A conversation with Shamma Raghib, founder of Girls Get Funded, on creating an unbiased start-up ecosystem
It is a tough job being an entrepreneur, and it gets even tougher when you are a woman looking to gather funds for your dream business, especially if you are entering a male-dominated space.
According to the 2013 Economic Census, the number of enterprises in Bangladesh stands at 7.80 million, of which 7.30 million are male-headed and only 0.60 million are female-headed. This brings the number of female-headed enterprises to a mere 7.2 percent.
There is also a huge wage gap between females and males working on the same jobs.
To educate women on financial management so they can control money in their life terms, Shamma Raghib, an angel investor, founded "Girls Get Funded" - an online platform that helps womxn (anyone who identifies as female, non-binary and/or trans) make the best use of their hard-earned money.
Shamma loves data and technology-driven start-ups and is currently advising a couple of "software as a service" (SaaS) and blockchain-based start-ups globally. Besides, she is also a SaaS transformation manager for Collibra which is currently valued at USD2.3 billion.
In a recent interview with The Business Standard, Shamma spoke about Girls Get Funded and its online activities to educate female entrepreneurs getting access to funding, understanding how the fintech start-up ecosystem works, managing how they spend their salary, and save for pension and investments.
Shamma attended North South University and pursued a degree in Electronics and Telecom Engineering before pursuing a Masters' degree in Management with a specialisation in Business Process from Vlerick Business School in Belgium.
Afterwards, she ventured to pursue another degree in FinTech Future Commerce and Blockchain from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the world's most prestigious schools.
"Since 2015, I started looking closely into investments and financial education," Shamma said. She has been an angel investor for the past two years.
"We have worked with coaches for personal finance and investment 101 webinars. We have also worked with coaches for money mindset, which is also very important to understand what money means for someone," she added.
On being asked how Girls Get Funded came into existence, she said that Girls Get Funded began when she realised that a lot of her female friends and female entrepreneurs often struggle to understand the concept of finances and investment, even the basic ones.
Shamma explained, "I want to provide them with a safe place to learn about all this and more, including how to prepare and avoid gender bias in such conditions."
Finance, along with tech, is a field female entrepreneurs rarely tap into, making it one of the most male-dominated spaces, which automatically increases the start-up hurdles womxn face by two-fold.
"When it comes to personal finance, unless we have studied finance as part of our education, we do not see many females keen on investments in their future or even budgeting properly," Shamma says, adding that there are often socio-economic factors at play, especially here in Bangladesh.
"And with Girls Get Funded, I want to change parts of that, even if by helping a limited group of females learn about these financial concepts, apply it to their lives, and their start-up businesses."
Albeit the world has come miles from refusing basic rights to females, there are still many entry-level hardships we, as women, have to face. Starting from gathering funds to tapping into a rarely explored industry, to striving for success, to proving her worth, females face all the trouble a man faces, but times two.
"It takes longer time for a female co-founder to be respected and given the same value as her male counterpart, and this is not me talking, this is just pure industry observations captured by global entrepreneur surveys, media, etc," said Shamma.
A recent study titled "She's The Business" by HSBC has revealed statistics in support of Shamma's argument. More than one-third of female entrepreneurs face gender bias while raising capital for their business.
"In Bangladesh, most of the investors are males, and worse, they are from traditional businesses which have a different mindset compared to a start-up ecosystem investor, similar to those venture capital firms in Silicon Valley or Berlin or Brussels, for example," Shamma continued.
She added, "Sometimes men do not understand female perspectives and hence downplay their strengths as being 'unimportant'." Shamma has personally experienced being called bossy while her male counterparts were applauded when they pitched the same idea. "Bias is there and we cannot deny it."
In a patriarchal society, where most women trying to do something worthwhile are looked down upon, how did Shamma manage to come through?
To this, she said, "Quite honestly, it is a sad reality here that patriarchy still rules. I am especially flabbergasted that even in 2020, we are talking about a patriarchal society. People sometimes blame patriarchy on religion." However, Shamma believes that it is a cultural power-play problem.
Shamma is also involved with two other businesses - Criti Care BD and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Bangladesh.
For Girls Get Funded, Shamma's ultimate motivation is to ensure education for as many women as possible so they take financial learnings and start-up funding seriously.
"So, we always look to partner with those who are willing to help female founders and women who want to learn about personal finance and investments," said Shamma.
"Without funders, there will be no start-ups, without start-ups, funders will have nothing to invest in. So, we have to take both of the funnels into account" she added.
Recently, Girls Get Funded partnered with "Bangladesh Angels Network" for reaching out to other angel investors and founders through a webinar about financial modelling for non-financial founders.
So what does the future hold for Girls Get Funded?
"This is only the beginning. We will keep fighting the good fight of making sure there are more female founders, especially in technology, and female angels (angel investors), too." Following that roadmap, Shamma is currently linking up with the industry's female angels, who are women on the top of corporate and multinational boards.
"They have money to invest and the motivation to support female founders," Shamma said.
Becoming a full-fledged female entrepreneur, however, is not an easy task. So what advice does Shamma have for women looking into starting their ventures but lack the confidence?
"Unless you are extremely lucky and come from a family of business(wo)men, you will fail. But fail fast and move on to the next venture or pivot," Shamma said.
Her suggestions include looking for mentors or advisors who have already started their ventures. "Ask for advice. Ask them questions. More often than not, they are happy to advise and if they do not, you will know they are not the right advisors for you.
"You will learn tons from Girls Get Funded, too," Shamma said as the conversation rolled towards the end.
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