For Shelly Prevost, it was her life experiences as a psychologist and mother that promoted her to start a business. After realizing that there were few effective ways to monitor her children’s internet presence, which is a necessity for any parent, Shelly decided to fill the white space she saw by building The Torch, a smart wifi router for families. The Torch allows parents to reclaim their power to “pause the Internet with the simple push of a button for bedtime, dinnertime, or when they need to spend some time outside,” according to the company.
There are more reasons than just cybersafety that make parents weary of the web. Remember that teenager who was arrested for Tweeting what she thought was a harmless joke? When I first found out about this, I thought, “If Twitter existed when I was younger, I would have been arrested by now.” You can get sued for defamation just for liking a comment that may prove factually false. While I think regulations should be more lenient for young people, Prevost knows that expecting other people to change their rules isn’t the best option.
Most parents want to limit their children’s use of the Internet, whether it’s to protect their little ones from mean kids in school, or to stop them from spending the entire day binge-watching marathon reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Unsurprisingly, the router is a raging success, having exceeded its goal funding amount on Kickstarter in record time. In fact, Prevost is one of many women who have proven that crowdsourcing is an effective way to fund a startup, especially if a woman founded it. She left her stable career as a psychotherapist to join the startup world, and now she balances being a partner at two different venture capital firms, as well as a contributing writer for prestigious websites like inc.com.
"Women are an untapped market of potential entrepreneurs that make up over 50% of the consumer base."
One of the VC firms where she serves as partner, The Jump Fund, focuses on investing in women. As someone who has a lot to say about the trials and tribulations of being a woman in the startup world, Prevost understands that “women are an untapped market of potential entrepreneurs that make up over 50% of the consumer base.” “Despite the fact that studies show women-led companies are good investments, they still face many hurdles, mainly because of gender biases.”
She’s an advocate for changing the language of the business landscape – straying away from using gendered terms. Not only that, but Prevost and The Jump Fund are also looking to change the physical landscape; “our vision is to establish Chattanooga and the Southeast as the nation’s best place for a woman to invest in or start a business.”
Silicon Valley is rife with not only gender-based inconsistency, but is also crowded. “The JumpFund has raised more capital for women in Chattanooga than is available for entrepreneurs in the rest of the state, excluding Nashville,” says Prevost. That alone is reason why people and their startups are already flocking from Silicon Valley to Tennessee. However, there are more reasons than less competition. The cost of living is significantly cheaper than other startup hubs, and that metric doesn’t even include the fact that there’s no income tax. Yes, you read that right. There’s no income tax, meaning you can have your cake and eat it, too.
For those who aren’t ready for investors, The JumpFund partners with a female-oriented startup accelerator, Start.co, that enables them to pitch at the annual Memphis Memo Day. “The JumpFund partners with Start.co to provide coaching, pitch preparation, and seed funding to companies participating the Upstart accelerator program,” says Prevost.
“..Our vision is to establish Chattanooga and the Southeast as the nation’s best place for a woman to invest in or start a business..”
Shelly Prevost and her colleagues have paved the way for more diversity in the startup world, providing more access to greatness to everyone.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.