Inspirational Woman: Zeinab Ardeshir | Co-founder & CEO of PillSorted

Zeinab ArdeshirZeinab Ardeshir co-founded PillSorted, a personalised pharmacy service, nearly three years ago with the aim of disrupting the traditionally transactional pharma experience and instead delivering a compassionate, more relationship-focused experience.

The healthtech – which works with a number of NHS services to deliver medications – uses technology to get medication dispensed and delivered to patients in a timely manner, which in turn means that pharmacists are able to optimise their time consulting patients.

Zeinab holds a Doctor of Pharmacy from Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences and a Postgraduate diploma for Overseas Pharmacists from Aston University and prior to Co-founding Pill Sorted, spent nearly 11 years working as a pharmacist at Boots and Tesco.

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

I’m Zeinab Ardeshir, the Co-founder, CEO and Chief Pharmacist of PillSorted. I’m a qualified pharmacist and worked as a community pharmacist for 17 years before starting PillSorted, in various countries.

I’ve always particularly loved community pharmacy, because it’s such a rare blend of science and human relationships.

I set up PillSorted in November 2019, right before the pandemic hit, to deliver a pharmacy experience that combined compassionate care and technology. PillSorted is a product of my love for community pharmacy and my desire to ensure pharmacists are providing the best care possible. Pharmacists are often seen as glorified retail assistants, however I believe their potential is untapped and they could be delivering more holistic care. We provide a completely personalised pharmacy service for people who are on multiple medications, delivering their medication and dosage information to them each month and reviewing their medications constantly. Many of our patients are elderly people who have different medical prescriptions, so our service is designed to provide ongoing support and make managing their prescriptions easier for them.

There are many manual and repetitive tasks in community pharmacy, which is where companies like PillSorted can help. In the same way that we can get groceries delivered on-demand, I  wanted to create a company that could provide something similar for antibiotics. I want PillSorted to play a role in providing preventative healthcare for the community, which is so important given the NHS staff shortages we’re currently seeing.

As the CEO, my focus is on customer care and the clinical side of the business, where my Pharmacist background helps. My co-founder Mohammad ensures that the operations run smoothly and together we make sure all teams work in unison.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I made a very conscious decision to move from being a pharmacist to an entrepreneur pharmacist, as I’ve always prioritised taking care of patients – it’s been my north star in all my career decisions.

Moving from a clinical focused background to being a Founder of a healthtech has definitely been a big change and a learning curve! I enjoy the multifaceted aspect of leadership, from marketing, finance, people management and moving the business forward and towards a common goal.

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

Starting a company was one of the pivotal changes in my career and definitely hasn’t come without its challenges. I started from thinking I wasn’t good enough, to realising that there are many questions that no one knows the answer to, and that it’s okay not to know everything.

I’d like to think I’ve embraced all the challenges as learning opportunities and am always asking questions.

And, having a great mentor helps too.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Growing PillSorted from zero to where it is now is my biggest achievement to date, but it’s just the beginning. It has given me the chance to take care of patients more than any other time in my career and has been truly rewarding. I feel very lucky to have an amazing team of people in all aspects of the company.

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

The obsession with delivering the best care possible has always been at the heart of my career. I’m also brutally honest with people around me and more importantly, with myself. Being true to oneself is absolutely key in making consistent decisions. I also have an incredible support network, particularly my children, who motivate me and are in my corner.

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

Go ahead, be brave and ask questions! We have an amazing female software developer who is incredibly detailed in her work and has a positive attitude. She has been brave to join a sector that is completely new to her. She has been the only developer in our organisation for a while, has asked lots of questions along the way and has pioneered the creation of our operating system as a result. There will always be people in your corner.

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

I think like many male dominated industries, it is challenging to find the right career advice at the right time. Becoming a founder, venturing into business, or asking for investment can all feel like daunting tasks just as being the only female tech developer in a team can be daunting. We need to think of ourselves as pioneers and feel confident that mistakes are learning opportunities and nothing more. Barriers become much easier to overcome when they don’t stem from a fear of failure.

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

Creating a culture of nurture and mentorship enables women to flourish.

Companies need to provide training, to create career progression pathways, to proactively offer them to women and to encourage women to keep these decisions in their forecast.

Our employees trust their time and careers with us and we need to enable their career progression and the feeling of success being part of a winning team.

There are currently only 21 percent 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

It starts in school. Educating girls to flourish in STEM topics and showing the excitement and impact that science brings to people’s lives is important. Women are naturally nurturing characters, so showing the impact that the STEM sector can have is especially important.

During their careers, encouraging women to consider choices that include learning and stepping up to the opportunities, are of utmost importance, as they would never know if they enjoy a new profession/ skill until they try.

For women who have been fortunate enough to succeed in their careers, holding the hands of the younger generation, helping them envision different perspectives so they make informed choices, is the most important contribution.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I have used Coursera for my learnings and would recommend using any of the notable online courses. It is a true blessing to have this wealth of knowledge at your fingertips and being able to learn at your own convenience. I’ve learned a lot from YC Startup School and also following thought leaders in the industry. I prefer a mix of learning methods such as podcasts, well written subjects, and short videos. There’s a plethora of knowledge and I’d advise making it a priority to block time out of the day to learn and think.


Inspirational Woman: Stephanie Eltz | Co-founder, Doctify

Stephanie EltzI’m the co-founder and CEO of Doctify, a review collection platform that is delivering trust and transparency across health and social care by ensuring that no patient is left unheard.

I started my career as a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon. During this time, I became passionate about the idea of using technology to solve wider problems in healthcare. I could see that it had the potential to bring patients and doctors closer together. This inspired me to co-found Doctify with my friend and fellow surgeon, Suman Saha.

We decided to launch Doctify as despite being well connected in the medical world, we both found it tough to source the right specialist when we needed medical advice and treatment. Our experiences made us realise how challenging it was for people researching healthcare to make informed decisions about their care. We wanted to create a platform that enabled people to take control of their health by accessing meaningful, trustworthy and verified reviews online. At the same time, we wanted to create a platform that would allow doctors, dentists, clinics and hospitals to hear more from their patients and gather meaningful feedback that would allow them to drive the right improvements to their care.

I’m deeply passionate about our mission and it’s exciting to see Doctify’s growth across the world. By 2025, we want our review technology to have helped 100 million patients take control of their health and access the best specialists for their needs.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always been passionate about helping people. When I was eight years old, I decided to become a doctor. The choices I made following on from that moment were ones that would allow me to develop my surgical career.

After I had worked as a surgeon for a number of years, I discovered a mole that I thought was cancerous and I wanted to speak to a specialist in that area. Despite being a doctor myself and having a great network of fellow medics, I found it challenging to find the right professional.

This was a light-bulb moment for me. I realised how many people must be struggling to source doctors or treatments confidently. Our health is the most precious thing we have and seeing that it was easier to find online reviews for a hotel or a restaurant than healthcare was shocking.

So I decided to follow my heart and I co-founded Doctify. This has allowed me to support more patients in their healthcare journeys than I would have ever been able to do as a surgeon. To this day, Doctify has helped over 50 million patients confidently find the right care, and this is just the beginning. Interestingly, my parents always told me I should be an entrepreneur.

