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More than 1,000 businesses are started every day in the UK. But according to Government research, women are half as likely as men to start their own company, creating a “significant pool” of under-utilised talent. 

These four female founders, however, saw a potential gap for their business and decided to leap in and claim it, launching enterprises that range from wellness salons to savings apps.

They’ve learned a huge amount along the way — below you’ll find the lessons that have stayed with them, along with their thoughts on what it takes to start a business, and the skills that they’ve relied on or acquired through their new ventures.

URENNA OKONKWO

Launched Cashmere, a luxury smart savings app for women 

With Cashmere, an app that enables women to save for luxury items, Urenna Okonkwo was able to combine her love of shopping with her expertise in financial management; she previously worked as an advisor at a wealth management firm. 

“The idea came about when I was shopping in Harrods and saw a pair of Christian Louboutin heels I instantly fell in love with,” she explains. “Though I had the money to buy the shoes, I felt really guilty about dipping into my savings. So I decided to create a product that helps women budget towards owning luxury items while also providing

tools and workshops to manage their personal finances better.”

Okonkwo balanced working full-time with developing Cashmere before leaving her job to concentrate solely on the app last summer. “I knew I wasn’t giving Cashmere the attention and focus it needed and I was having to turn down so many opportunities because they happened during worktime.” 

As a one woman band in the early days, Okonkwo used her digital skills to build a community on social media, and also write a blog, using WordPress and Squarespace. She learned how to use Photoshop and

InDesign from YouTube tutorials, which helped with designing the app, and she also learned the basics of coding, which comes in handy when talking to her engineering team. “It’s important that non-technical founders have some level of technical acumen to help them really understand the product,” she says. 

The one thing she wishes she’d known before starting Cashmere is how mentally demanding it can be. “Running a business is tough and there will be times you feel like giving up. However, having a strong enough ‘why’ is what can keep you going.”

beta.cashmereapp.co.uk

INAS ISMAIL

Developed Autsera, a social app for children with autism 

Working as a freelancer on a weekly tech-focused TV show, Inas Ismail saw all the new technology releases but felt more of them should be designed to benefit society. Combining her background in engineering and her experience as a mother to a child with autism, Ismail came up with Autsera, an app helping children with autism develop social skills. 

And when she discovered We In Social Tech – an incubation programme supporting tech businesses doing social good — she didn’t hesitate. “I applied even before setting up the company,” she says. “And when I was officially accepted, I said, ‘You know what? You owe it to yourself, you want to make a difference.’”

A few months on, Ismail applied for the Google for Startups female founders programme, which she has been a part of since the summer.

This has helped her learn the different skills she needs to grow the company, from how to hire at the right time or learn about wireframing. One of the major ways Ismail has benefited from the programme is it encouraged her never to shy away from asking for help, whether from other founders on the programme or her mentor: “It helps you to sleep at night.” 

And when it comes to starting out, preparation is key. “You can never plan enough,” she says.“ However, don’t use planning as an excuse for not starting. Give yourself a deadline and then go for it.”

autsera.io

SASHA SABAPATHY

Founder of Glow Bar, a wellness salon for women

Sasha Sabapathy is used to making life changes. Born in Malaysia and raised in the UK, she was living in New York working in branding digital planning when she decided to make the jump into the food world, enrolling at a culinary school. When having drinks with friends sometime later, she began telling them about the ancient wellbeing methods she adopted in New York, such as using infrared saunas and taking adaptogenic herbs, and the itch came to make another jump. 

“I realised there was a big gap in the wellbeing industry and decided to fill it,” she explains. 

“It was quite scary to switch paths again but I felt I had found my purpose.” 

Her brand-building skills came in handy when establishing wellness salon Glow Bar. “I felt I knew how to engage with customers and how to market a brand on social media.” 

In the year since opening, Sabapathy has added coding and web development to her CV so she can communicate better with her website developer. 

She wishes she’d understood unit economics before starting out — but credits Square, the card payments company, with improving her financial knowledge. “It has also taught me how to easily read and digest sales data in order to implement new strategies,” she says.

Her advice for others willing to take the plunge? “Be kind to yourself. Launching a business is a marathon nota sprint, so self-love and compassion is important for looking after your sanity long-term.”

glowbarldn.com

MEGAN WORTHING-DAVIES

Started Maji, a pensions platform to help people plan for the future

From working as a management consultant, to being a school’s head of department then CEO of a social enterprise, Megan Worthing-Davies’s CV stands her in good stead to be the operations exec of a growing start-up, Maji, a financial wellness platform that aims to close the pension savings gap. 

She is experienced in identifying how to propel a company forward, a crucial skill for a COO. While her Maji co-founder Sahil Sethi may handle the visionary side of things, Worthing-Davies likes to turn the visions into reality. The role is also very mission-led, something she has always looked for in her career. “The connecting theme is I don’t want to just do a day job, I want to do something where I can really see the results of my labour,” she explains. 

Despite her wealth of experience, one of the big lessons Worthing-Davies has learned throughout the start-up process is how to trust herself. In the gap between leaving her previous role and leading Maji, she took a course in agile project management, as she felt the skills would be useful in her new role. 

“I found that I knew more than pretty much everybody there about agile project management but because I hadn’t been around that terminology, I didn’t know how to articulate my skills,” she says. 

Her advice for future start-up founders is to listen to themselves and value their background. “All of these different experiences you have on the journey to doing a start-up might seem like they haven’t always been the right turn. But actually, at every step, you’re learning something about yourself and the environment and upskilling yourself.”

maji.io


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