Just today I had a young and enthusiastic women call me up asking for advice and maybe some pointers on how to bring her vision to life. During the call I could almost see her deflating while I piled up the list of challenges that came with fundraising, developing tech products and gathering the right team. I know exactly what that feels like because I, myself, have experienced it many times before. The mountain of work that faces an entrepreneur is sheer unfathomable, and that’s probably a good thing: who knows how many companies would still be out there if the founders had known what awaited them!? That feeling in mind, I did leave the call on an uplifting note (I hope), but what I also did was send her a list of female founder groups as well.
Having a female led and populated ecosystem that can absorb some of the pains any female entrepreneur has to face can be the difference between succeeding and giving up. I choose the words ’giving up’ on purpose, because we can all fail, but it should be for technicalities all start-ups face, and not because we are lonely, overwhelmed and unsupported women.
From experience I have recognized three sorts of female ecosystems that are important for different challenges within the journey, each adding their own individual value, and I am grateful for each and every one of them:
- The Community: these groups are more motivational and empowering than having an actual impact on your business. Especially at the beginning of founding a company they are important. You get to meet other women, hear their stories, recognized that it’s not only you and make friends along the way. I think these groups are very important for your mental health, especially when your new company also means a change of lifestyle. You can meet other women and have a tea or a drink without feeling like you should be working because you ARE. Panels with talks, meet-ups and even workspaces distinguish these groups from strictly social events. My favourite one: Blooming Founders.
- The Educators: these groups offer talks, workshops and one-on-one’s with highly successful men and women in the start-up world. Here you need to bring your pen or laptop and stay on top of what is being said because the lecturer/guest speaker will dump large amounts of wisdom on you. Sometimes there are drinks afterwards, but the emphasis is on learning from and networking with the speakers. I have made the best out of them by targeting events with speakers that could be important for my business and that I would otherwise have difficulties accessing. To my greatest sorrow many events are early morning breakfast meetings at 7 or 8, where I pretend that it’s a normal hour to be about for me. My favourite one: SheWorx
- The Platformers: These groups offer mostly awards and events. While on the surface you often don’t win anything tangible like prize money, the award itself ads huge value because it is highly respected in the field and opens doors. During the events you get to network from a privileged position which is invaluable for companies that are fundraising. It is also one of the few visible social markers that all your hard work, blood, sweat and tears has been acknowledged and rewarded – something you can show to your painfully neglected friends and family. My favourite one: TechWomen100
During the development, the fundraising and the pivot of my digital mental health company with our emotional fitness game, eQuoo, there have been multiple times that these groups were there at the right time and place, offering me support, information and a platform. Women are still vastly underrepresented in the tech world, and while the #MeToo movement has unearthed many of the people abusing their power against women, it can still be a hostile environment if you’re unlucky. And statistically speaking you will be unlucky a few times.
The VC world is slowly starting to understand that a mentally health founder is a productive one and having communities that support us is a vital ingredient to our wellbeing. It takes a village to raise a child? Well, it takes a city to build a start-up.
About the Author
Silja Litvin is the Psychologist, Founder and CEO of PsycApps Digital Mental Health, a company that uses AI, gamification and psychology to help people help themselves. She is a developer of the multi-award winning eQuoo – the Emotional Fitness Game. Silja was born in Germany but moved to southern California early in her life. Exposed to many diverse cultures early in life, she developed an insatiable curiosity for the human condition leading to her pursuing a degree in psychology. During her 17 years of international modelling she began her Masters at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, graduating in Clinical Psychology and Systemic Family Therapy in 2013. Alongside her education as a Systemic Family Therapist in 2015, she began her PhD in Clinical Psychology.
A child of the digital generation, Silja was looking for ways to use apps and social media to help people suffering from mental issues. She went on to create a psychological mobile app that helps users identify and self-manage depression. With this idea, she undertook her PhD thesis, thus ensuring it to be evidence based and ethically sound.
Now she is venturing into the world of AI, gamification and chatbots to end a way to be able to help people help themselves, launching her emotional fitness game eQuoo in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. The game has been featured in major news outlets such as Forbes and TechCrunch and she won multiple prizes with PsycApps such as THE EUROPAS Pitch Awards and Pitch@Palace on Tour.