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

There are many challenges that first-time entrepreneurs face. As I came from a medical background, I didn’t know much about running a business. I knew I needed to build the right support network around me. I got involved in various mentorship programmes that supported beginner entrepreneurs looking to transform their PowerPoint presentations into reality. The programmes also gave me advice and coaching around acceleration and growth. I found these experiences truly valuable and insightful. They also enabled me to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs who continue to support Suman and me to this day.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

At Doctify, we have achieved many exciting milestones. Along the way, I’ve learnt to celebrate all of them, no matter how big or small. Entrepreneurs are often focused on chasing bigger goals instead of appreciating every little win that gets them closer to achieving their success.

I’m proud that Doctify now collaborates with nearly 25,000 providers across five countries on three different continents. This has allowed us to help over 50 million people find the best specialists for their needs. Having a creative and passionate team is also something I consider to be an achievement. I’m grateful for everything we have accomplished together and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

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

Launching a business with someone you can trust and who compensates for your weakness is essential. I feel very fortunate to have co-founded Doctify with Suman, who’s equally as passionate about ensuring that no patient is left unheard as me. We both experienced the two sides of the doctor-patient relationship which has enabled us to create a product for both patients and providers. I believe that having complementary skill sets and personality traits allowed us to create a strong partnership and grow a successful healthtech company together.

  1. What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?
  2. Do it for the right reasons and be passionate about the problem you are solving.
  3. Learn to celebrate the small wins. Take a break to breathe, reflect and enjoy the journey.
  4. Don’t forget to look after your mental and physical health. It will help you be more productive.

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

Tech has traditionally been male-dominated, but more and more women are entering the industry. There is still room for improvement and we need greater female representation across the sector to create a more inclusive culture and to show women that they can build long-term careers in tech.

One of the biggest barriers for women in the tech industry who aspire to climb the career ladder is the unclear path forward. At Doctify, we ensure all our employees have a clear overview of their career goals. This helps us to develop a strategy to support them along the way and provide necessary training and tools enabling them to enhance their skills.

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

The key is to offer women the opportunity to progress and succeed in senior roles. At Doctify, we are proud to have strong female leaders who are great role models to our team. One of our core values is self-improvement and growth, so we provide our entire team with the necessary training, mentorship, feedback and support. I think it’s essential to invest in your team’s development and offer women the guidance they need to thrive in the tech industry.

We’re also continuously working on improving our benefits to support the careers of women. As a mother of two, I understand how important it is to have a supportive, flexible and family-friendly workplace. At Doctify, we know each other’s children and they pop up in virtual meetings from time to time. I don’t think a day goes by without a child participating in one of our meetings.

There are currently only 21 percent 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?

Companies need to be better with flexibility. A study from the Pew Research Center found that 70% of women with families want a flexible working schedule in order to have a better work-life balance. Having flexibility would encourage more women into tech, helping to diversify the industry and establish more female leaders within the sector.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I highly recommend reading Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. It highlights the importance of company culture and how a strong culture can affect professional and personal happiness. It’s a great book to learn about the best strategies for top customer experience and the connection that exists between company culture and customer experience.

I think it’s also crucial to network and join relevant groups in your niche for additional support and education. I’m part of an extensive network of SaaS CEOs and women in tech groups, which allow me to share my experiences with peers and engage with like-minded people. It’s a fantastic way to gain advice and ideas to grow your business and progress your career.

Learning should never end, so I encourage everyone to take advantage of all available tools and resources to improve their skills and knowledge.


Dr Thomas Bernard

HeForShe: Thomas Bernard | Director of Engineering, Typeform & Co-founder, QuestFriendz

Dr Thomas BernardDr Thomas Bernard is Co-Founder of QuestFriendz, a STEM educational children’s book publisher on a mission to create the next generation of future innovators.

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

I am originally from France but have lived abroad for the past 20 years, most of the time spent in The Netherlands. I have been working in tech for the past 15+ years in diverse high tech engineering roles. I am currently engineering lead in a global tech company where I strive to create diversity both in terms of gender and diverse nationalities, along with a mix of different backgrounds. My vision is that diversity in teams and workforce enables better ideas that fuel innovation and a more harmonious and engaged workplace.

In addition to my job in a global tech company, I also founded QuestFriendz several years ago together with my wife Lisa Moss, pursuing a lifelong dream to build and grow our own business linked to a mission we are very passionate about. QuestFriendz is a new children’s book publisher, with a mission to produce expertly designed inclusive books that will inspire and equip the next generation to pursue STEM education and careers. In turn, helping to reduce the STEM skills shortage and increasing female representation and ethnic diversity in STEM. I initially noticed the lack of female representation in STEM during my postgraduate (PhD) studies at the University of Amsterdam. As a lecturer for undergraduate engineering and computer science programs, I noticed that there was an exceptionally low female representation both in the classes and at conferences I was attending at the time.

The idea for QuestFriendz was initially sparked back in 2018 when our twin daughters were three and a half years old. My wife and I were looking for books and toys that would nurture and develop their curiosity and help to develop foundational STEM skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. We looked across toys, games and books but found minimal options for this younger age range. And most were limited, depicting stereotypical lead characters or role models such as young boys in white lab coats.

At the same time there was growing media coverage regarding the increasing STEM skills gap around the world including limited diversity in STEM which we also experienced first-hand in the workplace. We saw an opportunity in the market which we decided to pursue and created SuperQuesters: The Case of the Stolen Sun, which is the first instalment in a unique new series which inspires a love of STEM learning through interactive play and stories, expertly designed to develop children’s STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) publishing on 3 May 2022, written by myself and my wife Lisa Moss (illustrated by Amy Willcox).

The SuperQuesters books are also a great screen-free way to help young children develop basic coding skills. The QuestFriendz website (www.questfriendz.com) features a wealth of STEM activities and resources for use in the home or school setting.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never really worked on career planning in a formal sense. However, from a young age I’ve always been fascinated by all science disciplines with a desire to learn and experiment as much as possible in these areas.

My interest and passion in diverse science disciplines and topics has led me to where I am today in my career. For example, from the age of 11 I discovered programming using BASIC and LOGO educational programming languages. At the time I was focused on learning as much as possible about these languages and how to practically apply them by creating my own computer games. This initial love of programming is what steered me in the direction of computer engineering.

My initial plan was to become a professor of engineering as I’ve always had a love for education and teaching. This was inspired by my love of helping others to develop themselves and succeed. I changed track from academia to industry as I preferred the faster pace of innovation and more diverse innovation topics available to be involved in.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

When I initially moved from France to the Netherlands at the start of my postgraduate (PhD) program, I spoke and wrote very limited English and no Dutch at all. I self taught myself in the first few years, it was an additional challenge at the time both in terms of making sure I could express myself as needed to complete my degree and as an undergraduate lecturer at the university.

Regarding my entrepreneurial experience, there have also been challenges along the way including setting up a business from scratch, learning the ropes of a new industry and establishing a network in the traditional industry of children’s book publishing.

Perseverance and the ability to keep pushing through any hurdles are as essential, as learning from your own mistakes.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Setting up my own publishing business, together with my wife and business partner Lisa Moss, I would say is one of my biggest achievements to date. Coming from a corporate background where everything is well established and arranged, making the transition to setting up our own business has come with challenges but I am feeling extremely proud with what we’ve achieved to date and I’m excited to see the ne par of our journey unfold.

