Cover Photo: She Loves Tech

Leanne Robers shares how She Loves Tech is closing the funding gap for female entrepreneurs and supporting a new generation to shape a better future

“People don’t always take women seriously in the tech world,” says Leanne Robers. The co-founder of She Loves Tech, which runs the world’s largest start-up competition for female entrepreneurs as well as its acceleration platform for women and technology, has faced both implicit and explicit biases as a female founder.

“Before building She Loves Tech, I was a tech founder myself. At meetings with potential investors, male investors would look past me and speak to my male co-founder instead; many times, they wouldn’t even look at me even though I was the CEO of the company,” she shares.

And she has been called “feisty” multiple times. “I didn’t think that was an issue because I was so socialised to it,” she says. “It took my husband to point out that language matters and some can be dismissive. He said that if it had been a man, that same behaviour [would be described] as ambitious, determined, confident.”

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To overcome these deep-seated biases, Robers started She Loves Tech to put female founders front and centre, highlighting the work they are doing to venture capitalists. “We’re breaking the bias that women don’t build good businesses; we’re putting it right in front of [everyone’s] faces how amazing these companies are. The results speak for themselves,” she says. “Companies have raised more than US$250 million after going through She Loves Tech.”

She Loves Tech recently partnered with Microsoft Asia to bridge connections between female entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and angel investors from around the world, moving towards its commitment of unlocking US$1 billion in capital for women-led businesses in Asia by 2030. Robers tells us more.

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How is She Loves Tech using tech as a force for good?

Leanne Robers (LR): We’re the world’s largest start-up competition for women and technology. We also provide acceleration services for female tech founders and just launched a fund to invest in them. We’ve grown faster than we can keep up, and our global reach and community is a valuable point of difference for our start-ups. To be in more than 50 countries in just a few years with a lean team means we need to be efficient and resourceful in the way that we run our business.

Technology has also propelled us to scale heights that we never imagined possible. It has allowed us to reach around 7,000 entrepreneurs in the past two years and work with a diverse slate of amazing, trailblazing leaders for our programmes. Speakers at our annual conference include Thrive Global founder Arianna Huffington, Mastercard executive vice-chairman Ann Cairns, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa, and many more. 

How did the partnership with Microsoft Asia come about? How will you be helping female entrepreneurs scale their businesses from idea to unicorn?

LR: Ahmed Mazhari (president of Microsoft Asia) and I joke that the partnership literally happened as a napkin contract. I had the privilege of doing a short presentation to him on the landscape of start-ups in Southeast Asia and from that, he asked his team to set up lunch with me. During our lunch, I knew pretty quickly that we had found a partner in Ahmed and Microsoft, as he understands the value She Loves Tech brings to the ecosystem—and why this isn’t just a nice to have, but essential to creating a better future and economy. Ahmed shares the same goals and believes that women will fuel our future.

Through this partnership, female entrepreneurs under She Loves Tech will have access to education, the start-up competition, opportunities to pitch to investors, and opportunities for investment from our newly launched She Loves Tech fund. They will also have access to trusted technology, cloud services, and a global ecosystem of deep technical expertise, co-selling opportunities and other skilling resources from Microsoft.

How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship?

LR: Invest in them. Last year, women-only founding teams received just 2 per cent of total funding, the lowest percentage since 2016, even as venture capital funding hit all-time highs. And yet, women-led companies deliver outsize returns to investors. Women and other diverse founders are absolutely capable of building great businesses and they should be valued accordingly. Investing in women is not a charitable act; it’s a commercial one—and investors who understand this will reap the rewards.

Beyond investment, we need more mentorship and representation. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey and very daunting in the beginning. Having someone to help navigate a male-dominated industry as well as give advice on building and scaling, fundraising and networking is critically important; and women don’t get enough of these mentorship opportunities today.

We also need more female role models across tech and entrepreneurship, especially in senior positions (founders, CEOs, CTOs). It signals that this is a place that women can succeed. It’s about the power of possibility. When we see female leaders who look like us and whom we can relate to, we can imagine ourselves in that position too.

What are some of the projects that She Loves Tech is working on?

LR: We just launched our She Loves Tech fund to invest in female tech founders. We felt this was the missing piece because for us to close the funding gap, we need to take a more active role in funding female entrepreneurs. Our goal is to normalise the idea of a successful, investible female founder. We aim to support a new generation of entrepreneurs with diverse minds and voices who are shaping a better future for us all.


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