So you’re a bright, dynamic woman and you have an awesome idea for a tech startup you’d like to establish, but there’s one big barrier standing in your way: securing enough funding to get your venture off the ground.
You’re not the only one in this predicament, according to the International Finance Corporation, women in South Africa have significantly lower chances of securing funding for their ventures than men.
“South Africa has some of the best policies for granting funding to women entrepreneurs in the world,” Vera Kriel, serial entrepreneur and business strategist tells htxt.women. “Implementation of these policies is where we have a problem.”
Kriel was speaking at a panel discussion at The Innovation Hub’s Innovation Festival in Pretoria as part of its Women in Tech day sessions.
Being pragmatic, Kriel says that fighting against a system which is stacked against them means that women have to be especially well prepared in order to succeed.
“A lot of women start out with an idea, but they don’t have a plan,” says Kriel, who’s latest venture will see her mentoring startups.
“You need to have a proper plan and strategy before you actually start your business,” Kriel advises. “Once you have that in place, then you can move on to securing funding.”
One characteristic of successful entrepreneurs of any gender is that they see beyond the need to simply raise cash, too.
“When one thinks about funding, we always think about money,” Kriel continues, “But there are additional ways of executing your plan, namely: bartering and bringing in business partners.”
Echoing international research which has identified a “confidence gap” that holds women back from success, Kriel talks about the “unseen” barriers that emanate from within or society in general that women have to overcome on their way to becoming entrepreneurs.
“Your mindset is very important. You need to understand what you can and can’t do, but don’t put yourself down,” explains Kriel, “Industry jargon is also quite an issue when you’re just getting into the industry, so you should get familiar with technical terms and acronyms that are frequently used otherwise you’ll be left out of many discussions and not understand what’s going on, get a book and find out what things mean.
“You can achieve success when you combine your natural communication skills as a woman with the hardcore technical abilities, because that’s when you’ll get a lot of respect.”
Kriel also warns against relying too much on your tertiary qualification and not keeping up to date with changes and new introductions as that will make your knowledge obsolete and hinder you from moving forward and keeping up with competitors and colleagues in the ICT industry. A recent report from the Johannesburg Centre for Software Excellence suggests that the majority of IT workers in South Africa consider their on-the-job training to be more important than academia.
“I’m all for education as a first step,” Kriel says, “But that’s only the foundation. We’re living in a fast-paced, knowledge-based economy, after three years, the relevance of your degree starts to diminish significantly. Update your knowledge either by participating in additional training, attending conferences or even sign up to be a speaker at a conference because it forces you to research topics you may not have ordinarily looked up in your spare time.”
Kriel highlights researching and finding out about the many funding opportunities that are out there from either government or the private sector as a start to getting funding. She herself is working on a project that will offer funding for businesses owned by both women and men that will launch soon.
According to Kriel, although securing funding and establishing your business is a major achievement that you should be proud of, “the ultimate goal every entrepreneur should aim to achieve is to employ and empower other people and empower them to create wealth for themselves,” she concludes.[Image – CC Heather Dowd]