8 Women Who Tech winners ready to buck the investment trend

26 Jul 2019

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The Women Who Tech Startup Challenge has awarded a top prize to eight women-led start-ups since the programme began in 2015.

Women Who Tech was established to shake up a culture and economy that finds women-led start-ups on the back burner. Founded in 2008, the non-profit organisation draws global attention to gender bias in venture capital funding and showcases women-led ventures through the Women Startup Challenges.

Women Startup Challenges provide women-led start-ups with capital, mentoring and access to investors and other resources. According to Women Who Tech, this has developed a global pipeline of more than 3,000 women-led start-ups, which have been showcased in New York, Silicon Valley, London and Paris.

The latest Women Startup Challenge has focused its attention on health-tech. “Only 9.7pc of investor funding goes to women-led health-tech start-ups. Put simply, progress for funding women-led start-ups is moving at a glacial pace. We need to change this narrative for good,” said Women Who Tech founder Allyson Kapin. “Innovations that are literally saving lives are being left underfunded and we are on a mission to change the ratio.”

The call for applications for the European leg of the health-tech start-up challenge opened in June and remains open until 1 August 2019. To be eligible, early-stage start-ups in Europe and the US must have at least one woman founder and must have a presence in Europe. From those that apply, 10 will be selected to compete for a $50,000 equity-free grant on 7 October 2019 in Paris.

Women Who Tech has hosted eight previous Women Startup Challenges, resulting in more than $1m in prizes, crowdfunded dollars and investments for women-led start-ups. Here are the past eight winners, who may inspire future applicants to have a go.

On Second Thought

Held in Washington, DC, in June 2015, the first ever Women Startup Challenge pitch competition whittled 12 finalists down to one first-place prize winner. On Second Thought, founded by CEO Maci Peterson Philitas and COO Stewart Voit, is a digital reputation protection platform that allows users to take back the things they have said online. Noticing that plenty of professional communications are now happening over text and similar services, On Second Thought claims that more than half of users have sent a professional message they wished they could take back, and this company’s patented technology is enabling them to do just that.

Supa (formerly SoftSpot)

Later in 2015, SoftSpot by Moonlab took the top prize among 10 start-ups competing at the Women Startup Challenge in New York City. SoftSpot’s seamless sensor technology for clothing wooed the panel of investors four years ago and today the company has evolved into Supa. Founded by CEO Dr Sabine Seymour, Supa is ‘tokenising’ the body with wearable technology and enabling Gen Z to make money from their anonymised biometric data.


A summer challenge in San Francisco in 2016 saw health-tech start-up SIRUM crowned the overall winner among 10 pitching start-ups. Born in Stanford University, SIRUM was billed as a Match.com for unused, unexpired medicine and people in need of medication that would otherwise become waste. The clue is in the name: Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine. “Since we took part [in the Women Who Tech challenge] we’ve attracted additional funding, expanded the team and increased our product offering,” said co-founder Kiah Williams.


A VR, AR and AI focused challenge in New York in 2017 named Didimo the grand prize winner. Didimo is led by founder and CEO Verónica Orvalho, whose own research in computer graphics underpins the company. Didimo’s technology can create lifelike virtual 3D avatars from a single photo in minutes, outputting to industry standard file formats. Since the Women Startup Challenge, Didimo has raised almost €1.5m from investors, partnered with one of the biggest names in online gaming, participated in a high-profile accelerator programme and signed a deal with a major entertainment company.


The first Women Startup Challenge to cross the Atlantic was held in London in May 2017, and UK-based Simprints took the top prize. Simprints developed an inexpensive biometric scanner, mobile app and cloud platform based on fingerprints, with the aim of becoming an identity provider for the 1.5bn people in the world without formal identification. A lack of ID can limit access to vital services, and Simprints recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Gavi (The Vaccine Alliance) and NEC Corporation on the use of biometrics to improve immunisation coverage in developing countries. The company was founded by Alexandra Grigore, Toby Norman, Daniel Storisteanu and Tristram Norman.


The first challenge of 2018 invited 10 emerging tech start-ups to pitch in New York City with the grand prize awarded to an app developed by 14-year-old Emma Yang. Timeless helps people with Alzheimer’s remember events, and stay connected and engaged. It also makes use of artificial intelligence-based facial recognition technology to assist in identifying people. Timeless’s teen founder was the youngest person to join the MIT Solve business incubator and, this summer, Timeless was launched in the App Store.

Sampson Solutions

In October 2018, Sampson Solutions won the Paris challenge thanks to pitching founder Colleen Becker. This UK company capitalises on the business opportunities precipitated by the Paris climate agreement, creating bio-based construction materials from sustainable sources using a closed-loop, carbon-neutral manufacturing process. Its patent-pending product and process has already been recognised by market leaders and the Women Who Tech challenge win was just one of a string of successes since 2016.


Back in New York in May this year, the latest Women Startup Challenge winner was PathSpot, a hand-scanning system that detects signs of bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illness such as norovirus, E coli, Listeria, hepatitis A and Salmonella. Food-handling teams using the scanner can get real-time feedback on the effectiveness of handwashing. PathSpot was founded by CEO Christine Schindler and CTO Dutch Waanders.

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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.