Photos taken by Dan Taylor
The size of the space was overwhelming and I had no idea where to start among the 100+ of booths representing different companies when I arrived. I was at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe in Berlin, lucky enough to score a last minute ticket. I began weaving the aisles on the showroom floor, looking for women who were showcasing interesting products and could share some knowledge they’d picked up along the way for those of us looking to jump into the tech/startup scene (like me!).
My first intriguing conversation was with Ana Kolarevic, founder and CEO of Sizem, “the app that loves your boobs!” Using an algorithm to correctly match bra sizes to measurements of actual women, the results are sold to companies that produce lingerie, in order to help the production meet the demands of women’s actual sizes. If you’re not a frequent bra shopper, you may not know that finding a supportive AND comfortable fit can feel like trying to find a unicorn.
Competing in the Startup Battlefield contest was Exversion, a “git for data.” Too often publicly available government data takes an incredibly long time to clean up before it can be used effectively-- Exversion is the solution. Marianne Bellotti, CTO, told me that although her father was a programmer, “[He] never taught me programming. I think he was sort of bewildered when I started doing it.” These days she is a sought after speaker, having delivered a keynote speech at the London Ladies Who Code conference three days prior to our conversation. She shared some advice with me: “A lot of the stuff we've been doing, if you'd ask me before if I could do it, I might've said no, but then the time came where it had to be done. [...] Just jump in and do it. Don't care if you don't think it's good enough. The best way to get started is just trying."
I also met Moran Halevi, co-founder and CMO of Pronto, an application that uses short-range ultrasonic connections to share data, make payments, and more by shaking your smartphone in front of another. Halevi has an MBA in Information Science, but says, “I think I have a bit of a leg up.” Her father is a start-up founder and mother is a professor of Women’s & Gender Studies. While studying, Halevi noticed a trend in 4th year women saying "I'm not ready, I’m not ready,” in contrast to second year men who were already founding startups and diving in. "Most of what I've learned has been on the job or in a tech course [post-college],” she emphasized.
In the booth next door I spoke with Ivana Gadjanski, CSO of Pubsonic, a product that “turns search into research” to aid scientific exploration. Her impressive background as a scientist includes a PhD in bioengineering from Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, a Ted Fellowship, and is a Fullbright Scholar at Columbia University. During Pubsonic’s Startup Accelerator program, of 16 participants, Gadjanski was the only woman. It was a challenge that she met with determination, reporting that “as a woman, you have to fight a little bit more” to be heard. “You have to be a little more aggressive,” she told me.
Many other women offered encouraging, exciting, and enlightening words. Dalia Lasaite, CMO of a 3d model trading and platform model called CGTrader, described startup careers as “a roller coaster [...] but it’s very rewarding.” Nina Faulhaber is proud to be one of five women on Index Ventures’ approximately 25 person investment team, describing it as “actually a really great ratio” compared to the past. Courtney Boyd Myers, founder of audience.io, helps US and European startups grow internationally. She was representing Shadow (an app for dreamers) and Makeshift (creating tools for startups). Alongside Shadow's co-founder Hunter Lee Soik, Myers hosted a “Sleep Salon,” an evening of fascinating conversations around “the history of lucid dreaming to the power of our collective subconsciousness." The event was an experience you aren’t likely to find in other industries.
I walked out of TCDisrupt with more knowledge, courage, and inspired women to look up to. The message I was hearing from all of them was to push forward and past whoever or whatever might try to hold you back. Let’s continue to work hard to even out the numbers and get women and other underrepresented groups their place in the technology sector. I’m certainly looking forward to making the jump, maybe I’ll see you there.