Group of children reading SuperQuesters book at home

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

Having a supportive partner has been a major factor in achieving my success to date both in terms of my PhD, career in tech and starting of QuestFriendz. It starts with someone to bounce around ideas/brainstorm with to catalysing these ideas together, to being supportive when faced with any challenges along the way.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

A big part of my role as engineering head is to mentor people around me both in terms of my teams as well as other areas of the company. I help them to become aware of their potential and how to realize it to the fullest extent. It gives me a lot of energy helping others to succeed professionally and personally.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

Businesses and governments should be aware that having a diverse and inclusive workforce helps to foster new ideas and this is key to driving innovation. If you have people with the same mindset and profile, you will only have converging ideas whereas when you have a diverse pool of talent in the same team or company, this results in divergent thinking which brings novel ideas and approaches to solve real world problems and resulting in making better decisions.

More specifically for businesses, there is a tendency to hire candidates of similar/same profiles of current employees as this feels comfortable and relatable. Companies and government need to train their employees to open up their perspectives in order to address these natural biases and hire candidates who are different from themselves.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

Currently the unfortunate reality is that it is still very much a male driven workforce in STEM/Tech especially in the areas of computing and engineering. There is clearly a need to attract people from both genders first of all to fill this basic gap around the world. In the UK alone, the nation’s growing STEM skills gap is estimated to be costing the economy £1.5bn per year. There is a big transformation taking place as companies across industries and around the world are digitalizing their companies, processes, operations, etc. It is already very challenging to fill critical positions in tech, which is expecting to become even more difficult in the years to come as the number of STEM/Tech roles to be filled will continue to increase.

Also very importantly, as tech starts to play a greater role in everyday life it becomes essential to ensure that all people across gender, ethnicities, abilities and backgrounds are represented in the tech world and that their needs are taken into account including in the innovation funnel.  This links to our mission at QuestFriendz where we are addressing the beginning of the education funnel with our STEM interactive stories, activities and resources in order to inspire the next generation of super problem-solvers and curious creators. Our aim is to bring STEM learning to the masses from a young age, helping children to develop both an interest and confidence in this area in order to become technology creators rather than simply consuming technology.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Dare to follow your own path regardless of what others may say or think.

Everyone will always have an opinion but only you truly know what is the right direction for you, that brings you both purpose and fulfilment.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The next challenge is to further establish and scale up QuestFriendz as an impactful children’s publisher. Our core values are to inspire STEM learning in children from a young, and we want to bring our business to the next level so that we achieve our mission of Bringing STEM learning to the mass.


Elizabeth Spears

Inspirational Woman: Elizabeth Spears | Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer, Plainsight

Elizabeth SpearsMy career so far mirrors the evolution of the tech industry as a whole. I started at a company working on early machine learning and natural language processing.

This was before the industry realized that data could be its most valuable asset. By the time this realization became commonplace,  businesses had already accumulated more data than they could effectively manage on their own. That shift drew me to Big Data processing and analytics for several years. Smart machines began creating more Big Data than ever, and the Internet of Things (IoT) industry started to rapidly expand.

While I was working in IoT, both hardware and AI framework technologies experienced huge advancements. More customers wanted AI solutions to analyze and interpret their loads of noisy IoT data to make smart data even smarter. Always thinking  about product-market fit, like a true product person, I anticipated shifts in customer needs as technology evolved. This background and experience has come together to today. Now, I’m leading the product and marketing of vision AI solutions enabling customers to put their visual data to work in new ways that transform their businesses.

As the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Plainsight, I support the creation of vision AI solutions that make every step of the computer vision life cycle faster, easier, and more inclusive. Our goal is to deliver solutions that help forward-thinking businesses realize the untapped potential of their visual data, while lowering the barrier to entry for creating and deploying production-ready vision AI models. The combination of our platform and services delivers the breadth of integrated features and valuable insights as well as the quick  value generation that customers need today.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My career choices have typically been about creating flexibility and options for myself rather than planning for a very specific path or goal. I’ve always been very team oriented and my sights have usually been set on surrounding myself with like-minded, goal-oriented people. I enjoy fostering this team dynamic while striving to work in specific areas or projects where I can bring value.

As I’ve moved from position to position, I have tended to work with people that I have worked with before. Building up trust and a common working language takes time, but once you’re working from a common decision-making framework, everything becomes that much more effortless.

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

Of course; we work in startups, and even when they do well, there are always hurdles. That’s especially true when building a business from scratch. You’re always keenly aware of your runway and how critical any single deal could be to the future of the company.

I don’t really have a magic formula for overcoming challenges. I just prioritize the work that needs to be done, stay focused on the next task or solution I can create, and try to identify places where the team can iterate on processes so things work a little better the next time around.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The parts of my career that I personally consider my biggest achievements are usually tied to the challenges I’ve worked hardest to overcome. Building a new company, for instance, can be daunting but there are specific elements of that journey that I personally find very exciting. When I’m really able to push myself over a new hurdle where I’ve maybe not been tested before, the victory is sweeter, so to speak, than racking up traditional “on-paper” accolades.

One area where I’ve really had to jump out of my comfort zone has been taking on an outward-facing, spokesperson role for my company. I first played this role when I worked at a startup incubator early in my career. I had to go from a heads-down mindset when helping execute on strategy to building a community and thought leadership platform for others to follow. Being in the spotlight isn’t something that I’m naturally comfortable with, but successfully bringing that expertise to a public platform is an experience I’ve been very proud to tackle and improve on.

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

Being more concerned about the larger business goal, our team, and how we can achieve things together has always been a key factor in my success.

In that same vein, I recognize that valuable input and advice can come from almost anyone. In my experience, I’ve always had the most unlikely mentors. Knowing that you can learn from almost anybody and seeing what you can accomplish as a team will always broaden your team’s possibilities. You never want to operate with blinders on or assume you know better in every situation.

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

Just jump in. AI is like any other industry. It takes a little time to learn the lingo and specific subject matter, but there’s nothing magical about the technology itself. Computer vision in particular is filled with neuroscience analogies and the methods for teaching a machine learning model are often very similar to how children are taught new concepts. So the AI industry is not as inaccessible or as technically esoteric as it may seem.

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

What I’ve seen make a difference is a culture where it’s foundational that everyone is treated with respect and the focus of the team is to accomplish goals together. When that’s the focus, I find that talented people have to be valued because we’re all depending on each other, as opposed to operating with individual success in mind.

Individuals have to be able to express unique thoughts and ideas in their own unique ways. People communicate differently and everyone needs to have the patience and tolerance to hear the content of ideas regardless of how they might be delivered. Create a culture of high professional standards where any activities that don’t meet the mark are actively discouraged by everyone on the team. In tech, we are working with so many different types of people and communication styles—neurotypical and not—and the key is to treat everyone as individuals and find out how they work best to help them thrive.

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

Getting more women in AI is a similar challenge to getting women in technical roles more generally. I think we need to create and foster interest early in education and then ease the way into tech companies themselves. Everyone in a position to recognize and encourage interest and talent should make a concerted effort to do so.

There are currently only 21 percent 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?

If I had a magic wand, I would use it for something a bit different, because we need to look at inequality on a macro level, not just within a single industry. To start, I’d increase pay for critical roles that are grossly underpaid for the value they bring to society.

