Women are using tech to change the world
On 25 November 2020, the final WaiACCELERATE pitch event took place in the immersive VR environment of VirBELA. Organised by Women in AI (WAI) in partnership with StartupAmsterdam, Smart Health Amsterdam, Oracle for Startups, Inspired Minds!, Amazon Web Services and IBM, the evening featured an inspiring lineup of speakers and female founders.
“We can’t wait an average of four years for a diagnosis, we need efficient, accessible and affordable support now. That’s why we have started building our prototype to gather more data from the market to help people with irritable bowel syndrome,” said Jeanet Lin, founder of Food for Gut and the event’s ‘ultimate game changer’.
Lin aims to help the roughly one billion people suffering from the chronic disorder, which is also known as IBS. “Food for Gut is an AI-driven digital solution to help IBS patients understand and effectively manage their symptoms through personalised recommendations and a holistic approach that focuses on both the gut and the brain,” she says.
As a graduate of the WAI-initiated WaiACCELERATE programme, Lin appreciated the support she received. “I found that the entrepreneurial sessions led by experts in different fields, and the workshops provided by the tech partners, were very valuable to me as an entrepreneur,” she says. “In addition, sharing and exchanging specific challenges and ideas with other female entrepreneurs was also incredibly helpful.”
Supporting women entrepreneurs
Last year, WAI launched WaiACCELERATE, the first full-cycle, ethical leadership and business acceleration programme for female founders of businesses specialising in AI, machine learning and data science. The goal: to make the industry – and the world – less biased and more inclusive.
“Right now, the field has mostly been the domain of white western men,” says Eve Logunova, WAI’s ambassador in the Netherlands and the initiator of WaiACCELERATE. “That’s why algorithms suggest white western men when it comes to senior jobs. That’s why police cameras pick out people based on the colour of their skin. That’s why we need to clean the existing data sets and code algorithms that are non-discriminatory.”
Continuing, she says that “We want to help create results. It’s not only about boosting confidence but also about providing funding. We want to provide the backing so people can take action.”
WAI describes itself as a “non-profit do-tank working towards gender-inclusive AI that benefits global society”. As a community-driven initiative bringing empowerment, knowledge and active collaboration to the field, WAI works across 115 countries and has more than 5,000 members.
As WAI’s flagship programme, WaiACCELERATE aims to increase the number of female-led startups that use AI-related technology to help attain the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030. In a span of nine months, participants from around the world transformed their dreams into competitive and profitable business ventures.
Tackling the startup world’s gender imbalance
The startup sector struggles with a gender imbalance that must be addressed. According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum and software company SAP, Europe had six women entrepreneurs for every ten men in 2018 – the lowest ratio among the global regions. The disparity was particularly extreme in tech, as only 5% of Europe’s tech founders are women.
“For me, AI is nothing new,” says WAI ambassador Logunova. “But the empowerment of women in AI is new. It’s also essential. This is a technology meant to automate processes and make our lives easier, but we must make sure we are not excluding people.”
Treating chronic disorders, saving forests, greening citiesThe pitch sessions ably reflected that the world is moving ahead in terms of these ambitions. All 25 female founders who presented had an inspiring story to tell. In addition to Lin’s Food for Gut, two other ‘ultimate game changers’ were selected as runners-up. Nina Space, from Portugal, seeks to help governments decrease the wildfires which have caused 1/45th of the planet’s total land area to disappear – trees that could otherwise store carbon. Meanwhile, Dutch outfit Which Plant!? wants to bring more greenery to cities by linking urban spaces to the plants best adapted to thrive in them.
“I think what connects us all,” says Lin, “is the drive we have for making a positive change and our passion for the missions we are working on with the common goal of creating impact that leads toward a sustainable world.”
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