companies, investors, entrepreneurs, startups and consumers to come together and promote women in technology, as well as technology for women.
The Singapore round, held on 27 June 2017, saw 12 shortlisted startups pitching to a panel of ten judges, including Ms Shirley Wong, managing partner at TNF Ventures; Ms Virginia Tan, co-founder and president of Lean In China; and Ms Rebecca Kux, head of portfolio management at 500 Startups.
There will also be competition rounds in Canada, China, Hong Kong, Germany, Indonesia, Israel and Pakistan.
Offensive approach to cybersecurity
Cybersecurity startup IoTSploit clinched first prize at the Singapore round, securing its place at the global finals in Beijing in September 2017.
The company, which develops security solutions for industrial Internet of Things (IoT) systems, will also get a chance to participate in a week-long boot camp in Beijing, along with access to investment, mentorship and networking opportunities.
IoTSploit founder Ms Karachach Sadybakasova said: “We are thrilled about winning the Singapore competition and look forward to the international finals in Beijing. It is a great opportunity for us to showcase our fast-growing business and raise our international profile.”
While most cybersecurity solutions rely on defensive methods such as encryption, deception and firewalls, IoTSploit instead employs what it terms ‘offensive’ strategies.
“This in itself sets us apart from the cybersecurity competition,” Ms Sadybakasova told TechNews. “We automate and scale up the process of hacking your own network to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities.”
One disadvantage of defensive solutions is that they run passively in the background, and people thus tend to ‘install and forget’ them.
“This kind of approach often contributes to complacency and weak links in enterprise security,” she explained.
In contrast, IoTSploit’s solution works on the frontline, and generates regular, easy-to-understand analytics reports that allow for performance tracking over time.
“Our service engages the user at the behavioural level by actively raising issues before they become an expensive and extensive data breach,” said Ms Sadybakasova.
The other winners of the Singapore round included SG-Cosmos, which offers a space environment simulator for hand-held satellites, took second place at the competition, and third-placed Turnkey Lender, which develops software-as-a-service technology for end-to-end automation of lending.
Tadah Holdings, which pitched its personalised skincare product Daily Drop, received a special mention.
Tackling challenges head-on
IoTSploit plans to keep investing in R&D, and to continue hunting zero-day vulnerabilities — security holes that manufacturers are not yet aware of and thus have not had a chance to rectify, said Ms Sadybakasova.
The company will also continue to engage the information security community so that it can better deal with cyberthreats.
“This business is akin to having a new family member, and one of my biggest challenges during this exciting but intense time is learning how to balance time and energy between various commitments,” said Ms Sadybakasova. “For me, the belief that we are doing something meaningful helps me find the energy to take on and pursue new challenges.”
Women tech entrepreneurs face several unique challenges, Ms Katarina Hasbani, a board member at Female Founders, told TechNews.
For example, they often lack access to resources such as mentorship, technical resources and staff. They may also have problems finding funding.
“Global and Singapore-based data indicate that women-led startups receive less funding than startups led by men, even if they have a higher return on investment,” said Ms Hasbani.
Women entrepreneurs may also face an additional layer of social challenges, including social pressure and unconscious biases.
“Female Founders and our initiatives such as She Loves Tech tackle these challenges head-on. We raise awareness, bring about change in the ecosystem and provide direct support to women-led startups so that they can connect to the right resources,” said Ms Hasbani.
“There is no silver bullet solution. We need to work together across the ecosystem — both women and men — to ensure that we make the best use of available talent.”
- Main image (top photo) and prize-giving photo courtesy of Female Founders.