Allyson Kapin started the non-profit Women Who Tech in 2008. In a world where 90% of investor money is funnelled into organisations founded by men, Kapin’s group seeks to amplify the voices of women across the scientific community by helping them boost their profile and source the funding needed to grow their operations. Through its work with organisations like TechStars and the Mayor of London’s office, Women Who Tech has now helped multiple start-ups raise millions of dollars.
The organisation’s upcoming Women Startup Challenge Europe HealthTech awards will showcase the best and brightest achievements of its contenders, giving them the opportunity to be selected as one of 10 finalists chosen to win an equity-free cash grant of $50,000.
Past winners of the award have gone on to thrive. Virtue Health, a company leveraging cutting edge technology to combat age-related chronic conditions, received Women Who Tech’s $25,000 Mozilla prize in October 2018. It has since raised its first private funding, is in the process of doubling its team and has been awarded the £50,000 Women In Innovation prize from the UK Innovation Agency. Likewise, since winning Women Who Tech’s $50,000 grand prize, SIRUM has raised additional funding, expanded its team and increased its product offering. The company has developed a platform which connects surplus drugs from wholesalers with in-need clinics.
We spoke to Kapin to find out more about how her organisation is helping to change the face of digital health.
Chloe Kent: What inspired you to set up Women Who Tech?
Allyson Kapin: We launched Women Who Tech to create a community for both established and emerging female tech professionals, to bring them together as part of a virtual summit and hold our own conferences that talked about the key issues and challenges that we see women in tech facing. Before that, we were just surrounded by panellists and keynote speakers who were primarily white men, as if women in tech didn’t exist.
We did virtual telesummits for several years, where women could participate from all around the world – we worked with Ariana Huffington of the Huffington Post and Rashmi Sinha, the co-founder of SlideShare – and then we took a step back in 2015. There had been such an awesome rise in the number of women in tech organisations, but one issue that wasn’t really being talked about was the lack of funding for women-led start-ups.
That’s when we made a pivot in our program to really focus on deploying capital, resources and mentoring to women-led start-ups to get them funded. In the US only 2.2% of women-led start-ups get funding; for women of colour it’s about 0.2%. In Europe it’s about 9% of funding that’s going to women-led start-ups so it’s a little more supportive, but in the grand scheme of things we’re still not making much progress.
CK: Why have you chosen to focus on health tech for the upcoming awards?
AK: We always look at the trends in terms of the submissions we receive for each women’s start-up challenge. We definitely noticed a big trend in women launching their own health tech start-ups and it’s grown through every start-up challenge, and we just weren’t seeing the requisite funding.
When we are dealing with so many complex healthcare issues around the world, we need diverse perspectives at the table. We can’t just do that through a white male perspective if we want to create new products and innovations and solve global healthcare issues. So that’s why we launched Women Startup Challenge Europe HealthTech.
CK: What is the most exciting female-led health tech start-up you’ve worked with?
AK: Open Bionics, a start-up based in the UK, has created 3D-printed bionic arms for children that are superhero-themed through a partnership with Disney at a fraction of the price it would normally cost. Normally it’s $25,000+ for children to get this and through Open Bionics it’s about $5,000.
There hasn’t been a lot of investment made in this area up until this point because children grow so quickly. No one had really taken the time to care about the emotional challenges facing children who have been born without or lost limbs, so it’s just an incredible example of a start-up that is thinking about the future, about people and about economics.
CK: What are the key trends being addressed by women-led health tech startups?
AK: Obviously a big trend that we’re seeing is around femtech dealing with fertility issues. We’re seeing a whole new trend dealing with perimenopause and menopause. We’re also seeing quite a large trend in biotech start-ups – some of the most innovative companies coming through in the health tech sector are focusing on new discoveries in treating cancer and Alzheimer’s.
CK: What is the mission of Women Who Tech in handing out these awards, and why is increasing opportunities for female-led start-ups so important?
AK: If the health tech world is going to truly innovate and solve some of the world’s toughest problems, they need diverse founders who have different experiences and different perspectives in terms of how they build products and who they build products for. The tech sector really prides itself on innovation, but if diversity was considered a tech product it would be a complete failure.
We’re trying to open up these investor networks to female-led start-ups so they can get more funding, because right now the investor world is very small and they tend to fund start-ups they’re connected to. Most of the investors are men and they tend to fund other men, people who remind them of themselves. Once a start-up is in their portfolio they look into other companies they could be funding and they often fund the friends of start-up founders they’ve already worked with, who are also men just like them, and it just goes around and around.
What we try and do is bust down those networks so that these women-led start-ups can begin to vastly expand their investor network and get more funding.