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The Female Founders Revolutionising Fintech, Fashion & Empowering our Communities



From Silicon Valley to bustling tech hubs worldwide, female founders are breaking barriers and reshaping industries with their innovative ventures. Central to this movement is the rapidly growing field of femtech - a term that encapsulates a diverse array of technology-driven solutions tailored to address women's health and wellness needs. So, what exactly is femtech? At its core, femtech encompasses a spectrum of products, services, and software meticulously crafted to cater to the distinct health concerns and experiences of women. This category spans a multitude of applications, ranging from reproductive health monitoring to menstrual tracking apps, pregnancy and breastfeeding care, sexual wellness products, and general healthcare tools tailored to women's unique physiological and reproductive needs. In essence, femtech ventures are at the forefront of revolutionising how women engage with and manage their health.



Written by: Filip Vrábel

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Healthcare, Female Founders & AI - A Perfect Symbiosis?


After finishing her doctoral research at Harvard Medical School and getting a PhD from Tufts, Jen Nwankwo had gotten a taste of commercial life as Management Consultant at Bain & Co. The intersection of medical knowledge, an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and commercial awareness has served Jen well in starting a highly specialised biotech company - 1910 Genetics.





 

What is the problem that 1910 Genetics is addressing? Its Mission Statement states that for a new drug to get to market takes 12-15 years, costs $2.5B, has less than a 10% success rate to get regulatory approval in Phase 1 of clinical trials resulting in fewer than 70 drugs entering the market each year. Inefficient? 1910 Genetics certainly thinks so. “[A] new end-to-end drug discovery and development process must be reimagined from the ground up using AI” says the company on its website. The scientific method has required much hypothesis testing which has been labour intensive and thus slow. Simply put, 1910 Genetics proposes that with the data capabilities of AI, the biotech industry is facing a revolution - in speed and creation. 


What is the platform/product that 1910 Genetics is offering? “We deploy a variety of SOTA model architectures for therapeutic design (LLMs, SLMs, RLHF, diffusion models, and attentive graph neural networks) customised for the small or large molecule discovery problem at hand.” That definition may leave us with more questions than answers. Let us unpack it step by step.


A SOTA model architecture simply means a “state of the art” deep neural network. This is a deep neural network which outperforms on certain metrics - say speed or accuracy. Obviously, there exist trade-offs when one aims for one metric above another - a faster system may be less accurate and vice-versa - so the SOTA label is earned when the trade-off is optimised.





A neural network as such, although the reader may be aware, also warrants explanation - as does the “deep” attribute. The origin of the term is biological: our own neurons in our brains are interconnected units that send signals to another. The step from the natural neural network to the artificial is simply one of abstractly reimagining the interconnected units framework. An artificial neural network is a mathematical model attempting to approximate the artificial neuron accepting one or multiple inputs, assigning weights to these inputs, and then combining them to generate an output. Organised in layers, data moves from the initial layer (known as the input layer) through one or multiple intermediary layers (referred to as hidden layers) before reaching the ultimate layer (the output layer). A deep neural network simply has more hidden layers than usual, allowing for greater complexity. 





1910 Genetics is not the only company relying on complex neural networks to carve out a space in the health market. There is also ArtCompass which aims to use AI to tackle infertility. It offers an app centered around in vitro fertilization (IVF), which not only stores patient information but also collects essential data, resulting in enhanced outcomes, driven by their AI technology. Started by Carol Lynn Curchoe, it is an obvious example of a startup not only catering to a vitally important female issue, but also represents how women moving into the startup arena have improved outcomes for addressing those issues. It is clear that AI technology, based on sophisticated neural networks, is creating opportunities for women in health startups not seen before.





The Female Fashion Founders Reshaping the Industry




But what about other sectors? The landscape of fashion entrepreneurship is increasingly being shaped by visionary women who are not only redefining style but also fostering empowerment and inclusivity within their brands. One such trailblazer is Jemina Ty, the 27-year-old Filipina founder and CEO of Blackbough Swim. Ty embarked on her entrepreneurial journey from her bedroom, driven by a desire to fill a gap in the market for affordable, high-quality bikinis. Since then, Blackbough has flourished, garnering a devoted following that includes celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens. 


Ty's commitment to empowerment extends beyond her designs, as she champions women's leadership within her company. With a workforce that is 97% female, Blackbough Swim stands as a testament to the power of women supporting and uplifting one another. Moreover, Ty prioritises the well-being and professional development of her team members, offering benefits such as health insurance and mental health support, along with opportunities for skills enhancement. 




Meanwhile, Camilla Franks, the creative force behind CAMILLA, has carved a niche in the fashion industry with her vibrant and intricate designs inspired by her global travels. Franks's approach to empowerment centres on embracing risk-taking and fostering inclusivity. Through her brand, she seeks to create a community where individuals from diverse backgrounds feel seen, heard, and celebrated. Additionally, CAMILLA's charitable initiatives, addressing issues such as domestic violence and sustainability, reflect Franks' dedication to making a positive impact beyond the realm of fashion. These visionary founders exemplify the transformative potential of fashion entrepreneurship as a vehicle for empowerment and social change. By prioritising inclusivity, leadership diversity, and philanthropy, they are not only shaping the future of fashion but also inspiring women around the world to dream big and pursue their passions with confidence.





