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How women founders in tech are forging their unique path to success

In a recent EY Women in Technology webcast, women entrepreneurs shared their experiences around founding and scaling tech companies.

In brief

  • Women entrepreneurs continue to face significant barriers around funding and other key areas, particularly within the tech industry.
  • We recently sat down with a group of top female founders in tech to discover their formula for success.
  • Key enablers include persistence, a problem-solving mindset and the ability to select the right team.

While many organizations across today’s technology industry have pledged to accelerate gender parity, the field is still largely male-dominated, especially at the entrepreneurial stage. However, as one US-based venture capital firm discovered when its portfolio companies with female founders outperformed its investments with all-male founding teams by 63%, women-led tech startups have made significant strides in recent years.1 Yet, men still receive over seven times more funding than women.

Breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling to access capital equitably has been a major challenge for women founders. In the US, just 2.1% of venture capital (VC) funding was awarded to female-founded startups,2 and their counterparts in Europe received just 0.9%3. Accessing capital is such a major challenge for women founders, that they only accounted for 15% of US technology startups in 20224.

Actionable steps that enable success

With these concerning statistics top of mind, we recently hosted a panel of highly accomplished women founders in tech within our EY Women in Technology webcast series. During our discussion, these leaders shared experience-driven insights for female tech entrepreneurs who aspire to design, build and develop a successful tech startup business, as well as those who have already begun the entrepreneurial journey. From these talks, three key actions emerged.

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    Find your passion — and a problem to solve

    When our panelists started their respective entrepreneurial journeys, they all had one thing in common: a bold vision around using technology to solve a problem they were passionate about.


    Neetu Seth, Founder and CEO of NITS Solutions, spoke about the importance of having a solution-oriented mindset: “There's always purpose in solving business problems for your clients,” she explained. To that end, in 2009, she built a data analytics tool that provided Fortune 500 automotive companies with better visibility into their dealership and car servicing operations. “Over time, that led to developing bigger [customer relationship management] (CRM) products and digital services.” Today, Neetu’s company remains fully self-funded, with operations in both the US and India.


    Veronica Orvalho, Founder and CEO of Didimo, found her purpose during her tenure as a professor at leading universities in Spain and Portugal. During that period, her research into the use of digital avatars to help improve communication with children with severe autism sparked an epiphany: “I learned that when solving someone’s real-life problem, everything changes.” Today, Veronica’s company focuses on humanizing character creation across the video gaming industry by developing more realistic digital human avatars. The company now operates in Europe and the Americas, and successfully closed its latest round of venture capital (VC) funding at the end of 2022.


    Leveraging their deep experience working with the US Department of Defense in various capacities, Lonye Ford (CEO) and Arlene Wube (President and COO) co-founded Arlo Solutions after recognizing the need to improve the assessment and validation process around new technologies and equipment for US military service members in the field (a process that previously took nearly 20 years). “We couldn’t change the whole ecosystem, so we asked: how can we streamline the timeline?” Lonye shared. The solution was developing a new fast-track authorization and operational security process. Now a leading provider of cybersecurity and other services with nearly 100 employees, the company is highly regarded across the US defense intelligence community.


    After leaving a career in intelligence services, Christi Maherry founded LAWtrust in 2006 to follow her passion for fighting injustice and keeping her fellow South Africans safe: “The vision was to issue crypto-based digital identities for every citizen because South Africans’ identity documents were not being trusted by the rest of the world,” she explained. After selling LAWtrust, Christi created a foundation to tackle human trafficking and later invested in and became co-owner and CEO of Cyber Security Institute, which helps organizations with cyber resilience.

    Be adaptable and persistent

    When Christi left the intelligence services field, she questioned whether her unconventional skills in unarmed combat and lock picking could be of any use in a commercial environment: “I bought a computer, not knowing where to switch it on,” she laughed. “I had to totally reskill myself, but I knew this would be a way to apply my security skills in something new and innovative.”


