When you think of a tech entrepreneur, the first thing that might spring to mind is a Mark Zuckerberg-esque teenage lad, coding in his bedroom.
But in 2016 this stereotype is clearly no longer relevant. Today’s tech entrepreneurs could be the mother or sister of a child with additional needs for whom the internet and digital technology offer the ideal solution. Or a former management consultant, now following her passion for education. Or a female social entrepreneur shaking up the recruitment industry to get more young people into paid work.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #PledgeforParity. Yet women in the UK reportedly occupy just 17 percent of tech jobs. This view is echoed by Nominet in their report to mark International Girls in ICT Day in 2015, which also highlights a continuing pattern with only 15 percent of girls studying a computing GCSE.
At Nominet Trust, we support some truly remarkable women building technology businesses with a social mission. We showcase a raft of inspirational female founders from around the world in our annual NT100.
Through working in partnership with organisations such as BAFTA, we encourage young women game designers; in addition, over a third of ventures funded through our Social Tech Seed programme have been founded or co-founded by female social entrepreneurs.
Below are just four examples that demonstrate how female founders are drawing on their personal experiences to build relevant, impactful tech for good enterprises.
The mother who became a 3D scanning and printing pioneer
Digital technology has the potential to radically improve lives, but it takes someone with the right drive and determination to kick-start a whole new approach. Samiya Parvez, co-founder of Andiamo, was moved to action when she realised 3D scanning and printing technologies could help children like her son Diamo, who was born with cerebral palsy and was quadriplegic.
“Looking after a disabled child who is solely depending on you is difficult,” says Samiya, “but what was more difficult was getting his orthoses. Without these, he would be in a lot of pain and discomfort. Simple things like feeding him and sitting him on his wheelchair became a major task.”
The orthotic supports available using traditional methods involved a lengthy and distressing process. By the time Diamo’s orthotics arrived, he had often outgrown them and they were no longer effective.
Following her personal experience as a mother, Samiya is now working to improve orthotics for other young people with disabilities.
Andiamo aims to provide affordable orthotics to the millions of families worldwide that are in need. “We bring 3D scanning and printing technologies to the forefront,” Samiya comments, “and change family lives by providing something simple but essential to their wellbeing: an orthosis that fits, and arrives within weeks of measurement - rather than months.”
The sister who became a ground-breaking game designer
For Cara Jessop, her experience of creating games for her brother Tommy, who has Down’s Syndrome, taught her first-hand the importance of early-stage development in people with learning difficulties.
Tommy outperformed all expectations and followed his dream to become a very successful professional actor. His achievement inspired Cara to set up accessible game design studio, Enabling Play.
“At the heart of what I do is my love for Tommy, my awareness of how the right support has helped him achieve incredible things, and the enormous desire to help others to live more independent, fulfilled lives,” Cara says.
“For this, tech is absolutely brilliant - it is so good for sharing, for adapting to different needs, for bringing people together, for carrying a message.”
Together with brother Will, Cara is now co-designing games with children with Down’s Syndrome and their families. The sensitive approach allows them, as designers, to adapt the games to their users’ needs and build some of their personality into the final products.
The former management consultant following her passion for education
There is no one route into tech, for women or anyone else. Former management consultant Nathalie Richards, “fell into a career in tech almost by accident… I found, to my surprise, that tech was fun, fast-paced and very creative.” While consulting, Nathalie developed a passion for helping schools support pupils from low-income backgrounds. She realised that what the sector really needed was a smart, online directory of the different development programmes on offer that could help raise student attainment.
This led her to create Edukit, a one-stop shop for schools to find out about initiatives they might not otherwise discover. It also provides reporting and analysis to track each pupil’s progress, so that the success of the whole process can be quantified. In addition, the site directs users to free and low-cost support for parents and teachers to help young people to explore careers in tech.
The social entrepreneur shaking up the recruitment industry
Another female social entrepreneur leading the way, Sam Sparrow, has founded careers platform Task Squad. It uses young people’s volunteering history to help them get paid, entry-level jobs. Sam notes, “I’ve always been interested in technology, but as a young woman there were limited opportunities for me to develop the knowledge and skills required for a career through traditional educational settings.”
“As a social tech entrepreneur I have been able to forge my own path, paying little attention to perceived or real barriers for women working in technology.” Sam continues, “For me, the most important issue is the social problem we are trying to solve, and using technology to support that is the obvious next step.”
These founders are flying the flag for women in technology, pursuing unconventional but successful routes in the industry, and establishing new means of achieving gender parity through their passion and commitment. And they are by no means alone.
As the ever-growing field of social tech continues to develop, I have no doubt that we will continue to see more exceptional women drawing on their experiences to create meaningful social businesses. At Nominet Trust, we feel privileged to play a role in this journey towards gender parity in tech and beyond.
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