Female Founders Across Borders — The Program That Empowers Female Startup Founders to Thrive
Three months after the wrap-up of our first joint educational and mentorship program for female startup founders — Female Founders Across Borders (FFAB) — created by two non-governmental organizations working with female communities in tech and entrepreneurship — Riga Tech Girls in Latvia and Tech4Impact in Uzbekistan and financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia we wanted to take a look back at the program and learn more about how the program graduates are doing now.
Before we dive into graduates’ stories, here we would like to introduce you to a short program overview:
In November of 2022, Riga TechGirls and Tech4Impact launched this innovative educational program with the goal of empowering female entrepreneurs to overcome challenges and excel in the competitive startup ecosystem. Over the course of eight months, a cohort of driven women entrepreneurs engaged in a comprehensive curriculum, received mentorship from industry experts, and achieved remarkable results.
In the program, we enrolled:
- 28 female founders from Latvia and Uzbekistan that participated in the program;
- 19 expert mentors who provided their guidance to the program participants through the three-month-long mentoring phase;
- And the 9 best startup ideas were presented with the opportunity to go on an experience exchange business trip to the partner country
The FFAB program provided an intensive curriculum that consisted of 7 modules and more than 30 lectures, workshops, and meetups, focused on essential entrepreneurial skills, market analysis, business development, and access to a network of successful mentors and advisors. It was designed to equip participants with the knowledge and resources they needed to thrive in the startup world.
The heart of this program was its mentorship component, where participants were paired with experienced mentors who provided guidance, industry insights, and valuable connections. These mentors played a pivotal role in the program’s success.
The main aim of the program was to promote the visibility of female entrepreneurs and the creation and development of technology-driven enterprises founded and run by women in Latvia and Uzbekistan by providing training, mentoring, and exchange of experience.
Recently we have reached out to our program graduates and want to share their stories with you:
Gulzarkhan Toreniyazova and Mikrogreen: “Participation in the program helped me to be more confident in business and use the acquired skills to achieve my goals”
Gulzarkhan is working on a project which aims to grow eco-friendly food greens indoors using the hydroponics method, to assist the local population in acquiring new skills in entrepreneurship by conducting training seminars. Growing micro-greenery indoors by hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. The micro-plant will get all the nutrients from the water, and not absorb them from the soil. The idea is to use minimal natural resources and grow micro-greenery that is useful and safe for the health of consumers. This business project was chosen primarily from the point of view of ecology and healthy nutrition of the population. Micro–greenery is an eco-friendly, delicious, and absolutely organic product that can please us all year round for a short growing season.
Right now she is in the process of implementing a project to grow micro-greens at home. Currently, her team has received the first part of the financing and is purchasing equipment and raw materials. We also held a master class on growing microgreens 2 times.
We asked Gulzarkhan how has the FFAB influenced or shaped her startup’s or personal development since its completion and she pointed out that the FFAB program helped her to develop practical skills in the effective construction of a technological business project, minimizing risks, reducing costs, and using state support tools to independently launch a business project. For example, after the program, she held a master class to increase the number of local entrepreneurs.
Of course, there were difficulties in financing the introduction of information technology into business, since the estimate had already been approved. However, with the support of the International Innovation Center of the Aral Sea region, it was possible to obtain permission to make changes to the estimate of the business project.
Venera Bekmuratova and Learn With Us: “I would say that having FFAB in Uzbekistan was really empowering for women in the Muslim world where a lot of power is given to me and women are marginalized a lot.”
Venera is building an online education platform tailored for teachers and developed by teachers who understand the tools teachers need to be efficient in education. A platform that can connect teachers with students through P2P functionality without a third party being involved. Right now her team is working on back-end development and trying to raise funds.
She says: “During the FFAB program, I learned a lot of things about what it really takes to start a business, funding, what a proper Pitch deck looks like and I got to experience the real-life view of different teach startup founders in Latvia when they were pitching and the network they can build in startup conferences.
The ability of a startup owner to break down certain tasks into steps, leading to one whole complete functionality. sometimes we would superficially think of tasks like in our platform how a teacher would register and log into the platform, and how the layout of the Dashboard would look like. When we set down and discussed this amongst ourselves, we realized there should be more details than previously thought about the whole process”
When asked about the particularly challenging moment or obstacle her team faced after completing the program, Venera says: “Getting the right programmers to design or code the right interface exactly to the standards we were prescribing. We had to filter each programmer by experience and capability type. We even had to verify them with their previous contracts and look at their profiles through social media and finally, the one with real reviews and a large following had to take the first place and with the relevant experience tailored to what we wanted.”
Venera adds, that during the program she connected with a lot of founders and investors, and experienced entrepreneurs, and got valuable feedback. The team is looking for funding, and it is hard to raise since the startup is still in quite an early stage, but the team is still managing to self-fund even though the development has slowed down.
Zane Sauka and RACE-TRIBE: “Via this project, I got access to a network with loads of valuable info.”