    For women entrepreneurs who aren’t ready to completely reskill yet, Arlene suggested taking small steps to reach their goals: “If you’re good at administration, then look for a project or program management role,” she said.


    While reskilling and upskilling are important in gaining entry into a new industry, these steps are only the beginning. “Overnight success is a five-year journey,” Christi said. Neetu agreed: “There will be many challenges along the way, but my advice is to believe in the three Cs: confidence, can-do and courage. You need to stay very persistent.” 


    In addition to adhering to the three Cs, women entrepreneurs need to focus on differentiating themselves and their businesses to enter into new industries. For instance, Arlene and Lonye confided that it wasn’t always easy getting in front of new clients in the defense industry. Recognizing this, they took a different approach: “We realized the government agencies weren't meeting their goals for working with small businesses or women-owned companies, and that became our [unique selling point].”


    The innovative thinking and persistence that helped propel these entrepreneurs are also crucial for women founders who seek funding, which can require significant sacrifices early in the entrepreneurial journey. For example, Christi once took out a bond on her house to pay her staff. And according to Neetu, when she started NITS Solutions in 2009, potential investors were not convinced: “At the time, nobody knew about data analytics. I knocked on doors, but they did not open for me. Then, I knocked on my angel investor’s door: my husband. He invested.” While Neetu and Christi were very fortunate to have these resources at their disposal, self-financing and assistance from family and friends aren’t the only path to funding a startup.

    There will be many challenges along the way, but my advice is to believe in the three Cs: confidence, can-do and courage. You need to stay very persistent.

    Several webcast panelists also spoke about the importance of networking for women founders. Like Veronica, who, after sharing the details of her academic research program around improving communication for people with autism with the Portuguese government, was put in touch with an angel investor. And to further enable her new company’s success, she applied for and was selected to join a global mentorship-driven accelerator for entrepreneurs. Then, together with an angel investor, she actively sought more significant backing: “It doesn’t necessarily have to be institutional investors or VCs; it can be those angels. It’s about finding that one sponsor, that one investor, who can support and help you.”


    Build the right network and teams

    When assembling a team of investors, executives, mentors and other key partners and collaborators, women founders need to seek out skill sets and capabilities that complement their own. For example, Veronica’s angel investor brought funding and business acumen, which complemented her coding and research skills. Lonye and Arlene also brought complementary expertise in the form of significant cyber and technical skills (Lonye) and deep knowledge of organizational infrastructure and scalability (Arlene). Together, Lonye says, they are an amazing match: “We are business partners, friends, and soulmates. I don't say that lightly because the individual you choose to go into business with can make or break your organization.”

    Christi, who personally recruited her company’s first 20 employees, agreed: “Having the right people on your team is probably the most important decision any entrepreneur faces. Having a very strong foundation of people with the same values made us stand out in the market because authenticity and the standard of trust were critical.”

    Neetu also shared that building the right support system drives business growth over the long term: “I'm very blessed to have the right people, the right clients, and the right support ecosystem where I've been guided and mentored by other women,” she explained. “I am a firm believer in having the right mentor in your life, whether on a personal level, professional level or social level.”

    Having the right people on your team is probably the most important decision any entrepreneur faces. Having a very strong foundation of people with the same values made us stand out in the market.

    Christi added that finding the right mentor is all about having clear goals and expectations: “You need to be very specific because you often need mentors in different areas where you want to grow.” And according to Lonye, it's also important to remember that the mentor-mentee relationship should be reciprocal: "You have to think about what makes you stand out above the rest, but also what do you bring to the table? The benefits should flow both ways.”


    The successes these tech entrepreneurs have enjoyed in the face of significant barriers to entry for women founders serve as a blueprint for all innovative women leaders. By finding their passion, leveraging a problem-solving mindset, being adaptable and persistent, and building the right team, women in tech have an opportunity to help tackle some of today’s most pressing business challenges — while also thriving both professionally and personally.

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