Gender bias is still keeping many women back in the startup world, but some remarkable female founders have succeeded in creating and growing their tech ventures despite the uneven playing field.

Women-founded startups accounted for just 2% or less of venture capital (VC) funding invested in Europe and the United States in 2023, according to recent Pitchbook data, while Africa-based, women-led businesses accounted for even less – only 1.5% of the total funds raised by startups on the continent between 2019 and 2023, according to news site Africanews.

These figures can be discouraging, but perhaps overcoming these hurdles is easier with the right perspective. The winners of the 2024 Aurora Tech Award, launched by global mobility and urban services platform inDrive to support female tech founders, have shared some advice based on their own personal struggles on the road to success.

They say to acknowledge the current disadvantages, including smaller amounts of funding available to women, the networking events being dominated by men and the lack of support for differently abled founders within the broader banking and business infrastructure, and turn them into opportunities.

These founders say you have to think on your feet, be adaptable and not get discouraged, as giving up is not an option given the passion they have for changing lives in their communities.

Here are their stories:

Folake Owodunni, Emergency Response Africa (Nigeria)

My journey into entrepreneurship was somewhat non-traditional. I never anticipated becoming a founder, and it was only when my son fell sick in Canada and I saw how quickly emergency services arrived at the scene in relation to what was typical in Nigeria at the time that I was inspired to make a difference and ensure that Africans had access to a similar level of care.

I launched Emergency Response Africa (ERA) in 2018 with the goal of improving the quality of emergency services care in Africa and helping ensure that fewer lives were lost due to lengthy wait times.

Launching and scaling a startup as a female founder in Nigeria has been challenging. One of the main hurdles I have faced has been in securing funding, and specifically accessing the right amount at the right time. Female entrepreneurs typically receive smaller amounts of funding than male peers – just enough to survive but not to invest significantly in strategic initiatives that could propel their businesses forward.  In Nigeria, for example, 5.88% of startups are female-founded yet we receive just over 1% of total funding, in comparison to mixed teams, which take home 13% of overall funding.

In order to overcome this, my team and I have made sure to seize any opportunity that comes our way and be strategic in our fundraising efforts, targeting investors who we feel align with our business vision and have the resources required to support us effectively.

As someone who embarked on her entrepreneurial journey while raising a family, I have also needed to be flexible in how I structure my time to balance my business and family responsibilities. This has been tricky at times, but setting the boundaries necessary to ensure I nurture both of these areas of my life has been key.

There is clearly a long way to go before we reach a point at which women have an equal seat at the table within the startup ecosystem, but this ability to adapt quickly and chart out new paths to overcome the obstacles in my way has proven vital in achieving success as a female founder in the existing landscape.

Hannah Töpler, Intrare (Mexico)

I first launched Intrare as a pilot project in 2018, after noticing how difficult it had been for refugees during the migrant crisis to find work and integrate into their new home countries despite the valuable skill sets they brought with them. I wanted to help bridge this gap, seeing the huge potential to revolutionise the recruitment industry by ensuring that subconscious bias did not hinder companies from accessing the skills and talent they need.

At Intrare, we are working to ensure that everyone has access to equal employment opportunities by providing companies with SaaS tools that help them access highly-skilled, diverse talent by managing, filtering and pre-selecting candidates using precise, bias-eliminating AI.

In the six years that have passed since the launch, I have learned a lot about what it takes to succeed as a female founder in a male-dominated industry and, specifically, the importance of finding workarounds when met with prejudice and other gender-related challenges.

For example, last week I attended a networking event hosted by a fund in which I was one of just three women in a room of 50+ people. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon, and something I have realised is indicative of a broader issue: that men working in investment find it easier to build relationships with male founders than they do with women. While this means that doors often open less quickly for me, I have worked around it by recruiting my male founder friends to help make introductions and create comfortable environments that propel female entrepreneurs into the limelight. This has proven very successful and helped me to meet some of our most important partners to date.

Yet it is a temporary fix to a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. Women should not have to rely on men’s help to receive fair treatment, and in the future VCs should work to be more inclusive to ensure that women feel more comfortable at these events and have access to equal opportunities.

Sarah Phiri-Molema, Deaftronics (Botswana)

My journey as a female founder has been unique, in that I have had to navigate not only the traditional barriers that come with being a woman in the industry but also the added challenges that come from having a hearing impairment. While these have been hard to deal with at times, they have also helped me develop as a founder, teaching me the importance of grit and flexibility in achieving success in my field.

I founded Deaftronics with the aim of making healthcare for hearing-impaired individuals cheaper and more accessible to all. We developed the world’s first solar-powered hearing aid, which has a lifespan of 2-3 years, costs just $100 (most other hearing aids sell for between $1,000-$10,000), and can be charged in 2-3 hours in direct sunlight. We have been on an incredible journey since our launch in 2019, selling 21,000 units in over 40 countries across Africa, Brazil, China, India and Singapore.

A few years ago, I found myself at the bank trying to open up a new account only to discover that there was no one available to assist me since no one understood sign language. Rather than let this get me down, I used the opportunity to partner with one of the biggest banks in Botswana and train bank tellers throughout the country in sign language, spreading awareness of our mission while benefiting hearing-impaired individuals across the state.

On another occasion, I found myself at a meeting with some male colleagues who didn’t have a background in tech and saw the other attendees become visibly shocked when I was the one to start demonstrating our product and how it worked. Instead of becoming frustrated, I seized the opportunity to demonstrate my capabilities, testing their hearing and sharing free samples for them to take home. Their attitudes entirely switched over the course of the meeting, and I left with a renewed sense of confidence in myself and our mission.

Meeting each hurdle in my path with a positive attitude and a determination to push forward no matter what has been key to my success to date, and something I would implore other women founders to develop.