For example, teachers: It is inexcusable that we don’t adequately pay the people educating our population. The next generation is going to be faced with major world-changing problems that we need to equip them to solve. It only makes sense that we’d invest in the teachers who empower  students with this critical information and prepare them to address individual and societal challenges.

I also think this will help to solve the “women in tech” ratio. When you have intelligent, high achieving teachers that are properly incentivized and resourced, you will keep the female role models in STEM education that can more effectively start to curb the early female STEM dropout effect.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I personally try to stay plugged into the voices within the AI space, male or female. It’s helpful to stay in lockstep with your industry and I’m fortunate to work in one where the voices are loud and plentiful. There is no lack of great podcasts out there—the AI in Action podcast, for instance, is one that’s featured Plainsight in the past, along with ClickAI where I’ve guested twice to discuss AI Ethics. But staying well informed around how your peers—and even prospects—speak about your tech is one good source of input to make sure your priorities are where they need to be.


Inspirational Woman: Lisa Moss | Co-Founder, QuestFriendz

Lisa MossLisa Moss is Co-Founder of QuestFriendz, a STEM educational children’s book publisher on a mission to create the next generation of future innovators.

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

I’m originally from Canada but I’ve spent the past 20+ years living in Europe, of which the majority of time has been spent in Amsterdam, NL.  I originally arrived in Europe as part of the international management program I was participating in at my university in Canada. This involved studying in Denmark combined with several internships abroad (England, Scotland and NL).

I spent 20 years in a corporate career where I worked across numerous industries and where I was fortunate to have opportunities to develop and grow into leadership roles across diverse disciplines ranging from product management, marketing, business development, brand strategy and general management. At a certain point I felt it was time to take the leap of faith to pursue an entrepreneurial adventure.

I founded QuestFriendz several years ago together with my husband Dr Thomas Bernard, pursuing a lifelong dream to build and grow our own business linked to a mission we are very passionate about. QuestFriendz is a new children’s book publisher, with a mission to produce expertly designed and inclusive books that will inspire and equip the next generation to pursue STEM education and careers. In turn, reducing the STEM skills shortage and increasing female representation and ethnic diversity in STEM.

The inception of QuestFriendz was initially back in 2018 when our twin daughters were three and a half years old, we were looking for books and toys that would nurture and develop their curiosity and foundational STEM skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. We looked across toys, games and books but found very limited options for this younger age range. And most were limited, depicting stereotypical lead characters or role models such as young boys in white lab coats. At the same time there was growing media coverage regarding the increasing STEM skills gap around the world including limited diversity in STEM which we also experienced first hand in the workplace. We saw an opportunity in the market which we decided to pursue and created SuperQuesters: The Case of the Stolen Sun, which is the first instalment in a unique new series which inspires a love of STEM learning through interactive play and stories, expertly designed to develop children’s STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) publishing on 3 May 2022, written by myself and my husband Dr Thomas Bernard (illustrated by Amy Willcox).

The SuperQuesters books are also a great screen-free way to help young children develop basic coding skills. The QuestFriendz website (www.questfriendz.com) features a wealth of STEM activities and resources for use in the home or school setting.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

At certain points in my career, especially as part of my corporate career, I’ve taken time for some career planning in terms of mapping out what I wanted to do as next steps and creating a rough plan to achieve mid term career goals. However, along the way my career planning has evolved many times and has remained fluid, taking many unexpected twists along the way. I’ve always tried to remain open to the opportunities that have come my way together with the desire to build/shape new initiatives and to drive change, rather than to follow a traditional corporate career progression.

I realized that it’s ok to change course and readjust career paths along the way and to follow your intuition as to what feels right personally for you. At a certain point in my career, I had the feeling that I wanted to do something that felt more meaningful and impactful based on my personal beliefs and passion. This helped to spark the transition from corporate to entrepreneur.

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

I have faced many challenges along the way both personally and professionally. As a woman (and mother) having held various leadership positions at times in male dominated industries and organizations, I have like other women experienced gender stereotypes, the unconscious bias and sexism in the workplace at times. For example, with women being viewed as less competent or valuable than men or the same behaviour of men and women being evaluated differently.  With this worsening further when women have children and as women age. Being a female in a male dominated environment has sadly been tough at certain points in my career, with times where there was clearly a lack of support system for women and where HR could have played a stronger role in creating a more inclusive workplace.  However, on a positive note, these experiences have helped to fuel personal growth and the desire to drive change for future generations, as well provide the nudge needed to take the leap into the entrepreneurial world.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I consider making the transition from an established corporate career to an entrepreneur in the book industry (a new industry for me) has been one of my biggest achievements. A lot of people underestimate just how big a transition this can be, moving from a ‘comfortable’ situation where you have plenty of support and resources at your disposal, an established way of working and industry knowledge/network to a situation where you need to build everything from the ground up in a new industry, expanding your network and building up industry knowledge and expertise as quickly as possible.  It takes a lot of hard work, belief in your overarching mission and vision and relentless perseverance.

Group of children reading SuperQuesters book at home

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

I believe this has been a combination of factors including my desire to drive change and make an impact, love of taking on new challenges and perseverance in everything I do.

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

I believe these tips can be applicable across any industry.

First of all find something that you love to do, that stimulates your personal passion and drive. Find (or create) a company with a mission that you believe in and is aligned with your values and beliefs. Look for career opportunities outside of your comfort zone, by taking on roles that allow you to continuously grow and develop. This can mean sometimes not always taking the expected and traditional next career step. These are often the assignments where you can learn the most. Find good mentors and role models, who really ‘see you’ and your potential, and who are willing to go to bat for you. This is both crucial in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur.

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

I believe there are still many barriers today for women working across different industries, not only in tech and there are also barriers not only for women but for those who are different from the majority of the workforce. Whether this is linked to gender, ethnicity, disability or neurodivergence the barriers are still there and often leave people feeling discriminated against and like an ‘outsider’.

I believe there are several ways to work towards overcoming these barriers both at the beginning of the Tech/STEM pipeline and further along. It starts with education from a young age, opening up children’s views that everyone can have a role to play in the Tech/STEM world regardless of gender, ethnicity, or abilities and creating a diverse pipeline of people to fill these roles.

Companies have a critical role to play in hiring and developing a diverse workforce. Creating a diverse workforce starts at the top, with a representative leadership team, setting the standard and providing the role models needed to attract and retain diverse talent. An inclusive culture needs to go hand in hand with this.

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

One critical way to support the progress of women and minorities in tech, is to make sure they are set up for success when they are hired. Some ways to do this include ensuring that diversity and inclusion is driven from the top and embedded in the company culture where diversity in people and ways of thinking are valued and celebrated. As well as ensuring that there are relevant role models and mentors in place throughout different levels of the organization, with a safety system in place to monitor and evaluate along the way.

There are currently only 21 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?

I would encourage girls to get involved in Tech/STEM from an early age as well as encourage parents and teachers to look at the role they can play in helping to accelerate the pace of change by helping all children to see that tech/STEM careers are for everyone and that everyone can have a role to play. Helping to build an inclusive mindset, as well as encouraging girls and building their confidence in STEM from a young age can help to make significant strides.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are so many resources available these days it’s often hard to decide where to spend your limited time. LinkedIn is a great place to start. I recommend connecting and interacting with a diverse set of people depending on your interests, scheduling 1-2 virtual coffees per week. This is a great way to connect on many different topics and areas of interest.

