Building Up Women in Tech: An Open Conversation with our Female Founders | Shamim Kassibawi

Building Up Women in Tech: An Open Conversation with our Female Founders | Shamim Kassibawi

Following International Women’s Day earlier this month, we reached out to the female founders in our portfolio and venture builders to understand and share their perspectives on the treatment and role of women in tech, as real women in the tech world today. 

We set out to delve into why such a disparity in funding between male-founded startups and female-founded startups exists in the region, as well as identifying what can be done to close this gap – both socially and financially. 

At Modus, we’re advocates of creating an environment where women can hone their skills, safely build and de-risk their startups and later, gain fair access to funding. And while a lot has been said about female entrepreneurship over the past few years, we believe it’s best to speak to female founders who live and breathe the space on a day-to-day basis to gather real opinions and authentic insights on the matter at hand. 

We’ll be talking to a Modus Capital female founder each week and to kick off, we’re speaking to Shamim Kassibawi, Founder and CEO of Play:Date, an interactive app that helps parents build their child’s social circles. Shamim is an active supporter of women in business, and she shares her experience and practical tips with us below.

1. What made you pursue entrepreneurship? 

Have you ever told someone an idea and they looked at you like you’re crazy? If you have then you are very likely to be an entrepreneur. We think 3 or 4 steps ahead of everyone, our ideas are insane and we can’t help it.

We love the thrill of the risk and the highs and lows that come with it. I truly believe that you are born to be an entrepreneur, or you are simply not. You don’t pursue entrepreneurship; you’re born for it. It takes a certain character that is driven with more no’s than yes’. It motivates us to be rejected. 

2. What has been the most fulfilling part of your career so far? 

I have done a lot in my PR career – I have worked with amazing personalities, companies, celebrities, and press, but seeing families use Play:Date and seeing profiles come through everyday is a different feeling. I want every child to have a friend and every family to have a social network.

I am a huge believer of social impact being at the heart of everything I do. A lot of people told me that no one would use an app like this, so seeing people using it and setting up playdates is so rewarding. We have a long journey ahead of us and I can’t wait.

3. What can the ecosystem do more of to ensure more women and young girls are encouraged to pursue a career in tech?

As an Arab, African, Muslim, woman, and mum I couldn’t be more of a minority if I tried. Unfortunately, the global and local ecosystem is so behind on this, so small changes go a long way and I truly believe that change starts with you. Here are some of the initiatives we have planned at Play:Date:

  • 80% of employees have to be women
  • Internship programs for mothers getting back into the workforce, as well as student internships for women
  • I personally put aside 2 hours a week to support other women in the ecosystem with what I have learned so far
  • I run a group for female founders to help with funding – we share contacts, ideas, tips and tricks 

These are examples of what organizations can do. You don’t have to be a big company to make change. Individuals can help significantly by taking out the time to advise and support women on how to navigate the tech & business world.

4. Have you faced any challenges/prejudice or felt you have been treated differently being a female in such a male-dominated environment? If so, how did you overcome this? 

Absolutely, I have attended events where there were 10 men and 2 women on a panel. I always make it a point to highlight this and encourage/recommend women who could be a part of these events or conferences. 

5. Wamda recently shared that startups in MENA raised over $2B last year, but just over 1% of that was invested in women-founded startups. Why do you think this is?

I can’t speak for everyone but I know that a lot of people see Play:Date as a little business that will go nowhere. It is really unfortunate as the family community sector is huge and not seeing that potential gap is simply a loss for them.

Some of the most successful brands globally have one thing in common: community! From Uber and Facebook to Twitter and AirBnb… the list goes on. There is no power like communities coming together!

The investor world is dominated by men, and this unfortunately does play a huge factor in funding decisions. I hope to see more women in decision making roles in the near future.

6. What can startups and VCs do to help promote gender equality and improve the above stat?

Investors should allocate a specific amount of money that only goes towards female-led startups. Having this sort of process or regulation would make a huge difference in the long-term to shift towards a sustainable balance.

To support these companies and founders, they should also allocate time each week to meet different female founders across various stages and industries to help guide them.

While it’s great to dedicate funds to female-founded startups, it’s also imperative to invest time to provide practical support alongside this. Their startup might not necessarily be a right fit for the VC or be in the stage or industry that they invest in. However, networking is key and they instead, may be able to introduce them to a more suitable investor. Passing it forward is a rule I live by!  

7. What advice would you give to women coming up in the tech space? What do you wish you had known?

Not everyone will love your idea, not everyone will believe in your hustle, but you have to go for it! Get out there and show the world what you can do. You will probably get 500 no’s and 1 yes, but it will all be worth it. 

  • Are you a female founder looking for tailored operational and financial support to build and scale your startup? Find out more about our Venture Builders.
  • We’re building new and exciting companies and are always looking for talented innovators to join the team.

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