Five female-led tech businesses aiming to change the world

There has been lots of media coverage about sexism in the tech industry lately, and while it’s important to highlight and discuss these issues, it’s also important to acknowledge some of the good news stories too.

The struggle for recognition and reward women face, in the tech sector especially, is being played out in a very public and acrimonious Silicon Valley culture war.

We’ve seen the toxic culture of sexism exposed at Uber, leading to the depature of its co-founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick. Major figures in the Silicon Valley startup culture Dave McClure and Chris Sacca have faced allegations of making inappropriate sexual advances towards female startup founders. And only last week, Google fired one its employees for publishing an essay that was critical of the company’s progressive policies in regard to gender and diversity.

These incidents are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg and we’ll probably see more as Silicon Valley and the broader tech sector attempts to build a more inclusive and equitable culture.

However, it’s worth highlighting the people doing great things too, if only to remind us that so much is possible for women now. Things have actually got better. I know, it’s happening too slowly. But it is happening.

In an inspirational essay written two years ago titled “Tech Women Choose Possibility”, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder and chief executive of video shopping enterprise Joyus, says it can be easy to focus entirely on the negative, which ends up obscuring the positive stories about women in tech businesses.

“Looking at the press, one might think women entrepreneurs are not only hard to find, but struggling to succeed. If we want to progress the path of potential women founders, it is equally important to bring this perspective to the table,” she said.

There are thousands of women out there proving they can built great tech companies too. We don’t always hear about these businesses, but if you take a little time to go looking (as I did) you soon discover all kinds of vibrant and inspiring stories about women building companies that have the potential to be world-beaters.

Here are five businesses led by women all at different stages in their journey, from community-based startups through to billion-dollar enterprises. While they come from a variety of industries, the transformative power of tech is definitely at the heart of each of these businesses.

Houzz — co-founded by Adi Tatarko

Houzz is an online marketplace and community for home renovations and improvements. Like so many great business ideas, it grew out of the desire to solve a problem the founders, husband and wife team Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen, had encountered when they were renovating their Palo Alto home: how do we do this renovation without blowing all our money and losing our sanity?  

Founded in 2009, Houzz now has 40 million monthly active users and is active in 15 countries. It was recently valued at $US4 billion following a $US400 million funding round. Tatarko is the no-nonsense chief executive of Houzz, while her husband Alon takes care of the engineering and development aspects of the site.

Affectiva — founded by Rana el Kaliouby and Rosalind Picard

Affectiva is a startup that is developing what it calls “emotion AI”, which is artificial intelligence technology that senses and analyses facial expressions and emotion. The technology is used mainly to gauge viewer responses to digital media.

The Boston-based company has raised more than $US25 million since it was founded by its chief executive Rana el Kaliouby and MIT Professor Rosalind Picard in 2009. Its technology is used by brands such as Mars, Kellogg’s and CBS to measure consumer emotion response to digital content.

Dote Shopping — founded by Christie Paz and Lauren Farleigh

Dote has developed an app that allows consumers to create their own online shopping mall within app. Founders Christie Paz and Lauren Farleigh identified a gap in the fashion and cosmetics market where certain prestige brands have stayed off big marketplaces like Amazon through fear of damaging their brand reputation.

Paz and Farleigh’s idea was to give these brands an opportunity to be part of a marketplace on their own terms and consumers the opportunity to create a “virtual mall” rather than having to download individual brand apps. Dote recently attracted $US7.2 million in a funding round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Adafruit — founded by Limor Fried

Adafruit makes DIY electronics kits that combine electrical engineering with an eye for the arty. Founded in 2005 by Limor Fried, Adafruit aims to make learning about electronics fun and creative for people of all ages. In 2011, Fried was the first woman ever to appear on the cover of Wired magazine and she was Entrepreneur Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012. She is regarded as one of the leading lights of the “maker movement”, which encourages people to make their own tech-inspired projects and is an advocate of open source hardware community.

Code Like A Girl — founded by Ally Watson

Ally Watson started Code Like A Girl because she had moved to Melbourne from Scotland and was dismayed when she showed up to industry events totally dominated by men. She founded Code Like A Girl as a meeting place for female software developers and also as an education source for girls and women interested in software development.

She was recently featured in the Sydney Morning Herald as a female entrepreneur to watch. She told the SMH: “I’m probably the opposite of what you’d imagine a programmer to be and I like that. I like to shatter those stereotypes and breaking those barriers.”

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