Community Building






In the face of unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, one might assume that launching a women's networking platform would be a recipe for failure. However, Chief, the exclusive networking club designed for female executives, has defied expectations and emerged as a formidable force in the industry. Despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic, Chief has experienced remarkable growth since its inception in 2019. With a membership base of 20,000 and a staggering waiting list of 60,000, Chief has solidified its position as a premier destination for ambitious women in leadership roles. Backed by influential investors such as Alphabet's VC fund CapitalG, Chief boasts a valuation of $1.1 billion, underscoring its significance in the realm of female-focused startups. 


Former Handy and Primary Venture Partners executive Carolyn Childers and former Casper vice-president Lindsay Kaplan co-founded the membership-based business network, headquartered in New York City. In June 2019, the company secured $22 million in a Series A funding round led by General Catalyst chairman Ken Chenault and Alexa von Tobel, managing partner of Inspired Capital - both serving as Chief board members. In October 2022, Chief attained unicorn status with a valuation of $1.1 billion after a Series B funding round, raising a total of $140 million in 2022. Chief is thus clearly a significant phenomenon for women in business, not only due to the number and reputation of the early investors, but also due to its immense funding rounds and thus high valuation. Simply put, it displays the commercial success of businesswomen.





That is not to say there were no challenges. Covid made live networking impossible. That was not to be the end of Chief however. It successfully transitioned to exclusively virtual activities, which significantly contributed to its growth as more women accessed online platforms. Membership soared from 400 in March 2019 to 2,000 one year later. Two years later, membership expanded to 12,000 women leaders from 8,500 companies, with over three-quarters employed by Fortune 100 companies. By October 2022, membership reached 20,000. Chief has responded to the challenge of a pandemic which could have proved existential with a mindset that took it as a growth opportunity. It is a credible achievement, although Fortune has published criticism from some members regarding Chief's pivot to a fully digital model during the pandemic and its rapid scaling to meet heightened demand. Chief acknowledged these "growing pains" and stated that operational challenges had been addressed. The proof of that may be that it still remains the undisputed leader in terms of a live and online support system for female senior executives.


Female Powered Fintechs


Fintech is a rapidly growing market. It is estimated to be worth $167.54B, expected to surpass $400B by 2027 with a compound annual growth rate of 25.18%. It processes an immense amount of transactions of varying value: an estimated $8.49 trillion of digital payments were made in 2022; and it is a hot startup idea - over 26,000 fintech startups were launched in 2021. Despite being an attractive growth industry, FinTech is a very male-dominated field. Only 30% of the FinTech workforce is female and only 12% of FinTech founders are women. Let us thus look at the noteworthy female fintech startups reshaping the financial industry and improving the lives of women alongside it.





CapWay: Founded by Sheena Allen, CapWay aims to democratise access to financial services, particularly targeting underbanked and marginalised communities. Allen's personal experience growing up in a small Mississippi town, where many relied on predatory payday lending due to limited banking options, drove her to create CapWay. By providing financial products and literacy education, CapWay empowers individuals to navigate their finances more effectively, thereby improving the lives of women who are often disproportionately affected by financial exclusion. 




Ellevest: Sallie Krawcheck, former Wall Street executive, founded Ellevest with the goal of closing the gender wealth gap by designing financial products tailored specifically for women. Through banking, investing, and financial education services, Ellevest addresses key gender disparities such as the pay gap and longer lifespans. By prioritising women's financial needs and preferences, Ellevest contributes to empowering women economically and fostering greater financial independence.





Candidly: Laurel Taylor founded Candidly with the mission of alleviating the burden of student debt. Inspired by her own struggles with student loan repayment, Taylor envisions a future where employer benefits around student debt rival those of retirement plans. Candidly offers innovative solutions to tackle student debt, saving customers significant amounts on repayment and providing relief to individuals burdened by educational loans, thereby positively impacting the financial well-being of women. 


In summary, while the fintech sector thrives with rapid growth, it remains largely male-dominated. However, a wave of female-led fintech startups is challenging this norm. These companies are not only innovating financial services but also prioritising the needs of women. By addressing financial challenges faced by women, from banking access to retirement planning and debt management, these startups are driving economic empowerment and reshaping the industry's landscape towards inclusivity and accessibility.





The rise of female entrepreneurship across diverse sectors, including femtech, healthcare, fashion, and fintech, marks a significant shift in the startup landscape. Female founders are not only breaking barriers but also revolutionising industries with their innovative solutions and inclusive approaches. From addressing women's health needs with technology-driven solutions to reshaping the financial industry with female-centric financial services, these startups are driving economic empowerment and social change. Moreover, initiatives like Chief, a women's networking platform, underscore the importance of community building and support networks for female executives. As the entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to evolve, the contributions of female founders will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping a more equitable and inclusive future for all.


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