In terms of networking groups and organizations for women in tech, I recommend Women in Tech and WomenTech Network to name a few. They host some great global and regional in person and virtual events.


Tenni Theurer

Inspirational Woman: Tenni Theurer | Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer, Spring Free EV

Tenni Theurer

Tenni Theurer leads product expansion efforts as Chief Product Officer of Spring Free EV, a financial technology company built to accelerate the adoption of EVs opening the doors to hassle-free financing for all.

Theurer has 20+ years of leadership experience in tech, media, telecom and fintech, and previously served as GM and VP of Product at Yahoo, where she managed 130+ person teams and $1.6B/year businesses with over 300+ MAUs. Tenni also served as Sr Business Leader at Visa and launched their first digital wallet solution from conception to market with 50+ participating issuers and 35+ merchant partners.

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

I am an outdoor lover with a deep passion for creating climate solutions. During the pandemic, my family and I visited nine national parks in a travel trailer. On one of our journeys, we were forced to reroute to escape wildfires and smoke. For the first time in my life, I witnessed some of the devastating results of climate change. I knew I wanted to do everything in my power to protect our beautiful planet, which was a part of the catalyst behind my joining Spring Free EV.

As Chief Product Officer and co-founder of Spring Free EV, I lead product expansion efforts. Spring Free EV is a financial technology company built to make EVs accessible for everyone through flexible financing. We are accelerating adoption of EVs with a goal of reducing one gigaton of carbon emissions by 2030.

Coming into my role, I bring 20+ years of leadership experience in tech, media, telecom and fintech. I previously served as GM and VP of Product at Yahoo, where I managed 130+ person teams and $1.6B/year businesses with over 300+ MAUs. I also served as Senior Business Leader at Visa and launched their first digital wallet solution from conception to market with 50+ participating issuers and 35+ merchant partners. 

One of my goals now is to make EVs accessible beyond the top 1% of earners. To make that happen, most recently at Spring Free EV, we launched a new product called the “Free EV” that brings the upfront costs of EVs down to $0. This is an industry-first product aimed at helping high-mileage drivers — think ride-hailing and last-mile delivery drivers — who are the backbone of the American economy make the switch to electric.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Life has gifted me many surprises, and my career path has certainly been full of them. When I was studying computer science at UC San Diego, I never thought I would one day be leading a fintech startup. While I was focused on computer science in school, I always remained curious, and curiosity eventually led me to manage teams at Yahoo and drive innovation at Visa. One thing I promised myself was that with any twist and turn in my career, I would always remain humble and try to help those around me.

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

Absolutely. Fresh out of college, I got a painful, though essential, lesson in failure. After graduation, I was lucky enough to be fielding a few different job offers. I ultimately chose the riskiest option, and after only a few months in the role, a large group of employees and myself were called into a room and laid off. Getting fired from my first job stung, and it was scary. How am I going to pay rent? What do I tell my family? However, being laid-off taught me a crucial skill: resilience. Getting knocked down did not mean I couldn’t get back up.

I got up, brushed myself off, and explored my options.

Challenges often help you find a few important things: the strength within yourself to lead to new opportunities and the network of support you have around you who is willing to help.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Helping to co-found the Spring Free EV team has been among the most rewarding, important achievements of my career to date. According to the EPA, road transportation is one of the largest contributors to global CO2 emissions. Despite widespread interest in EVs to curb climate change, cost remains a critical barrier to sales – particularly the higher upfront cost of driving an EV, which is a deterrent for most people. We aim to break down those barriers and make EVs widely accessible. I am so happy to be a part of something that is so much bigger than myself and critical to the survival of our natural earth.

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

The main trait I would highlight is soliciting frequent feedback.

Do not wait for a quarterly or yearly review to talk about expectations for your role.

Asking for continuous feedback helps you quickly improve and empowers you to set new goals. I have had over a dozen managers, mentors and coaches throughout my career, and I learned invaluable lessons from each of them. They taught me valuable lessons like slowing down to avoid mistakes and how to lead and manage high performers. I also learned to play to my strengths to be more effective and successful and to identify the pitfalls of being too collaborative. Over the years, I have found ways to keep in touch with many of them and know that they are only a few keystrokes away when I need them. Take the time to cultivate and develop the relationship, and it will pay dividends down the road.

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

The technology world is full of flashy successes, and I think it is important to remain humble and stay focused in the midst of that. Avoid being swept up in the daily grind by simply focusing on how each day impacts your overall career. I have spent over 20 years in Silicon Valley working on technology products, and every day I still jot down notes, ideas, and learnings in my notebook. On a day-to-day basis, my notebook helps me stay organized and focused in the present moment. Longer-term, my notebooks help me reflect, learn and draw upon my experiences. At the end of each day, write out a few things you accomplished that you were proud of, or things you need to work on, to connect your experiences.

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

A former colleague of mine at Yahoo turned out to be one of my biggest supporters. She was direct, honest, and extremely passionate about women in tech. At the time, I wasn’t aware of all her efforts to advocate for me in the background. One day when I was promoted to Vice President, I found out how much she had worked to champion my success. When I went to thank her, she told me that the way to repay her is to make sure I used my new position to pay it forward for other women. That simple request has stuck with me ever since.

To this day, I continue to look for opportunities to “pay it forward” and make the same request to others.

As women in the tech space, we should take every opportunity to lift each other up and celebrate each other’s wins. When we empower other women around us, we create more opportunities for other women to join us in the tech community.

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

It is crucially important to the success of any company to hire great women. Developing any new technology requires a diverse network of people who care about a common goal and are dedicated to the work being done. Once you have those women around you, do everything you can to value, honor, and respect their work and contributions. At Spring Free EV, we do everything in our power to find and hire great women and support them once they are on our team. If you are interested in applying, we would love to hear from you here.

There are currently only 21 percent 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?

I have dedicated a lot of time to developing mentor/mentee business relationships throughout my career.

I think the more women that take the time to mentor and build up others in the tech industry, the more interest and success we will see in the next generation joining us in creating the great innovations that will power the future.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

My top three podcasts to listen to for inspiration and education are: 


Inspirational Woman: Vivi Cahyadi Himmel | CEO & Co-Founder, AltoVita

Vivi Cahyadi HimmelVivi Cahyadi Himmel is the CEO and Co-Founder of AltoVita and is in charge of the company’s overall strategy, technology development, sales, marketing, and investor relations.

She has lived in over 11 cities, including New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and London, and has a background in Corporate Finance and Strategy & Management.

After relocating for her roles at Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers, Vivi became aware of the challenges of relocating and launched AltoVita with co-founder Karolina Saviova in 2018 to disrupt legacy practices in corporate housing by bringing forward a technology-first solution paired by duty of care. Vivi is listed on the 2021 Global Mobility Top 100.

Outside of AltoVita, Vivi is an angel investor and a Limited Partner in several venture capital funds in the UK. She is an accomplished pianist and enjoys skiing, hiking, tennis and wine tasting.

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

My journey so far has seen me live and work across the globe. I was born in Solo, Indonesia (to second generation Chinese parents) and have since lived in 11 cities across Europe, Asia, Australia and the US.

I started my career in investment banking, and then spent eight years working in real estate portfolio management. Here I was often dealing with complex commercial and industrial assets. Naturally, I was drawn to the sexy residential asset-class with a hospitality element. Having had to juggle large balance and capital risks, I loved the notion of an asset-light model.

