Michelle talks to ContentLive about what it means to disrupt an industry

26th June, 2017

More women than ever are launching their own companies and rewriting the rules of doing business. We spoke to three founders about the challenges female entrepreneurs face, and what it means to disrupt an industry.

Think of an entrepreneur, any entrepreneur. Who comes to mind? It might be renewable energy tycoon and aspiring space pioneer Elon Musk, Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson or Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

There’s no doubt more women are in the workplace than ever before. Since 1971 the proportion of women in work has increased from 53% to 70%. But, despite the growing number of women in work, famous female founders are still very much a minority.

In a survey of over 43,000 global companies this year, business information platform Crunchbase found that just 17% had one female founder.

Big data brings empowerment

Joyeeta Das, founder of Gyana, is changing the future of business intelligence with her artificial intelligence (AI) powered approach to data analysis. In the era of big data, marketers can measure click-through rates and target audiences based on users’ browsing history – but how can they be sure they’re making the most of the information they have available to them? Das noticed that far too many companies weren’t translating data into real, actionable insights.

“When you look at one kind of data, you can figure out a lot of things, but we can’t really know the ‘why’ because that’s contextual,” she explains. “Sales data is great, but on its own it has limited use. It’s only when you connect it with broader data that you start seeing the bigger picture.”

Das decided to use her background as a software engineer to create Gyana. The company uses machine learning algorithms to analyse data and present it in an interactive 3D format, making valuable big data analysis accessible to everyone. Gyana now counts NASA and the UK’s Ministry of Defence among its clients. Not only is Das looking to change the way businesses think about data, she is also working to empower young women to enter the tech industry.

“There aren’t a lot of AI scientists who are women. The tiny number that are working in the industry tend to take safe jobs with big players like Microsoft and Google because they’ve been encouraged to not take risks,” she says. “We need more women out there taking risks and saying ‘I’m going to take the chance as much as any man would’.”

Charities forging connections

Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to help would-be founders realise that current methods of doing business are ineffective. After starting her career as a professional violinist, Cause4 founder Michelle Wright moved into the world of marketing. It was here, at the start of the financial crisis, that she knew she had to enact the change she wanted to see in her industry.

“At the end of 2008, I was working as development director of the London Symphony Orchestra based in the heart of the City of London. Then Lehman Brothers bank collapsed and 20,000 people lost their jobs overnight,” Wright says. “I knew at that moment that the world had changed.”

“We need more women out there taking risks and saying ‘I’m going to take the chance as much as any man would’”.

Joyeeta Das, founder, Gyana

During the recession that followed, Wright founded Cause4, a social enterprise designed to provide development and fundraising support to charities in the arts, sports and educational sectors. Her goal was to facilitate strategic partnerships that would help charitable organisations navigate the difficult financial climate. Cause4 also launched an entrepreneurship training programme in 2010 to address a shortage of talent in the not-for-profit sector.

The company’s training programme has since helped more than 80 graduates launch careers in the charity industry, while helping its clients raise more than £47m. For Wright, it’s all a question of connections: “We believe that with the right people, in the right roles, with the right funding, many of the world’s urgent problems can be resolved.”

Getting a buzz from energy

Passion for an industry is necessary to launch a company, but sometimes frustration with the way things are done provides the push a businesswoman needs to strike out on her own. Emily Groves, founder of Indigo Swan, an independent energy consultancy based in Norwich, turned her objections about unfair practices into action.

“My previous working life and experience within the energy industry was not inspiring,” she says. “I encountered a number of different frustrations, not only within the company I was working for, but also understanding what other rogue activities and misleading practices were happening within the UK energy market.”

Tired of an industry in which the six major utility companies held a great deal of power, Groves made it her mission to serve customers in an independent and unbiased way. While some energy consultancies might subscribe to the sales targets of big energy firms, Grove refused. “If we signed up to provide a certain amount of business to some suppliers then we could never properly, independently, represent our clients’ best interests,” she says.

The company’s impartial attitude has earned it numerous accolades across its seven-year life. Last year, Indigo Swan won The Energy Live Consultancy Awards’ (TELCA) Consultancy of the Year prize, one of the industry’s highest honours.

For female entrepreneurs, making it in the world of business shouldn’t have to involve playing by the rules. In making a space for themselves in boardrooms and conference halls, women are rewriting the rules in their industries – and crafting a better future along the way.

"The course was informative, enjoyable, covering plenty of ground in just one day without feeling rushed at all. It came at a crucial time in our planning and thinking as a development team and was a very welcome pause for thought. Michelle was a brilliant facilitator and it was a real benefit to hear about her experiences across the sector."

Jane Reynolds, Development Manager, Manchester International Festival