According to a study in 2020, women-founded startups raised just 1% of investment in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). 5% went to mixed-gender founding teams, while all-male teams raised 94%. Yet female-founded startups generate more revenue per euro invested and female-led businesses outperform in capital productivity by 96%.
In these tough economic times it is not wise to leave many of the ‘best and the brightest’ out of high-economic-impact activities. While Georgia does better than many CEE countries on female founding of startups, the majority of founders are still male, so there is still tremendous opportunity to unlock.
To help Georgia tackle this issue and unlock the potential, the US Market Access Center, a Silicon Valley startup growth company, have partnered with Startup Grind Georgia to launch Georgian Women in Tech.
The USAID Economic Security Program was the lead sponsor of the program and provided tuition for startups Beauty Lab, Bioms Nano Fertilizers, Bizon, Pulsar AI, and Shenia. UN Women also joined by supporting MULTI, and BTU Business and Technology University did a partial scholarship for Trice AI and Caucasus University for Doggo Pair; these startups were joined by international female founders from Italy, France and other countries.
Trainings were held mostly online, with limited in-person sessions when mentors visited Georgia. “While it’s a shame we could not hold the program in-person, it is amazing to see the connections and value that participants are still getting. We’re proud of our team and the Silicon Valley experts for successfully making the switch to online training & mentoring”, says Kate Bunina, Managing Director of US Market Access Center.
In fact, doing the program mostly remotely allowed for high-level mentors and trainers that would otherwise have been unavailable for live trainings due to distance or budget concerns, including: Head of DEI Technology Programs at Google Natalia Villalobos; Senior Director Corporate Development from Oracle Anna Vissers; Manager, Innovation & Partnerships at T-Mobile Christina Claure, and; Sheana O’Sullivan – managing director, head of US at FirstCapital.
In addition to the very high level of Silicon Valley speakers, the environment was important to the challenges startup founders face when making something out of nothing.
Keta from Beauty Lab comments:
“As an entrepreneur you face a lot of challenges and sometimes you feel lost and not safe. This program gives me a safe space where I’m not afraid of challenges that I face everyday and it helps me to be ready for the future ones as well. This program is not only business, but also personal advancement for me and I’m inspired by hearing the stories of female leaders.”
The US Market Access Center takes a “founder centered” approach and the development of founders is what they feel drives a startup ecosystem.
“Frankly it’s all about the founder. A given startup idea may or may not be the one which goes big, but if founders are developed as highly capable leaders they may not succeed on their first attempt but they learn and grow to tackle ever more exciting opportunities”, says Chris Burry, co-founder of US Market Access Center, the organizers of the GWIT program.
Kate Bunina, the managing director of the program, emphasized how unique the program is because of the mentors and speakers it involves: “It’s very important that founders can get a feel for the Silicon Valley culture and environment. We can’t fly every founder to Silicon Valley so programs such as ours allow founders to get connection and exposure to top Silicon Valley leaders and a feel for the pace and scale that is possible and expected there. We’re excited to take ambitious founders and give them even more ambitious goals and dreams. Really there is no place in the world like Silicon Valley for dreaming big, and we’re so proud of giving our founders a dose of this.”
Companies involved were varied but all had potential to scale into markets beyond Georgia. The initial training phase in fall was followed by a longer phase where project ‘sherpas’ help founders travel farther faster and give them unique insights and connections, with the total program supporting founders over six months touching on a variety of topics.
This collaboration between US Market Access Center and Startup Grind Tbilisi was not the first; Georgian startup Phubber gained their first investor at an event US Market Access Center hosted in Silicon Valley with Startup Grind as partner.
Startup Grind director Gio Tukhashvili invited Eugene Fooksman, an early core team member at Whatsapp, to attend the event and he and Phubber connected, resulting in a first $100,000 check to Phubber and 9 months later another for $300,000 at double the valuation.
This US acceleration program Phubber took part in was also funded by the USAID Economic Security Program and implemented by the US Market Access Center.
The Georgian Women in Tech program is a first step for US Market Access Center doing ‘on the ground’ programs in Georgia; GWIT director Kate Bunina and the US MAC co-founder Chris Burry have recently moved to Georgia.
“I’m very excited that Georgia has captured the interest of such a strong institution as US Market Access Center”, says Colin Donohue, Director of Startup Grind Tbilisi, “They have worked with literally thousands of startups in dozens of countries around the world. Having them basing a team here is an amazing signal validating Georgia’s startup efforts. Many places can have startup organizations come in on a ‘pay to play’ basis but they leave when the project funding finishes. USMAC making a commitment to Georgia independent of any big contract or funding is an exciting signal. GWIT is a great step in sharing their experience and we look forward to exploring how we can collaborate to build a strong startup ecosystem here overall”.
The next Georgian Women in Tech cohort will begin July 2021. More information about the program can be found here: https://www.georgianwomenintech.com
Bizon is a marketplace for the sale and rental of construction and agricultural equipment. Given many companies and farms need equipment they don’t have capital to purchase themselves, Bizon unlocks the opportunity to get important work done via rental without undue capital cost.
Bioms Nano Fertilizers is a startup taking the research from a female researcher and putting it onto the market with advanced organic fertilizers which don’t just fertilize but also build soil and enhance disease resistance.
Shenia makes customized children’s books using the child’s name and teaching socially-beneficial values.
Pulsar AI is developing ‘conversational AI’ for auto dealerships, allowing car buyers with questions about car’s features to be served by a bot which learns from big data and can relevantly answer questions. Pulsar operates in the US market and just secured their 50th auto dealership as a customer.