10 world-changing women-led start-ups vying for a €50,000 cash prize

31 Mar 2017

Image: igorstevanovic/Shutterstock

These 10 women-led start-ups are set to duke it out for a €50,000 prize at the Women Startup Challenge Europe final in London.

Women Who Tech, a non-profit organisation founded in 2008, gives women-led start-ups a platform (and a prize-winning opportunity) through its Women Startup Challenge competitions. Running in the US since 2015, this year will mark the first international competition with Women Startup Challenge Europe.

“This is our first ever international competition and the response from the tech community has been extraordinary,” said Women Who Tech founder Allyson Kapin. “We had more than 200 applicants, and our finalists include some of the most innovative women-led start-ups based in Austria, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain and the UK.”

Women Startup Challenge Europe was created in partnership with Craig Newmark (yes, he of Craigslist fame) who sits on the Women Who Tech advisory committee, along with Rajeeb Dey, Mary McKenna and Jimmy Wales – all of whom will have played a role in crowning the winner of the European contest.

“Only 10pc of global investor money goes to women-led start-ups, yet women-led companies yield a 35pc higher return than those led by men,” said Newmark. “We’ve got to invest in talent and close this gap.”

And so, the winner of Women Startup Challenge Europe will walk away with €50,0000 in cash, courtesy of the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, plus $210,000 worth of cloud services from event sponsor IBM.

A panel of esteemed online judges sifted through the hundreds of applications looking for disruptive game-changers capable of having a real impact with their start-up. The 10 selected finalists will now appear at a pitch event on 3 May in London’s City Hall, graciously hosted by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

“As a proud feminist, I am delighted that City Hall is hosting this exciting competition,” said Khan, who recently unveiled a Digital Talent Programme aiming to boost the proportion of women working in the technology industry.

At the event, the female founders will be evaluated by tech industry veteran Martha Lane Fox, founder of Doteveryone; Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales; Marie-Laure Sauty de Chalon, CEO of auFeminin.com; and Rajeeb Dey, founder of Enternships.com and CEO of Learnerbly. The event is open to the public with tickets available via Eventbrite.


Hailing from Austria, Blitab has developed a sort of ‘iPad for the blind’, using tactile text and graphics. The award-winning Blitab tablet gives blind users braille interface through which they can learn, work and play on a mobile device. Co-founder and CEO Kristina Tsvetanova will pitch the product at the London event.


Represented by co-founder Elsa Hermal, French start-up Epicery built an app for people to order fresh food online directly from local artisan shops. With the Epicery app, produce from the local butchers, fishmongers, cheesemakers, pastry shop or organic trader is made available on-demand and delivered to the door in one hour.


Postdoc genomics researcher Dr Maria Chatzou is the brains behind Spanish start-up Lifebit, which is said to be creating the operating system of genomics. Lifebit’s unified framework system enables insightful real-time genomics analyses by making them easy to deploy, portable across clusters and clouds, scalable no matter the size of the data to be analysed, reproducible, and more time and cost-efficient.

Open Bionics

The first UK start-up in the mix is Open Bionics, an award-winning young company that is revolutionising healthcare by using 3D scanning and printing to create advanced, affordable and stylish bionic limbs. Pitching via COO and co-founder Samantha Payne, Open Bionics said it is turning children with limb differences into “bionic superheroes”.


Co-founder Kate McLaughlin leads Pop, an online marketplace for sourcing film and TV production teams. The UK start-up is scrapping old-school processes plaguing this industry with a platform that allows users to book, manage and pay a production crew simply and seamlessly.

See Fashion

Another UK start-up, See Fashion is targeting fashion brands (obviously) by helping them to identify trends and buy opportunities in their market. Pitching founder Ivana Ojukwu will hope to wow the judges with some real-time data-led insights. You see, See Fashion collects and shares data from designers’ e-commerce sites along with marketplace metrics, turning this into highly segmented and contextualised product insights.


Cambridge, UK-based Simprints has developed an inexpensive biometric scanner, mobile app and cloud platform that could become the first source of providing identity to the 1.5bn people worldwide who do not have formal IDs. Simprints uses people’s fingerprints to accurately link them to records, in an effort to prevent users being denied services (such as healthcare) because of a lack of identification. The company was co-founded by Alexandra Grigore while pursuing a PhD in nanotechnology.

Restored Hearing (Sound Bounce)

Any avid Siliconrepublic.com reader will have been following this Irish start-up’s story since two young women – Rhona Togher and Eimear O’Carroll – brought their tinnitus-tackling project to the BT Young Scientist Exhibition. This eventually spawned the start-up Restored Hearing, which recently smashed a Kickstarter target for its Sound Bounce hearing protection technology.

Sound Bounce is an acoustic metamaterial that provides significantly improved noise attenuation when compared to conventional materials. This high-tech muffler can be integrated into automotive, aerospace, construction and many more industries to drastically reduce the impact of environmental noise.


Once an investment banker, Colleen Wong founded UK start-up TechSixtyFour after a trip to a farm with her two kids where she heard a boy was lost and staff were searching for his parents. Now, her company is behind the Gator watch, a wearable mobile phone and tracker made for young children, and continues to focus on developing technologies that can have a positive impact on family life.


Co-founder Caritta Seppä will represent Finland’s Tespack, which claims to have solved the biggest problems of smart clothing, battery life and connectivity with its range of Smart Wear. Tespack’s product range includes ultra-light battery packs and thin solar panels that can be fitted to its super-durable backpacks. Clients of Tespack include Vodafone and General Electric, and they are based at the latter’s Energy Village start-up campus in Helsinki.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.