#5. Women entrepreneurs in EM. Examples of courage

Entrepreneurship is hard. Women entrepreneurship is harder. Women entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets is even harder. But they are corageous.

Welcome! It is March and IWD is approaching, so it is my pleasure to bring stories of women in business in Emerging Markets. Issue #5 of Emerging Markets explorer 🧭 will cover the story of a Pakistani woman entrepreneur, how African investors fail female founders and a podcast that showcases the stories of businesswomen in EM.

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The courage of Sidra Qasim

Sidra Qasim is one of the founders of Atoms, an online shoe retailer that started selling leather shoes on the Internet, obtaining the most successful Kickstarter campaign in Pakistan and admission to Y Combinator in 2013. Nowadays, she resides in San Francisco and Atoms has become the perfect everyday shoe.

“Once you’ve gone through so many experiences in your life, you pay a price but you become more courageous”.

Sidra Qasim has always had a very special entrepreneurial mindset, always trying to carry on new projects. She was born in Pakistan, where girls were raised to believe their purpose in life is to get married. Those sexist ideas sounded like nonsense to Sidra, who pursued entrepreneurship incessantly.

Along with Waqas Ali, she created an online leather shoe store, one for which they launched the most successful Kickstarter campaign in Pakistan, and that earned them a spot in Y Combinator.

But for Sidra, whenever something big happened in her life, something bad happened simultaneously.

When all of these wins happened, her family didn’t pay attention or celebrate with her, and pushed her to get married before going to Y Combinator.

Sidra’s story is still an ongoing journey. She sees a challenge:

“As a woman, there are moments in your life in which you receive inside and outside pressure to step down, a reminder that this is not your place.” 

To me, the epilogue is that the success of a woman is for every woman.

Sidra made a remarkable change in her family: her cousins now tell her about their dreams, her mom is about to retire and wants to run a business, and her family now thinks of children's development differently, both for boys and girls.

If you want to dive deeper, I wrote her story here. At the end of the post, I linked her story in Humans Of New York (if you’re up for a good cry) and an interview.

Failure story: investors in Africa are failing their women entrepreneurs

When pitching identical businesses, women are less likely to get funded than men.

In the last 5 years, startup capital into Africa rose 5x and there are no women founders among the highest-valued African startups. In 2017, of $570M investment in African startups, only $30M went for female founders, which represents 5%. The situation has not evolved much since then.

Female founders in Africa cite a decision-making bias for the absence of early conviction of investors. Those who invest do it to foster diversity rather than due to capacity. And there are many programs for mentorship of women entrepreneurs, but they don’t focus enough on women’s access to capital.

I’m not writing this to make everyone sad, but to be vocal about a real bias against women entrepreneurs.

We are a tad lucky. In Africa, Eloho Omame, the Managing Director of Endeavor Nigeria, and Odunayo Eweiniyi, the co-founder and COO of PiggyVest, understand that when one woman succeeds, every woman does. In January 2021 they created FirstCheck Africa, a female-focused angel found. FirstCheck Africa will invest angel checks of up to $25,000 in technological companies founded by women in Africa at early stages and will create a network of female angel investors in Africa who will be taught about technology and angel investing.

Source recommendation: RareBirds

Rare Birds is a community and podcast started by Jo-Ann Alexandra to showcase stories from entrepreneurs in Emerging Markets and create this community of “Rare Ones”.

The Rare Birds Podcast has recorded many episodes and has a strong focus on entrepreneurial stories. Women are also protagonists of series in the podcast, like the most recent Fantastic 10 from India: 10 women entrepreneurs; which is part of their Globel Homepreneur Summit.

The Rare Birds community is a global community of early-stage entrepreneurs in Emerging Markets, used to connect, collaborate and grow. They have their own digital currency, $RONES which you get rewarded from reading the news and which you can exchange for perks in the Rare Birds community.

On a personal note, I recommend following Jo-Ann on Twitter, she has a rich Twitter feed.

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