Kopi Chat Da Bao with Leanne Robers, She Loves Tech: Advice for female-focused start-ups

Contributed by Chen Yi Ting

Along with growing support and an increasing number of innovation competitions for entrepreneurs, female-focused start-ups are experiencing growth in Singapore with several communities and initiatives like Weconnect, She1k and SoGal. On July 1, we invited Leanne Robers, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of She Loves Tech, the world’s largest start-up competition for women and technology, for our virtual Kopi Chat Da Bao session. Being a serial entrepreneur who wears many hats, Leanne is also a community builder, angel investor and practising psychologist. Last year, Leanne was selected as an Obama leader in the Asia-Pacific, blazing the trail as a changemaker and key opinion leader.

Soh Hui Min (left) of NUS Enterprise with Leanne Robers (right), Co-Founder and Co-CEO of She Loves Tech

In this Kopi Chat session, Leanne Robers shared about her wide range of experiences in start-up ecosystems across the globe. She highlighted that China has risen from a country of mass production and mimicking products to become a global trend setter in terms of innovation and speed of execution. In another example that she has highlighted, Pakistan, despite not having the infrastructure and ecosystem of other technology hubs, has unparalleled spirit, drive and passion in order to drive the start-up community.

During the chat, she also offered advice and fresh perspectives for female entrepreneurs creating innovative technologies.

1. Diversity is important in building technology.

Diverse teams with women involved in decision-making and programming roles allow for variant perspectives to create technologies that promote inclusivity and equality. In last year’s Women in AI panel (Watch it here: https://www.facebook.com/BLOCK71Singapore/videos/2598585386824797/), Leanne shares about how AI can be biased. In a stance to promote diversity, Amazon scraped its AI recruiting tool and IBM ended all its facial recognition technology and business because they were found to be biased towards groups like women. Other large technology companies such as Microsoft are finding solutions and launching anti-bias tools for AI platforms.

2. It’s never too late to learn and build your start-up.

People of different ages and ethnicities are also able to contribute to the vibrant start-up scene. Being passionate and driven about a cause that resonates with you is the key. For example, a female entrepreneur in her late 40s was inspired by her own children to build an education platform in She Loves Tech competition last year. Another participant dropped out of college in order to create her MedTech solution.

3. Networking for long-term relationships is a must for start-up founders.

In scouting for VCs and potential mentors, hustle and attend as many physical and virtual networking events as possible, even when nonfundraising. Leanne likens the process to finding a job and rejection is common. Be courageous to make an impression and be open to any feedback or criticism so that it becomes a learning process. It is also essential to cultivate meaningful and sustainable relationships so you can get help and advice throughout your journey as an entrepreneur. Connection goes both ways and you are always able to offer and be offered a fresh perspective.

4. Investors look out for strength of mind and team make-up.

Building a strong and cohesive team that works well together can build confidence in the leader to pitch well and increase chances of gaining funds. Leanne points out that founders and even accomplished leaders like Michelle Obama have the Imposter Syndrome, which includes feelings of being fraudulent and inadequate, ultimately preventing them from performing. Thus, having a strong mind is vital to having courage and overcoming the Imposter Syndrome.

5. Don’t take too much time getting your product out.

Leanne emphasises the importance for entrepreneurs to release their products and get feedback early on. While building Comish, an e-commerce platform dedicated to connecting people with creators who personalise art, music, food, and fashion, Leanne regrets her team’s perfectionist streak and the use of more than a year of refinement before launching it to the public, resulting in a lack of relevance to the market. She concludes, “Everyone is going to make mistakes, run into challenges and successful entrepreneurs are those who fail quickly, learn quickly and use their learnings to drive growth.”

Enjoyed this session of Kopi Chat Da Bao? Stay tuned for more events like this via enterprise.nus.edu.sg. Watch the Kopi Chat replay at https://www.facebook.com/BLOCK71Singapore/videos/4361837523841261

If you are keen to join She Loves Tech, find out more about the competition and volunteer opportunities at https://www.shelovestech.org.