From my perspective, the idea of AltoVita was born from a combination of love for hospitality and pragmatic thinking towards asset-light and minimal balance sheet exposure, as well as leveraging technology to scale fast in the flexible rental market. My co-founder Karolina Saviova and I launched the prototype for AltoVita in January 2018, and soon after we found our product market fit within the inefficient £100bn corporate accommodation sector. We decided to first attack global mobility because of our first-hand experience in the challenges with company-sponsored moves and our nomadic work lifestyle.

As a CEO of AltoVita, my role lies in 5 key areas that aim to deliver accelerated growth to the company: recruiting talent, selling AltoVita products, fundraising, driving the company and product strategy and building an ecosystem of customers, investors and product influencers.

Today, AltoVita has high-profile clients including the US Federal Agency, world’s leading consumer brands: Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Google, Shopify and Wayfair as well as leading Relocation Management Companies, commonly known as “RMCs”: Sirva, Cartus, Aires, WHR Group, and NEI Relocation.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The simple answer is no. I don’t think many people do sit down to plan their careers, I see it more as a case of chasing your vision and turning your passion into a job that you love. I was always compelled to learn about different cultures, languages and anthropology.

While I was growing up, my parents shared their entrepreneurial work and they travelled together regularly. They often took the whole family on their business travels. ‘Bleisure’ has been a concept for my family for as long as I can remember!

When I was 12, they initiated a ‘big travel event’ by sending me to boarding school in Perth, Australia. This experience sparked my sequential curiosity in history and anthropologies of different cultures and languages.

This is now something that is at the core of AltoVita. Karolina and I have used our own experiences to create a technology which serves over 1,200 cities across the world and amalgamated a diverse and global team that speaks 15 languages and comes from 20 countries.

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

The main challenge I faced as an entrepreneur was having a clear vision for revolutionising the corporate accommodation sector, but no experience of how to run a technology company. I had to learn everything from scratch.

My advice for fellow founders would be to surround yourself with people who you admire. Learn and deep dive into specific subjects too, whether that’s product management, product market fit, fundraising, scaling-up or leadership.

An example of this is when I took coding classes to learn more about the complex technical details behind our platform. Not only did this massively improve my own understanding, but it’s allowed me to have deeper, more meaningful conversations with AltoVita’s talented tech team.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement is that my career path has allowed me to adventure the world, make linguistic anthropological observations, and continuously nurture my creativity. Solving problems and embracing new ideas while traveling is what strengthens a person’s creativity. This is something that I believe is also vital for a successful startup.

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

It may seem extreme, but my mountain trekking exhibitions taught me that preparation can sometimes be the difference between life and death. It started when a college friend asked me to hike up and climb the Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, back in 2008. Because of my lack of experience, I climbed up with running shoes and was unprepared for what I was about to face. After slipping multiple times, I finally made it to the top but it taught me the value of preparation, something which I’ve since applied to my working life too.

Beyond the obvious myriad of lessons learnt from mountain climbing, being prepared, overcoming fear and assessing and mitigating risks is what attracted me to mountain climbing. Subsequently, I’ve challenged myself to conquer a different mountain each year,

Mount Kilimanjaro, Kinabalu, and Rinjani are several glorious mountains I’ve had the privilege to celebrate the breathtaking summit at sunrise.

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

Stay curious and continue to learn would be my top tips for individuals wanting to excel. Read a lot, listen more than speak, engage in activities outside of our comfort arena, and draw on all of that information for insights and predictive decision-making.

I’ve also noted that obsession (a healthy one!) and mental agility and flexibility are key. There’s no place for half heartedness. That’s something I found as we launched AltoVita, I was working part-time alongside my current job and soon realised that I needed to fully commit if it was going to be a success.

Equally, a focus on articulating problems and market size is essential. The best companies are founded because they’re a solution to an existing market or pain point, so it’s important to establish what you want to attack from the outset. Otherwise, you’ll fail to get early traction and validation.

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

There are of course still misconceptions and barriers in the sense that many people think technology is just about coding. However, when it comes to other roles within the section where women have great opportunities to excel, there are a range of areas, from product development, UX/UI design, product marketing and management where women are leading the charge.

When it comes to breaking down these barriers and misconceptions, education and understanding is vital.

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

Companies need to make a conscious decision to support their employees and set an example. AltoVita is female founded and led, so we’re extremely passionate about giving women equal opportunity. Some of our most successful hires have been female!

Taking calculated risks when it comes to employee progression and helping to accelerate their careers and promote from within gives female employees a good chance to excel within their respective role.

Caroline Boyle, AltoVita’s VP of Global Client Success, is an example of how AltoVita’s supportive, inclusive and forward-thinking culture has positively shaped an individual’s successful career progression. Caroline joined AltoVita in March 2019 as a Partnership Manager. Since then, Caroline has been part of AltoVita’s core strategic team leading the global operations and reservation efforts at AltoVita. Recently, she has been instrumental in shaping AltoVita’s product features especially designed to further increase efficiencies and cost savings for AltoVita’s RMC partners.

There are currently only 21% 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?

These statistics don’t reflect the brilliant work and potential for women in the tech sector. Ultimately, if I could do one thing to accelerate change, it would be to tell women that they can be brave and bold. The beauty of running a technology company is that you are allowed to make mistakes, iterate and improve, but make them quickly and mitigate risks thoughtfully.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’ve read a lot of books to help get up to speed in the tech world. The order of the following also mirrors my journey and personal development, starting from AltoVita’s early stages to where we are now.

Firstly, The Lean Startup. This is a great method a lot of early startup founders adopted to efficiently utilise scarce cash to build their Minimum Viable Product. Soon after, I read Traction, which covers in detail each marketing channel one needs to explore to achieve product market fit. Product development is an area I’ve ended up loving and owning. Inspired gave me a great entrance into the world of a Product Manager, particularly when product execution felt a long way off.

When it comes to my own journey and development, Hooked has taught me a lot about habit forming, something which I’d say is essential for all tech founders. Equally, the Balderton B2B Sales Playbook includes a range of strategic insights and practical advice for B2B enterprise software companies to grow their sales engine. For fundraising, Venture Deals was recommended to me by multiple trusted friends and advisors and it’s been useful in navigating the fundraising journey for AltoVita.

Sumo Advantage is a fascinating book about how to think about strategic ‘powerhouse’ partners as a growth catapult in addition to transactional sales. Partnering with giants is complicated, but most companies, even the smallest ones, can benefit from creating such a bond through a strong business development (BD) effort.

After winning early adopters who took a chance on you (the founders), the team and the product, Crossing the Chasm is the next challenge to get endorsement from the mainstream market which validates your venture to a whole new level. Customer Success is another great read on how it’s instrumental to cross the chasm: to grow revenue and to leverage on your early adopters to win over the pragmatists and sceptics, which make up the majority of the mainstream market.

More recently, CMO to CRO taught me how to break down the silos and barriers across departments and collaboratively achieve KPIs. It has many of the revenue optimisation disciplines which we really needed during Q3-4 last year.

And finally, Working Backwards. I’m currently reading this book now and I plan to read more leadership books as we continue to scale AltoVita. What I love about this is Amazon’s approach to product development – working backwards from a product’s press release and FAQ.

