Women Who Tech is a nonprofit organization that is emphasizing the importance of women in the technology industry. As part of its work, it hosts an annual Women Startup Challenge. This year, the challenge is focusing on VR, AR, and AI.
Now in its fourth edition, the Women Startup Challenge is offering a $50,000 grant to a woman-led startup in one of those three areas, along with the chance for finalists pitch to a range of investors at an event in New York in February 2017. Applications to take part opened earlier this week and will close on December 12th. Ten startups will be chosen to pitch.
Judging pitches will be Robert Scoble, entrepreneur-in-residence at Upload VR; Lisa Stone, entrepreneur and co-founder of BlogHer; Lynne Johnson, former senior editor of Fast Company; and Sandy Carter, CEO of Silicon-Blitz and formerly of IBM, Nahid Alum, EIR at Backstage Capital and who was a Senior Engineer at Intel and mentored wearable/IoT startups. Among other criteria, startups need to have raised less than $2.1 million from combined sources.
Speaking to UploadVR Women Who Tech founder Allyson Kapin said that herself and Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and the Craig Newmark Foundation, chose these areas because they thought they would one day “become the new normal.” She explained that “diverse perspectives that include women-led ventures are a critical part in shaping the development of these products and culture.”
“It’s estimated that there will be 170 million VR users by 2018,” Kapin continued. “Every major tech company is investing heavily in AI, and it’s critical that women-led ventures claim their stake in the space. If we don’t have women-led startups in the space, we will end up with products built primarily for white men, and that leaves a lot of people out and squashes innovation.”
Past success in the Challenge include Style Sage, a big data company specializing in fashion that is soon to close a $1.5 million round in funding. Last year’s winner was On Second Thought (pictured above), a Digital Reputation Protection Platform. “Other startups have closed major partnerships with retailers and brands like Discovery,” Kapin said. “It’s also opened doors for startups who were having a tough time getting into some major accelerators.”
Judges will be looking for applications that “clearly define their product, target market, go-to market strategy, and can speak to the strengths of the founding team.” Asked for advice, Kapin told startups to “just go for it. We know that it sometimes seems daunting to enter a pitch competition when you have so much going on, especially trying to run a startup and stay afloat, but it’s worth it – and so is your product.”
The contest is only open in the US, though other women-led startups across all areas of tech will also get their shot next year when the first international Women Startup Challenge in London gets underway in May 2017. “It’s a global problem that needs to be addressed if we are going to truly spur innovation and address some real critical issues facing this world,” Kapin said.
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