Zane’s startup RACE-TRIBE is a new-generation sports timing solution. Due to a different technological protocol, our product is able to deliver the same outcome — correct time for sports competition participants — but at a significantly lower cost. It is also much less physically heavy and more user-friendly.
Right now her team is working on perfecting their product MVP and Zane admits that the most challenging moment or obstacle that they’re facing right now is: “It’s always financial, at this phase..! The challenge is to find the needed co-financing to cover the monthly costs (in our case, 70% external/ 30% own financing). Constantly trusting the product and loaning our own money/ earnings in other businesses, to finance it.”
Zane admits that one of the most valuable gains of the FFAB program is the contact with other female founders and adds that during the exchange business trip visit, she has good contact with a potential customer in Uzbekistan, and they’re a couple of months short of actually showing the product to this company.
Juldiz Abatbaeva: “The FFAB has had a positive impact. I changed my job and my ideas. Participation in this program gave me more confidence. I use the acquired knowledge as digital marketing tools at work”
Juldiz is working on the idea of opening an eco-hostel in the city of Nukus. She adheres to the concept of eco, i.e. she’ll use eco interior, and eco-friendly cleaning products, teach and instill eco habits, and create a community of people who take care of the environment.
Right now Juldiz has a solid idea and a business plan and admits that the big problem now is finances, but the most useful and valuable skill for her business that she learned during the program was the lectures and workshops on social media tools.
She says: “Participation in this program brought closer communication among the participants of Uzbekistan. We started participating in other programs together and supporting each other. I am very happy and grateful to the organizers of this program, which provided a good experience and the opportunity to attend big events like TechСhill and brought the participants closer together.”
Kristīne Vikle and Skilloom: “In FFAB I worked on my business idea and shaped it. It helped to give a tangible project and start to develop the system as such. Also, it gave me contacts, understanding, and experience in different business environments that is of great value.”
Kristīne is developing a web tool that automates the screening process and provides in-depth insights about applicants right from the first recruitment stage: Skilloom.com.
Her biggest challenge right now is the coding part, which she hopes will become her strength too since she’s doing that herself: “The most challenging moment in my project is finding a programmer to build the system. I worked with students from the University of Latvia, but it was only in practice time — 2 months. The problem is that it is hard to find a programmer if you have no budget to pay a salary. But now I have started learning programming myself and started to dig into the code myself.”
Reflecting on the most valuable skills or knowledge that Kristīne gained during the FFAB program she says: “I started using Miro more than previously as it is a great tool for collaboration and project management needs. I really liked the lectures, but one of them that made me think about my startup idea from an angle that I hadn’t seen before was about social entrepreneurship. We had a table with different questions about the social aspect of our project, I thought that there would be nothing much to say, as I am making an IT tool for HR. But the more I thought about social aspects, the more I realized that there is a serious impact on social equity if unbiased tool assists human in making decisions on applicants. It was really nice to understand it and incorporate it into the strategy.”
In the end, she adds: “Participants of FFAB and organizers of the program are of great value, and getting in this network of smart and active women is giving me an opportunity to participate in other programs and meet people that would be hard to reach without appropriate introduction.
Ilze Folkmane Gibbs and Andiamo: “I had to make a hard decision — decide whether I continue to pursue my product idea or tell my business partner that I am stepping away and pursuing the project that I am actually passionate about. What helped me make this decision was weighing which project has the most potential and is scalable — and that was my new startup idea”
Right now Ilze is working on her new venture — an AI-powered super-app that will disrupt the travel industry. She and her team are building custom AI, that will be patented, to make the travel planning and booking process unlike it has ever been before. The biggest challenge that she’s currently facing is setting up the company with her co-founders in a way that will make it investable for VCs.
Ilze admits that during the program the most valuable skill that she gained was communication and networking skills: “It’s given me a perspective I can use in my current endeavors. I have moved on to pursue a different project and am in the process of setting up a startup in the travel industry. The FFAB travel experience was great because I had never visited Central Asia before and it was insightful to see how that part of the world is different,” and adds: “The mentorship aspect was wonderful and the relationships built with RTG members and other finalists on the trip were absolutely invaluable.”
As we look back on the remarkable journey of our participants through the FFAB program, it becomes evident that this experience has been truly invaluable and unique for all participants. Along the way, our participants have not only gained a wealth of knowledge but have also forged meaningful connections. Their stories, unwavering passion, and determination continue to inspire us, and we hold a strong belief in their potential for success in their entrepreneurial endeavors.
Equally important is the companionship that has blossomed among the program’s creators, participants, mentors, and experts. They have had the wonderful opportunity to delve into the intricacies of our partnering countries, exploring their insights, traditions, backgrounds, and culture.
We extend our sincere gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia for their invaluable support* which has enabled us to establish the Female Founders Across Borders program. This support has allowed us to make a meaningful impact on the landscape of female entrepreneurship in both Latvia and Uzbekistan. Thank you for being an integral part of our journey and mission.
*The project received development cooperation financing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia in 2022.