Before reading this book, I was already obsessed at understanding client’s pain points directly before scoping them with the product team. This is a huge focus at AltoVita – something which we factor into our design thinking stage of our Innovation Summit. Amazon’s approach is several notches higher and one that I’m very excited to test.

When it comes to podcasts, I love listening to Master of Scale by Reed Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn). Reed tests theories of how businesses can scale and validates them by interviewing entrepreneurs who have proven scalability tactics. These 30-minute fun and biteable podcasts are my sources of inspiration. Running a startup means that I am fortunate to be able to test these hypotheses and see things through.

Recently I have been listening to the ‘Shorthand for High-Growth Startups’ by Omar Hamoui (partner of Mucker Capital and founder of Admob). Omar’s advice is on-point and practical. It touches on all points of running a high-growth startup and forces you to think about diversified topics from how to maximise valuation multiples and enterprise value to the importance of product velocity, the value of scarcity and building a slack in our team system.


Dr Nike Folayan

Inspirational Woman: Dr Nike Folayan MBE | Chartered Electronics Engineer and Co-Founder & Chairperson, AFBE-UK

Dr Nike FolayanNike chairs AFBE-UK, a not for profit organisation which was established in 2007 to address the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the engineering workforce.

AFBE seeks to showcase and support the technical talent available within the black and minority ethnic (BAME) community through professional development, career placement services, mentorship opportunities, community engagement and by influencing governmental policies. She is also a Trustee at the Stemettes Futures and EngineeringUK, on the Advisory panel of Tomorrow’s Engineers Code. Nike was on the board of commissioners of the Hamilton report chaired by Sir Lewis Hamilton MBE and Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE. Nike is also a champion for increasing gender diversity in industry.

Nike Folayan is Chartered Electronics Engineer with a doctorate in Electronics engineering. Nike is currently Technical Director and the Technical Discipline Leader for Communications and Control within the Railways Division of WSP, an engineering consultancy where she leads a team of telecommunications engineers working on a variety of projects within the transport industry including railways and the highways projects in the UK, Australia, Middle East and Africa. Nike has also worked for Parsons Brinckerhoff, Mott MacDonald and Harada Limited. Nike’s interest lies in the evolution of Radio and IP Networks and its application within the transport industry.

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

I am a Chartered Electronics Engineer with a doctorate in Electronics engineering. I am also a Technical Director and the Technical Discipline Leader at Major UK Engineering Design WSP, where I lead a team of telecommunications engineers in the UK and India working on a variety of projects within the transport sector in the UK, Australia, Middle East and Africa. In addition to this I am chair and co-founder of AFBE-UK a not for profit organisation founded alongside my brother Dr Ollie Folayan in 2007 to promote higher achievements in education and engineering particularly among people from black and minority ethnicity (BME) backgrounds. I am a Trustee at Stemettes Futures and EngineeringUK. My vision is to continue empower people all around the world to use Engineering as a platform for change. I am currently leading the charge on promoting AFBE’s first national conference AFBELive taking place on 22nd April 2022 at the IET London Savoy Place.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

From a young age I knew I wanted to do something that related to problem solving but I didn’t specifically map out my career in that way. I found engineering and it all came together for me after that.

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

Challenges are a part of life. As a black woman in an industry that is only 12% female and 9% form non-white backgrounds it came with its own unique set of challenges including navigating and demonstrating excellence in a space that some would like to suggest was not typical. How I overcame these challenges is accepting that I needed to be a beacon and demonstrate that I belong by doing excellent work and not allowing people’s perceptions of what I should or should not achieve affect how confident I feel and my ability to be the best

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My Biggest career achievements is seeing the impact of AFBE has had over the last 15 years with over 20,000 beneficiaries, over 50 corporate members and over 2500 individuals from across the world having the shared vision of AFBE. It is meeting people who we have helped and are now succeeding in industries that only a decade ago would have seemed impossible

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

Not giving up when things are hard or when there is rejection and no acceptance. I have found that the higher you get the more interesting the challenge. For me it has been accepting that challenges will come and I should never be intimidated by them. Also understanding that sometimes I need to step away and that is okay as long as I always remember to regroup and refocus.

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

My top tip is never stop learning. You belong regardless of what anyone else thinks. Be confident Be you. Get all the tools and skills you need after that just keep your eyes on the prize and forget the distractions.

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

There are still barriers. The gender paygap report demonstrated this clearly. How we can overcome these challenges are through transparency. Leaders in the industry need to accept and understand that these are not imagined challenges. Underrepresented groups and women have to face these challenges.so they must take action and demonstrate real leadership by leading the charge to change attitudes where they exist.

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

Companies need to be deliberate in their recruiting, retention and progression strategies. There is really no point encouraging women to join an industry which they may have to leave because of poor cultural practices within organisations. The most effective way to increase the proportion of women in the industry is by retaining the ones in the industry already and supporting them to progress and attain leadership positions.

There are currently only 21 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?

If I had a magic wand it would be for organisations to change the culture of sameness and embrace diversity of thought and experiences in all their practices. So many studies have shown that the more diverse a team is the better creativity it brings

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

A good resource is Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon’s Women Tech Charge podcast but also I encourage as many women who can to attend AFBELivenational conference on 22nd April where there will be a variety of amazing guest including Harriet Green who is the former


Naomi Owusu

Inspirational Woman: Naomi Owusu | Co-founder & CEO, Tickaroo

Naomi Owusu

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

I started my career in tech after university as a Project Manager at a software company called Kupferwerk which was later sold to https://intive.com. After Kupferwerk, I worked as a freelance digital media consultant before I moved on to starting my current company, Tickaroo along with my 3 other co-founders. In my current role, I hold the position of CEO at Tickaroo and I’m responsible for business strategy and growth. Tickaroo provides a Live-blogging SaaS solution for news publishers and media corporations that enables them to share breaking news in fast, efficient and bitesized manner.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not at all. I found out that I was a bit of problem solver as I was always focused on finding solutions for all types of problems that I encountered. This actually kind of lead me to where I am now, endlessly looking for tangible solutions for whatever problems come my way. At University, I actually studied education and psychology, so tech was not where I thought I would end up.

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

I am my biggest critic and always think a few steps ahead in order to make sure that I have the right approach for taking on issues and tasks. In the past, this at times had led to some misunderstandings with my co-workers born out of the frustration of things not going the way they were supposed to.

I know now that I have to explain my aims more clearly and break these goals down into smaller and more tangible chunks. I’m now also in the habit of actively mentoring others around me and giving them the opportunities to learn and establish their own ways of working which is something that I very much encourage. I think on the one hand impatience can be a good thing, especially in the beginning of a company, it gets the ball rolling and can drive a team to stay on track. But as a company grows, it can also become an obstacle.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

It is probably starting Tickaroo, as we started without any investment and we are now Germany’s market leader in live blogging and content delivery. For me, the development of our software and seeing where the company is now at is very much my biggest achievement to date.

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

Never giving up. Seeing obstacles as an opportunity to learn and to grow personally, but also as a team is what’s giving us great success. We have a great team!

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

Try new things, always! Broadening your horizons is the key to growth. If someone says to you that your idea is too progressive, you are on the right path. Just wait for the right timing. If you have an idea that you are passionate about, go for it, and find the right people that can help you execute your plans. Most importantly, Stay true to yourself. This way you do not have to sell yourself short. In the end business is all about growth.

