How to build a tech community

20 Sep 2023

Image: Nina Tumanishvili

Women in Tech UK lead Nina Tumanishvili advises founders to reach out to supportive peers and discusses the importance of diversity in tech.

An innovator at heart, Nina Tumanishvili gets most enthusiastic about start-up ideas that are “mission-driven and commercially ambitious”.

Having finished up at university without a concrete sense of direction, she did a lot of temp jobs and mostly learned about where she didn’t want to end up.

Luckily, her interest in tech led her to a Google campus in 2014 and here she met her tribe. Her conversations with techies in the canteen helped her realise that the start-up community was where she belonged.

“Being at the forefront of innovation and creativity was something that really appealed to me,” she says.

How to be a founder

Having found her calling, Tumanishvili jumped headfirst into the start-up world by setting up HelloHub, a platform that aims to bring people together in local communities.

“I was deeply saddened by the rise in loneliness, especially for young people living in busy urban cities and the paradox of hyper-connectedness and disconnection felt by many living in the digital age,” she says of founding the platform.

“Fundamentally, I care for people and the society I live in. I’m deeply motivated to solve problems that I believe are important for humanity.”

She has since moved on from HelloHub and currently advises a start-up in the metaverse space. She says she’s excited about the potential of Web3.

“I’m excited to hear of new companies launching and ideas for wealth generation and fairer equity, distribution and ownership,” she says.

In coming up with ideas for start-ups, Tumanishvili has a few strategies.

“With some trial and error, I have developed a system that works for me in developing ideas into start-up businesses.

“Firstly, I never immediately act on an idea, contrary to popular belief, I think slow before I act fast,” she says. “A great book I recommend for this is How Big Things Get Done by Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner.”

“I spend a lot of time in the first phase of conducting market research, understanding who the customers are, what competitors exist, who’s already tried and failed? Exactly what happened there, and do I still believe the idea could be successful under my leadership?”

She cautions founders about the importance of “starting small, conducting many tests and iterating before finding your lane and accelerating only when it’s obvious you have product market fit”.

As well as rigorous research and planning, Tumanishvili also highlights the “more obvious things”. For example, she says a founder should figure out their blind spots and account for them.

The importance of a tech community

Something that stands out when talking to Tumanishvili is the value she places in community. From introducing founders who have gone on to create successful companies to reaching out to her own mentors and peers for advice, she inhabits a corner of the tech world where people empower and support each other.

Her advice for founders epitomises this communal approach.

“I try to talk to as many founders as I can before I start a new venture, especially those founders who launched a product, successfully took it to market, raised funding but failed,” she says.

“My pro tip to founders is to identify who these veteran entrepreneurs are and have them on side.

“They’ll make some of your best advisors as they’ve been in your shoes and walked the walk. Plus, everyone wants to see an underdog win even if they had tried it themselves before.”

Diversity in tech

In line with her community-based approach to business, Tumanishvili is the UK chapter lead for Women in Tech, a global organisation that educates and supports girls and women to participate in STEM careers.

Women in Tech is aligned with five of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in supporting quality education, gender equality, sustainability, innovation, inclusive economic growth and decent work for all. On their website, the organisation states their ambition is to “empower 5m women and girls by 2030”.

According to Tumanishvili, the org has more than 200,000 members and 50 chapters around the world, with a goal to grow to 100 chapters by the end of 2024.

When she took over as UK chapter lead, Tumanishvili’s job was to build a team of volunteers to work with the core team.

“I’m extremely proud of myself for hiring some of the best people I’ve ever worked with who inspire me every day,” she says.

“Together with my team, I help set the strategy for our work and think about what events/causes we should focus on. We have a rather inclusive approach, and all help out with work streams as and when needed.”

Tumanishvili is passionate about diversifying the start-up landscape. She believes there is “a lot to change and improve in terms of more equitable access to capital”.

“In the UK, only 2pc of venture funding in 2021 went to women-founded companies,” she says. “This is not because women are bad operators – data shows that women CEOs have greater ROI [return on investment] compared to their male counterparts.”

“Even more shocking is that between 2012 and 2022, just 0.24pc of funding in the UK has gone towards black founders.

“Like most people, I believe that venture funds and their GMs should better reflect the society we live in.”

Tumanishvili is hopeful that new funds and angel syndicates, including Alma Angels, Black Seed, January Ventures and SIE ventures, “will have a positive impact on putting things right”.

‘If you see it, you can be it’

Aside from her excitement about lab-grown meat innovations (“as someone who enjoys meat but feels guilty about sacrificing a living animal for my selfish desires … I praise the innovators working in the space”), Tumanishvili keeps a notebook full of ideas for her next venture.

“Many entrepreneurial types have a notebook full of ideas. Most of which they will never do and a dozen that they are really drawn to and can imagine following through.”

Currently, she is concerned with “how difficult it is to earn a living as a creative/emerging artist”. She cites how little musicians get paid by music-streaming platforms as an example of how “deeply unfair” the system is. “I’d love to change that somehow,” she says. Watch, or listen, to this space.

In the meantime, Tumanishvili wants to urge all young women to consider a career in STEM “as it’s an awesome career choice”.

“If you see it, you can be it!” she proclaims.

“There are so many great opportunities for women out there and though it can sometimes feel like a boys’ club, things are changing. I’ve met some of my best supporters (men and women) through my work in the tech industry.”

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Rebecca Graham is production editor at Silicon Republic