Marija Butkovic knows women in wearable tech. Whether it's Bellabeat founder Urska Srsen and Elvie CEO Tania Boler, or Wareable contributors Muchaneta Kapfunde and Amanda Cosco, Butkovic is making it her business to know everyone on the scene.
She started the Women of Wearables community with Michelle Hua in 2016, the two of them having (separately) founded connected self startups Kisha Smart Umbrella and Made with Glove in the years before. "There's so many women in tech groups but there wasn't a single one for women in wearable tech," she says. "Now we have women in China, Singapore, LA, San Francisco, reaching out and saying we want to lead local chapters."
WoW, pronounced "wow", now has almost 8,000 members in 25 countries including the UK, Germany, France, the US and Japan. On top of the existing programme of events, workshops and mentorship, WoW is also increasingly turning its attentions to investment in female wearable tech, VR, AR and fashion tech founders.
It's a problem that's very easy to write about – but Butkovic, who is based in London, is actually doing something about it. So why are we still talking about this?
Young and promising
A recent New York Times piece on sexual harassment in tech referenced Pitchbook data showing that last year, female entrepreneurs raised $1.5 billion from investors versus $58.2 billion raised by male entrepreneurs. And by all accounts that was a good year, with 16.8% of global VC deals (not just tech) being made with companies with at least one female founder, up from 7.2% in 2007.
"My experience of raising money in the UK is that it's not the best for B2C (consumer) businesses. You might raise 100 or 150k but anything that goes beyond that, no way," Butkovic tells us. "It's already very hard to raise money for IOT products, hardware products. If you're a woman raising money for a hardware business, you can imagine how hard it is."
If you invest in female founders, they will become investors in the future
One reason for the investment gap could be the way male investors view women. In a study conducted in Sweden by Malin Malmstrom and published in the Harvard Business Review this May, it was found that the way male VCs described male and female founders differed.
So, a male founder was most likely to be described as "young and promising" as opposed to a female founder who was often described as "young but inexperienced" – even when both were at the same stage with similar companies. Likewise, men were "cautious, sensible" while a woman was seen as "too cautious and does not dare."
Tied up in this idea is where the power is; specifically the lower number of investors who are women. "There's not enough female investors," says Butkovic. "You invest in female founders then if women get money and grow successful businesses, they will become investors in the future." And, of course, getting female tech founders in the room in the first place, which starts with STEM education.
Women on Crowdcube
Women of Wearables is involved in some high profile initiatives – it's a superhub for the EU-wide WEAR Sustain project, which is awarding €2.4 million to 48 teams creating sustainable wearables and eco-smart textiles this year. Butkovic and Hua are also working with Camille Baker at the University of Creative Arts to mentor some of the teams.
The latest partnership, though, is with Crowdcube's investment platform, which lets startups pitch to the "everyday" investors and big VC firms, which make up its 410,000 members. WoW will be running sessions for female founders as well as mentoring and discount fees for WoW startups. The first WoW woman to use Crowdcube will be Colleen Wong and her smartwatch for kids, the Gator watch, due to launch next week.
"We decided to partner with Crowdcube because they have a huge network of investors," says Butkovic. "It's also more time efficient than talking to investors one on one every day, a lot of meetings, a lot of calls. When you run a campaign, you get exposure to thousands of investors. Colleen sells in John Lewis, she already has traction, great PR, she's already sold hundreds of units. She's not starting from scratch and she's obviously solving a problem."
It's not just a UK issue either, so Butkovic is talking to organisations internationally: "When it comes to wearable tech hardware, there are a few accelerators – Highway 1, HAX – in Silicon Valley. I'm talking to those guys to see what they need because every single one tells me 'we don't have enough female founders. We want to get more.'"
Ultimately her long term goal is to launch a "co-working space and physical home for wearable tech businesses, fashion tech and IOT businesses in London." She's also considering starting her own WoW accelerator and incubator down the line. To borrow a phrase from power woman Amy Poehler, yes please.
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