Nora is Co-founder and General Partner at diversity-focused impact fund Unconventional Ventures. Before moving into the VC industry, Nora founded an EdTech that built and launched concepts for supporting underrepresented founders in the Nordics as well as supporting boards and management teams with insights and learnings on DEI.

Nora has been a global thought leader in the tech sector for the last 13 years.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role.

I stumbled into the tech industry somewhat by accident. In a stroke of serendipity, I landed a job at a company that started at the Stockholm School of Economics startup hub, Sweden’s most prestigious business school – and somewhere I had never heard of before. Through the school, I came into contact with Stockholm’s tech ecosystem (much of which is built by SCE alums). I was thoroughly enjoying my time working in the space but I realised I stood out.

I was born to two non-Swedish parents with our family having fled the war in Iran in the 80s, brought up in the Stockholm suburbs, didn’t go to a fancy university (I learnt everything from Google), and on top of that, I was a woman.

The lack of diversity and representation in tech was glaringly obvious and I knew early on that I had to do something about it.

My journey from there has included becoming a tech founder myself and encountering just how hard fundraising was in general and for someone with my background in particular. Fast-forward a few years and I met Thea Messel who convinced me to take the leap into venture capital as one of the most powerful vehicles for changing the startup scene. Together, we have set up Unconventional Ventures (UV), Europe’s first fund to invest solely in impact technology and diverse founders and founding teams.

We invest in pre-seed and seed-stage companies led by teams including founders identifying as women, people of colour, immigrants, and LGBTQIA+. 100% of our portfolio companies have diverse founding teams, with 82% having all-female or mixed-gender founding teams.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

From an early age, I have been committed to levelling the playing field of society and the professional industries to become more inclusive. And this commitment has become more focussed on the tech scene the further I’ve progressed in my own career.

Whilst I never had a preconceived career plan so to speak, after having my children I knew I wanted to spend the next twenty years accelerating change to ensure my kids, and other kids like them, get to have the future they deserve. That’s one in which they are able to do any job and succeed in any area, regardless of where they come from or how they identify as individuals.

This driving aim led me to take a leap and accept Thea’s invitation to head up UV with her, as I knew it was in this role that I could have the largest impact on the ecosystem I wanted to change. This is by no means the goal met, but I strongly believe that structural changes must come from the top and with power over how even a small fracture of venture capital is distributed we are onto something big and important.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

As I touched upon, fundraising for my own startup venture was to prove a significant challenge for me in my career. My company was an ed-tech called UNITECH and was created to make education more accessible to those who couldn’t afford or didn’t have a flexible enough schedule for full-time higher education; a Spotify for learning, if you will.

I had a lot to show for the potential of UNITECH, with significant user traction and one of the world’s largest tech companies willing to partner with me.

I met with hundreds of investors in the Nordics and Europe, but not one was ready to invest in me. I was baffled by the great focus on my background, my gender and the fact that I was a mother with my third child on the way.

It knocked my confidence and at times I was ready to give up. But instead, I decided to pick myself up and try my luck elsewhere. So I packed up my family and travelled to California. In the US I was met with a completely different approach and openness and suddenly the conversation was brought back to my innovation and my strengths as a founder.

This experience was humbling, to say the least, but it’s also an important cornerstone of what has made me the investor that I am today and whom I would’ve needed myself as a founder.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I attribute much of my success to my unwavering dedication to a deeply held belief and mission. The purpose of my career is to challenge the existing norms and cultivate a fairer landscape within the tech sector and achieving this has fuelled my persistence during challenging moments.

What barriers for women working in tech, are still to be overcome?

The tech industry is currently stuck in a pattern whereby employers and investors, looking to replicate success, see a sea of straight white men who have done well in this industry and so choose to hire and invest in people meeting this criteria. The catch-22 is that to change this we need more diverse success stories but this will come from increased representation. This is why enforcing diversity quotas will prove a pivotal role in increasing representation before ingrained biases are overturned.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

I think we need to work from the ground up to improve gender diversity in tech. We must first address the root causes of the lack of representation in the field before trying to attract new talent. We need to ask why countless individuals with enormous potential find themselves caught in the talent drain.

Truly improving gender diversity requires tackling the structural barriers and deeply ingrained biases embedded within the tech industry. The goal is not merely to add diverse candidates to the existing culture but to reshape the culture itself, making it more inclusive and accommodating to a broad spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives. By addressing these foundational issues, the challenges surrounding diversity should be organically resolved.

Read more from our inspirational women here.