Insights into femtech and succeeding as women entrepreneurs
A conversation with Marija Butkovic, CEO of Women of wearables (WOW)
Marija Butkovic is a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, innovation consultant, feminist, and advocate for diversity and inclusion in the tech sector. She is the founder and CEO of Women of Wearables – a leading global organization aiming to support, connect, and mentor women and allies in emerging technologies such as wearables, IoT, and health tech. She is a Forbes contributor, STEM ambassador, and startup mentor and advisor. She has been featured in major tech and business publications such as Forbes, TechCrunch, The Next Web, Huffington Post, and selected as one of the Most Influential Women in UK tech by Computer Weekly in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
Q: What is the story behind the founding of Women of Wearables? What led you here and how did it all come together?
A: I experienced so many challenges during my entrepreneurial journey—lack of female role models, lack of trust in women as founders, and a general lack of support when it comes to women in STEM. This is precisely the reason why I started WoW in 2016 – to support the many women out there in a similar position. We need more investments in female-led businesses in this space, but let’s not underestimate the power of networks. I’ve seen so many great collaborations lately in this space, and so much support coming from both men and women. This is the essence of WoW – support, empowerment and education. We all need it at some point, right?
Q: As you know, ‘femtech’ was coined by Ida Tin, the founder of Clue (the period tracking app) to describe technology that focuses on women’s health and wellbeing. Tell us about your perspective on the current boom in femtech, as seen through the lens of WoW members. What are the biggest innovations you have seen so far in this space?
A: There are so many. When WoW did our first event related to femtech in 2017, little did we know how much this industry would grow in the coming years. 100+ people showed up at that event and I knew we were onto something, but from 2019 onwards we have seen a real boom when it comes to more femtech companies in the ecosystem (in the UK and Europe, the US was ahead of us then) and more investment going to these companies. Also, another important trend here is the rise of femtech communities, most of them being our community partners, such as Femtech Focus, Femtech Insider, Femtech Collective, and many more. Last but not least, I’m glad to see there is more business support for startups in this space through various programs and challenges, including Femtech Lab here in London, and Tech4Eva in Switzerland, as well as programs such as Springboard Enterprises and Hitlab in the US. We love working with these communities and organisations, as they are doing very important work by supporting the ecosystem and trying to move the needle for innovation in this space.
Sector-wise, I would like to see more innovation happening in the femtech space related to mental health of mothers, infant nutrition and menopause, areas that are not that saturated with innovation at the moment, but are hugely relevant and important.
Q: Where do you see femtech heading in the future? What are the changes you would like to see?
A: I would like to see a more inclusive femtech industry, supporting diversity in all its shapes and sizes, such as the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, and of course, a more diverse venture capital space so more underrepresented founders in femtech can get the funding they deserve.
Q: If you were to pull out three trends in wearable technology that you found most impressive and relevant, what would they be?
A: I see a lot of trends emerging in the wearable tech space, especially since the pandemic, which has pushed our attitudes towards wearables in a more positive direction. Before the pandemic, some thought that wearables were just a gimmick, but since our healthcare has come under the spotlight lately I can see many more interesting innovations and use cases of wearable technology. For example, one of most interesting companies I have seen lately is Allergy Amulet, a company that invented the world’s smallest and fastest consumer food allergen sensor. Or there’s Embr Labs, a wearables company that developed the Embr Wave – a thermal wellness wearable that improves sleep, relieves anxiety, and helps with hot flushes. Lots of wearables/hardware trends at the moment are also trying to focus on women’s health issues, particularly fertility, such as Kegg, breathe ilo or Eli, which I wholeheartedly support as I believe that the companies that will be the real changemakers in this space are startups.
Q: Your organisation, WoW, supports women entrepreneurs – do you find they have unique challenges – e.g. securing funding? How can WoW support with these challenges?
A: Funding, and money in general, is, for sure, one of the main and biggest challenges many of our community members are facing. That’s why, quite often, we will run webinars (before the pandemic, we ran on-site events) focusing on topics around finances and investment. We share valuable lessons that are directly or indirectly related to these topics through our Knowledge Hub program, or sometimes it’s simply just introducing our members to the investors we have in our community. From September we will be launching even more activities focusing on supporting startup founders on their journey – watch this space!
Q: Are there any challenges you yourself have overcome in your journey as an entrepreneur, and if so, would you be happy to share your learnings?
A: There were many challenges and there still are many challenges! The journey of an entrepreneur is a bumpy one. WoW has gone through almost every challenge any early stage company goes through – how do we build a sustainable business model, how to bootstrap, how to find the right team members and differentiate ourselves from the competition and so many more, you name it, we have been through it all. The only thing I can say for sure is that you never stop learning as an entrepreneur. And that’s the beauty of it.
Q: In your view, how can an organisation like Thrive support women entrepreneurs in the wearable technology space?
A: I believe that today organisations need to be super conscious and determined about supporting diversity – internally and externally. You cannot support diversity and inclusion, in this case women, if you don’t have a diverse workforce internally – meaning women, people of colour, etc. This applies to any area in the world of technology, not just wearable technology. I’m a big believer in knowledge sharing and creating a supportive environment and mentorship, which are all areas Thrive has supported us at WoW and our community so far.
Q: What is the impact Women of Wearables has had so far? Where do you feel you have added the most value?
A: I would say that positive feedback we regularly get is a sign that we are doing something right in the lives of many of our members. Positive stories such as a member telling us they met their angel investor at one of our webinars, or that they found a team member, or a cofounder, are a great reminder to us to keep doing what we are doing.
Q: What is an achievement you feel proudest of?
A: I think that getting my son and becoming a parent is the most important achievement in my life so far. In the business sense of the word, I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished with WoW in less than five years of existence without any external funding. To summarise it, I would say that having the freedom to do what I love doing, having a portfolio career, being able to juggle between parenthood and having my own business, is what really matters to me.