The Value of Women’s Organisations in Young Women Empowerment

Professional-womenIt’s a well-known fact that the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), are currently dominated by men. According to South African Women in Science and Engineering, only 40% of South Africa’s scientists, engineers and technologists are women.

More and more programmes today are being created to ensure that women are being more involved in the industry. Among these are organisations that support the achievements of women in the STEM fields. With the lack of women in these fields around the world, organisations where one can meet like-minded people are extremely important. Young women in particular who have an interest in technology but do not have an idea of how to be involved and bring value to the industry are able to use these as a learning ground for their own careers.

An observation I made, however, was that most of these organisations were for already “seasoned” entrepreneurs who have owned multiple businesses over the years. What I’ve found to be lacking, are organisations focused on empowering young women, especially in the STEM fields.

As part of the biggest women’s organisation in South Africa, namely: the Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWASA), I’ve come to the conclusion that many 25 year olds like myself trying to make names for themselves in the STEM fields yearn to be exposed to women who run multi-million dollar and multi-national companies, but are not aware that these organisations exist. In most engagements I’ve made over the past few months, I am usually the youngest person to attend, and it got me thinking:  One has to search rigorously online to find these organisations, and only once you’ve found a contact from within the organisation, do you then realise that there is a host of other women’s organisations available in the country. But why are they not readily available to young women, especially from high school, university and entry-level professionals?

With the changing times and young people being more than willing to start their own organisations, there are young women organisations that have been created for the purpose of upskilling young women in tech. The support from organisations such as BWASA and We Lead, and also Everywoman which is a UK organisation which runs similarly to BWASA, would help in the growth of Leadership or Entrepreneurship programmes, as the network of women in these fields may help young women grow at a faster rate. Exposure to professionals and entrepreneurs that have become a success in the industry is important, as young women need to know that it’s possible. In order for more young women to be involved, support structures from well-known women’s organisations needs to be established.

In keeping with the spirit of Women Empowerment at the Cortex Hub, a great initiative began last year for Women’s Month. Our flagship event, Women Hacker’s Unite, was created to help in addressing the lack of women in technology. In our engagements with various women in the tech industry, we established how important and how valued Women Empowerment is and how important it is to be addressing this issue.

Defining A Start-up (Why we don’t call it small business)

From-Startup-tp-Grown-up“One thing we can agree on:  The key attribute is its ability to grow. A start-up is a company designed to scale very quickly. It is this focus on growth unconstrained by geography which differentiates start-ups from small businesses.” – Paul Graham, Y Combinator Accelerator Head.

The term start-up refers to companies that have been recently launched, generally in their first 3 to 5 years of operation. However this is not a hard set rule, companies could take longer or exit the start-up phase faster. It also seems there is consensus amongst thought leaders that explosive growth is paramount to meeting this definition.

It became a popular term during the dot-com bubble of the late 90’s, when technology companies were under high demand from investors. This misleads many people into believing that start-ups can only be information technology companies. The reality is that a company from any industry vertical can be a start-up, as long as it’s a new business that uses innovative methods to grow really fast and is not limited by geography.

Scalability is to a start-up, what a racket is to tennis. You’re simply not in the game if you don’t have it. So no, your uncles’ coffee shop on 5th avenue is not a start-up, unless it’s scaling like Starbucks. You want to build a company that fulfils the specific needs of your immediate community? That’s great! but it’s no start-up.

Start-ups; we don’t call these types of businesses “small business” because they never small for very long. There is strategic intent to pursue growth. The iterative process of going back to customers and finding out what’s needed to improve, then improving and get more customers, is core to what this type of business is. The entire business model is specifically designed to maximise growth. The initial size allows for flexibility with much less bureaucracy, this enables start-ups to take advantage of opportunities much faster than established corporations. The growth attracts funding and funding can buy more growth which attracts more funding until the beast has matured.

Some successful founders have stated that they would define a start-up by the culture a business has developed. Namely having a dynamic culture in which most if not all the employees, feel like they have a big impact and work collaboratively to deliver that impact. I disagree with this view; I agree that there is a start-up culture. However a company may or may not be a start-up even if it has a start-up culture. Put differently, all start-ups have a start-up culture because it is core to their strategic intent but non-start-ups can adapt this culture as well. Achieving such a culture is fast becoming the holy grail for large corporations that want to rejuvenate and keep up.

In summary, start-ups are defined by scalability, the tool used to achieve it is innovation, and the inherent advantage is flexibility.

The stance communicated here is my own; however as a member of a team currently running an Incubator Accelerator, my colleagues and I thought it important for ourselves to discuss this definition. As it speaks to the type of businesses we wanted to create at the Cortex Hub. In our discussions we had very similar views and have used this definition as the core of our business take on acceptance criteria. I think this highlights the importance of the definition and the impact of its interpretation.