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

I can only speak for myself from my experience, but I believe that the abilities of women continue to be chronically underestimated. It took us 5 years to find an investor. It turns out that was not such a bad thing after all because we had to bootstrap for 5 years, which made the company more resilient and self-sufficient. But giving easier access to venture capital for women would help. If more investors believed in companies run by women, and if women had more opportunities to lead tech companies, i feel like this would inspire more women and make it easier for them to break into the tech industry more easily.

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

I get the impression when a man starts working at a company in tech, it’s easier for them to find a mentor. Someone who is able to share guidance, expertise and access to a network. I often times feel like women are on their own. Frankly, because there are not as many of us in the industry. Therefore, it would be great for more companies to provide mentorship schemes for women in an effort to make them feel supported and valued. This could also go a long way to gain employee loyalty and really build a culture of inclusivity. Lastly, employ more women! Although this goes without saying.

There are currently only 21 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?

One thing that must happen is that more decision makers need to take their own goals into account during the hiring process. If they were to reflect on what ideal applicants have actually achieved, what skills they bring to the table, and what short, mid, and long term goals this applicant should be able to help the company accomplish, then I truly believe that the numbers will balance themselves out. No magic. Just simple reflection.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

One book I would like to recommend to women in tech is one by Ben Horowitz called ‘Hard things about hard things’. But above all what I would recommend is to seek and establish a network of people who believe in you and that will challenge you to also be the best you can be.

Extra thoughts:

In a world where we deal with complex interdependencies, we need more perspectives to solve complex challenges. I think it is very important to diversify the workforce in order to get different perspectives for problem solving. If you only employ people who have similar perspectives or mindsets you will always react similarly to challenges and maybe limit your ability to learn as fast as the world is changing.


Molly Johnson-Jones, CEO and co-founder of Flexa

Inspirational Woman: Molly Johnson-Jones | CEO & Co-Founder, Flexa

Molly Johnson-Jones, CEO and co-founder of FlexaMolly Johnson-Jones is the CEO and co-founder of Flexa – a VC-backed startup making the future of work a reality for all.

Flexa verifies the flexible working policies of companies before allowing them to showcase available roles on the platform. This gives users transparency over what companies truly offer, enabling them to seek out jobs that are genuinely flexible. To date, over 300,000 people have used Flexa to help find their next role.

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

I started my career in investment banking and, though very different to the startup scene I’ve found myself in, that first role that led me to where I am today. From the age of 18, I’ve lived with an autoimmune disease – one which causes a variety of symptoms including pain and discomfort that can stop me from walking. During my time working in finance, my condition would regularly make it almost impossible for me to travel into an office, so I asked my employer to work from home one day a week. But flexible work wasn’t so commonplace at the time, and certainly not in investment banking. Ten days later I was sacked.

It was my partner (now also my business partner) Maurice who first had the idea for Flexa. He’d been lucky enough to work for a really flexible employer and, although ready to move on to a new challenge, couldn’t seem to find another company offering the same benefits. Through his experience and mine, we’d both seen how difficult it is for job seekers to access transparency information about how much flexibility a particular role will offer. For disabled people who rely on working from home, parents who have to fit school runs into the working day, people who work better outside of a 9-5 structure, and many others with different flexible working needs – that’s simply not good enough. And so Flexa was born.

Flexa is a platform which vets and verifies companies’ flexible working policies, to create transparency for people about what jobs really offer. After launching in 2019, it quickly gained momentum and soon became my full-time job working alongside Maurice and Tim, our third co-founder and CTO.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

I could never have predicted how traumatically my first job would end. From that point onwards, I was much more open and enquiring about which jobs would suit me and what gave me a sense of purpose. I worked in some great roles in research analysis and strategy before throwing myself into running Flexa full time, but launching a startup is completely different to anything I’d done before. To start with, we were figuring everything out ourselves – I was designing websites, building marketing strategies, cold calling potential customers. It’s amazing what you can learn if you really need to! I’m a big believer in embracing the unknown and seeing what you can make of it.

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

As a woman with a chronic illness whose co-founder is also her partner, I face bias on three different fronts in the business world. I’ve found that it can be difficult to overcome people’s preconceptions about who I am and what I’m capable of, particularly when it comes to raising funding. We can’t change the system overnight, but until you get your business off the ground, my advice to other female founders would be (ironically!) to ignore everyone else’s advice until everyone’s telling you the same thing. Until then, simply trust in your own abilities and in the value of what you’re building.We spent far too much time listening to other people’s advice in the early days!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My fight for flexible work has gained a fair bit of attention since that fateful day that I was fired. I’ve had viral social posts, multiple appearances on BBC news, been featured in all sorts of articles and even a spot on We Are The City’s very own conference in April! I’m so grateful for the platforms that allow me to share my story. But my biggest career achievement to date is definitely getting Flexa properly off the ground, building a brilliant team, and being backed by some incredible investors. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought we’d be here.

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

Absolute refusal to fail, determination, and hard work. Plus, having Maurice by my side and vice-versa. Despite what people might think about going into business with your partner, having that mutual understanding and support to lean on has been the biggest help. It really works for us.

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

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your shortcomings. When it comes to a field as vast and fast-paced as tech, you simply can’t know it all. I knew that Flexa was a good idea and that there was a real need for it, but equally I knew that my self-taught website design skills weren’t going to cut it in the long-run. Know your strengths and hire for your weaknesses. Push your limits, but don’t try to do everything!

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

For female founders trying to break into tech, gender bias entrenched throughout VC still controls cash flow. We need more women in VC and in the startup ecosystem for that to truly change. For women at all levels working in tech – or work in any other sector for that matter – expensive child care coupled with limited parental leave and 9-5 office-centric culture, often forces them to choose between having children or having a career. Flexible working environments could change that in a flash and the impact of that across the world of work would be huge.

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

Embracing and normalising truly flexible work is the single most important thing that companies can do to support and progress women in the workplace. Key policies such as letting staff start earlier and finish later, personal choice around working from home, and offering extended parental leave would transform the working lives of women.

But flexible work isn’t just a women’s issue – it’s everyone’s. Everyone works differently, so people need to have access to a certain level of flexibility in order to thrive. We shouldn’t be genedering a way of working that’s “different” to the norm. We should all be empowered and trusted to work in a way that allows us to thrive, regardless of genetics, circumstance, or demographics.

There is currently only 15% 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? 

I would mandate that VCs have quotas for their funds – certain percentages would have to go to female founders. There are so many inspiring leaders who happen to be women, but who are currently overlooked when it comes to funding. Quotas would accelerate the pace of change and pull more women into the space. This would shift the culture and make it a more diverse sector overall. It’s not a perfect solution, as quotas can lead to tokenism and tokenism can damage perception in the long-run… But I can’t see another solution that will make a difference quickly enough.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech? 

Unpopular opinion: I think that reading solely for the purpose of making progress is overrated. Business books are helpful for some, but I prefer to learn new things by trying them out for myself, rather than reading about them. Trial and error has been the most valuable thing for me.

Having said that, I find LinkedIn has been incredibly helpful for meeting other founders, and learning what works in terms of personal branding, so I’d recommend spending some time connecting, chatting, and watching your feed on LinkedIn.