Karina Vazirova and Katia LangKarina Vazirova and Katia Lang are the co-founders of FemTech Lab Europe’s first independent accelerator that helps rising stars of FemTech take their products to market.

Katia is a serial entrepreneur; she’s founded four companies, and was named one of the Top 100 Women in Fintech in 2018 and 2019. On top of being a business strategist and an international expert in technology and business growth, she’s also a professional artist and graphic designer.

Karina is a product strategy expert and has led the development of over 30 digital products in the US, Australia, UK, and Europe. She is the founder of KV LABS, a UX design, AI and robotic automation agency. She is also an International Chess Master.

Together, we’ve launched FemTech Lab, the first independent femtech accelerator, headquartered in London. After speaking with both early-stage and accomplished founders, we saw that most companies in the femtech sector needed help with fundraising and market access, and that’s exactly what we want to do at FemTech Lab. This 12-week program is designed to provide tailored support to startups to help them reach their objectives in terms of funding, market entry, and product design. The program is supported by prominent advisors in healthcare, technology, law, business, and finance. It also includes a unique mental wellbeing module for founders.

Our program will run twice a year. Our program will run twice a year. We launched our first cohort in February and it’s been very exciting to see these projects bloom! We can’t wait for our next cohort to commence in the later half of this year.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

We’re big believers in career diversity and spontaneity, as long as the chosen career is in line with your values. The idea that we need to stick to one type of career is, in our opinion, outdated.

With the current pace of change in the world – especially in terms of technological development – it is totally possible, even essential, to try out a number of different things! Just because you were in the same position for the last five years doesn’t mean you can’t make a u-turn to become a UX designer, a teacher, an AI specialist etc. It is said that it takes an average of  5 years to feel like you’ve advanced enough doing one thing. It’s important not to get stuck.. Try new things if you feel like it, no matter what your age is or which stage of your life you’re at. This is especially valid in the tech sector, where so many new jobs and training opportunities are available.

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

The COVID crisis has definitely been a challenge, especially as it took everyone by surprise. We used this time where everything came to a standstill to take a step back and reflect. The global pandemic disrupted both our professional and personal lives, but it gave us the opportunity to reevaluate where we were at.

Katia had always wanted to build an accelerator and was interested in mental health and longevity, while Karina was fascinated by new emerging trends around female empowerment and female healthcare. We decided to use our time proactively to turn this never-faced-before challenge into something productive that aligned with our current interests.

Women have been getting more vocal about reclaiming their health and bodies, and many shortfalls in female healthcare have come to light in the past years. More pressure has been put on companies to produce, promote and deliver female-centered solutions. Meanwhile, the pandemic acted as a sort of accelerator, with healthcare innovation and investment becoming more needed than ever. Building FemTech Lab therefore seemed very well-timed and necessary. We believe that femtech is going to be the new normal for any innovation in health and consumer product design in the near future.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Coming together and building FemTech Lab has definitely been a career highlight and is one of our proudest achievements.

We’re very happy to have now united more than 40 advisors from varied sectors to support the program. They mentored our first cohort of startups during the 12 weeks of the program. We feel exceptionally proud of our startups’ achievements, how they’ve grown and developed while being part of the FemTech Lab. Hoping to hear more and more success stories from our alumni!

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

As you can see, there’s two of us here. we’re not doing it on our own!

We firmly believe that success is determined by who you surround yourself with. FemTech Lab has been built according to this conviction; it’s a joint initiative, and we’ve brought a large network of partners and advisors on board to help us make it the best experience possible for everyone involved. We also added to our team early on, bringing in Tatiana, our Program Manager, and Terri, our Head of Community.

We hope to lead by example and make the Lab a reference in the field of femtech and in the tech sector. If we do, it will be thanks to all of these amazing people that helped make it come to life.

Whatever you’re aiming at – do not aim for it alone!

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

As we said, it’s easier together – so the best advice we can give is to build your circle. Do not sail on your own. Find partners, find a co-founder if you have a brilliant business idea. Don’t be intimidated and use all existing support networks, especially in your community. If you’re curious and proactive, you will be surrounded by the right people!

If you’re trying to launch a tech product and are new to the field, there are also a few tips that we can share.

Start by addressing the market’s needs, just because your friends think that your idea is groundbreaking doesn’t automatically mean that your product will be largely bought. Plus, look for funding early on. Make sure that what you’re introducing really is  innovative and, once you are certain of your product and who’s going to buy it, focus on execution, calmly and rationally. Do not jump into frantically hiring straight away.

Lastly, always believe in yourself and in what you’re doing! This will always make all the difference. And remember – we are always here to help!

Do you believe there are still barriers to success for women working in tech? If so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Barriers do exist for women in tech. Women are largely underrepresented in the tech sector and have to face many hurdles on their path to success. There are enduring barriers coming from society, such as the gender pay gap, sexism and gender bias, which lead to a  lack of women in tech and startup teams. There are also barriers we build for ourselves; as a result of these exterior obstacles, women tend to hold back when contemplating a career in tech.

However, inclusive networks and companies do exist. This is what we love about the femtech sector; it’s open, welcoming and diverse – a great place to start! We need to provide more of these support networks for women so that they don’t shy away from taking a step into the tech world. Tech companies also need to show women they’re welcome, and investors must take a step forward in supporting women-led initiatives. On a broader scale, we also need to make sure that more is done as early as primary school to engage girls in studying STEM subjects and pursuing careers in tech.  In short, these barriers can be overcome by education, investment, and open-mindedness.

What do you think companies can do to support the careers of women working in technology?

There is an incredible amount of potential out there. Our main piece of advice would be to hire women. Not just to tick your diversity box, but because you acknowledge their skills and abilities. Not just on your advisory board, but at every level, and especially in your management team. This is particularly important in the femtech sector. We’ve seen a lot of male founders and all-male teams in the femtech space. Coming from traditional industries, many think it’s enough to have female advisors on the board to be able to create a female-focused solution. But we say it’s not. As an all-male team, you will lack the understanding and the end-user perspective, and you’re less likely to succeed.

As for investors – you have the power to support womens’ careers by investing in companies led by women and supporting women. When it comes to femtech, don’t be scared to get involved! It’s a growing and very dynamic sector tackling largely overlooked issues – so don’t be discouraged by not being able to relate! Rest assured, it is very relevant to the other half of the world’s population.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Most industries are now “tech” industries. You don’t need to be a nerd or a math genius to work in tech anymore. The variety of jobs available in this sector is huge, whether they’re creative, analytical, or business-focused. We think that a change in mentality is needed; we need to stop seeing the tech industry as a scary, unattainable sector for women. We need to shift the narrative and promote its accessibility. Girls need to be aware of it as early as possible; they must be taught that they can do anything they want, especially in sectors that are traditionally male-dominated. A lot is being done about this currently, but there’s still a lack of understanding of the tech industry and its accessibility. We need to educate people about it, adults as well as children from primary school upwards, and tear down the walls that were built on wobbly foundations in the first place.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There’s a ton of inspirational content and people out there, which is why we’ve decided to launch a platform compiling it all: FemTech Live. On there, you’ll find the latest news, events, and innovations in femtech and healthtech, and more broadly in tech and science. You’ll also find out about the latest developments in the startup world when it comes to science and health.  It’s a great opportunity to educate yourself and find inspiration!

You can also check out our board of advisors and partners to get insights from a wide variety of crucial sectors, from medtech to marketing or finance.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here