Global Scale Up X – a community for female entrepreneurs to connect, be empowered and scale up
Powered by MIT D-Lab and the Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN), the Global Scale Up X Instagram channel features inspiring stories from female founders around the world who have successfully raised funds for their businesses. In each story, the founders share their motivation for starting their companies, as well as the challenges and lessons learned from their fundraising journeys. Some key questions they address are how to find the right investors and what it’s like being a woman founder.
Why was Global Scale Up X created?
“Storytelling is more than sharing experiences. It is about being authentic and vulnerable. Ultimately, it is about finding in the wisdom a person shares what is unique about that person and what yet also represents a universal truth. This creates connection and inspires others. And it’s from inspiration that change in others is often triggered. Storytelling is therefore crucial to support actions international development practitioners aim to trigger. I fundamentally believe storytelling has to be part of every project plan. Global Scale Up X is a good example of this approach. It shows the depth of knowledge gained from important research findings that is now being translated into an engaging storytelling format to inspire change and create community.” – Susann Tischendorf, Director for Communications and Digital Innovation of iBAN
“Hosting Global Scale Up X on Instagram was a bit of an experiment. While not new to Jona, Susann or myself personally, it was a new medium to highlight our work with entrepreneurs. We chose it because it’s visual, ubiquitous, and interactive, allowing founders to highlight their businesses, share their stories and connect with other founders and/or ecosystem supporters. Also, there are a lot of other great communities supporting entrepreneurs on Instagram which we wanted to link to in order to magnify the unique growth experiences, successes and barriers faced by female founders that Global Scale Up X centers.” – Amanda Epting, Inclusive Business Manager of MIT D-Lab
“In emerging markets, only 11% of venture capital funding goes to women-led ventures and the gender financing gap is one of the most persistent problems we need to tackle in the entrepreneurship space. We created Global Scale Up X to build a virtual community of female founders who want to connect and swap tips on fundraising. By highlighting success stories from around the world, we hope to showcase real role models that can inspire other female founders to follow in their footsteps. Globally, 100+ million people can be lifted out of poverty if women get equitable access to productive resources (ADB 2020).” – Jona Repishti, Social Entrepreneurship Manager of MIT D-Lab
What motivates the entrepreneurs to start their businesses?
For Jodie Wu, it is the desire to make an impact and support vulnerable communities that drove her to start Global Cycle Solutions in Tanzania. “Bringing value to the community is what inspired my work and grew my business,” says Jodie. From providing bicycle-powered agricultural technologies to building a last-mile distribution network, she was consistently committed to one mission: to serve smallholder farmers. That inspiration has stayed with Jodie until now, as she currently works as COO of OffGridBox to provide affordable clean water and solar energy in remote rural areas.
Also working in the clean energy and last-mile distribution sectors, Linda Wamune understands that women suffer the most from a lack of infrastructure and clean energy. "Being a woman myself, I go through the challenges that they go through." This is what motivated her to found Econome, a company distributing home utility products to rural households in Kenya.
Linda’s compassion for women, which turned into her motivation to start a business, was also shared by Betty Ikalany, Founder and CEO of Appropriate Energy Savings Technologies. “My main driver for doing this work is being able to provide these women and girls with access to cleaner stoves and cheaper fuel. It is what keeps me going even when things get difficult.” Her social enterprise provides access to clean cooking and creates livelihood opportunities for women in rural communities in Uganda.
No matter which areas these entrepreneurs start out in, what they all have in common are the will to make a difference and the ability to identify and fulfil the needs of vulnerable communities. Staying close to the needs of the communities one is serving also keeps the business growing sustainably and helps build resilience through challenging times.
What is it like being a woman founder?
Starting a business is never an easy journey, especially for female entrepreneurs. A report by HSBC Private Banking in 2019 showed that more than a third of women entrepreneurs “had a direct experience of gender bias.”
For Sona Mahmody, President of Rumi Trading in Afghanistan, it was even more challenging when she started out her company in a traditionally male-dominated sector. Gender inequality in property ownership was one of the barriers that denied Sona access to bank financing for her business. However, she chose to look at the gender biases differently and made things work in her favor. “Sometimes in Afghan society you get unexpected chances because you are a woman. When I went to register my business, all those waiting in line stepped aside and said ‘You're a woman, you can go first’,” shared Sona.
Betty Ikalany also faced biased perceptions from society as a woman entrepreneur, but she did not allow them to stop her from running her own company. “I don’t let my gender give somebody an opportunity to doubt my abilities,” she said. Being a female leader, moreover, inspired her to empower other women to do the same. In fact, female entrepreneurs tend to find inspiration from other women in their industry to set up their own businesses.
Another fascinating insight shared by Jodie Wu may also resonate with other female founders: “Because I am a woman, I feel like I have been able to attract a lot more female employees.”
How to find the right investors?
When it comes to fundraising, sticking to the company’s objectives is not always easy when the entrepreneurs have to coordinate and align them with different investor interests. Emily Cunningham, Co-founder of True Moringa – a company sells food and beauty products from moringa tree in Ghana, shared, “One of my biggest takeaways about fundraising is the importance of finding investors that are truly aligned with your cause for the long haul.” Being clear about the company’s mission and values in the first place is critical, in order to find investors who are particularly interested in and committed to the company through ups and downs in the long term.
It is also crucial to understand the objectives of the investors, and in the experience of Hardika Shah, Founder and CEO of Kinara Capital – a non-banking financial company in India, “There is more art than science to it.” Hardika’s approach was to invite investors and lenders over for lunch at her house, which created a friendly environment for all the stakeholders to open up and gain a deeper understanding of each other. The importance of founders spending time with investors is also emphasized by Lindsay Stradley, Co-founder of Sanergy – a company providing sanitation and waste management solutions in Kenya: “It may sound cliché, but investors are investing in the leadership team.”
Finally, when it’s time to negotiate and close the deal, “Don’t compromise – make the ask,” as Bala Mukkalama, CEO of Involute Institute of Technical Training – a technical training company in India, advises female founders.
Entrepreneurship is a challenging journey, and it can be a lonely one at times. Global Scale Up X aims to provide a community where entrepreneurs can be vulnerable, share their experiences, and find inspiration, to connect with others, to be empowered and to scale up. Global Scale Up X is THE community for women founders! Join us to find your own stories and inspiration!