9 Irish women CEOs and founders that are making their own startup luck
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Kate O’Daly (COO), Aoibh O’Daly (CCO), Emer O’Daly (CEO) – Love & Robots / Photo Credit: PR

Ireland has dramatically increased the number of female tech CEOs and founders, and we applaud their efforts. Here are 9 of Ireland’s most impressive startup women leaders

To do our small part to help balance the gender scales in tech, we wanted to put the spotlight on a very interesting community: Irish female founders and CEOs. Most of the Irish women tech leaders we spoke with for this article reported a supportive atmosphere that’s quite different from what we hear about in Silicon Valley. They expressed pride in being female founders and claimed they faced few obstacles due to their gender in the tech world.

This is in large part thanks to organizational efforts that have successfully increased the number of female-led startups. NDRC, an early stage investor in tech companies, has partnered with AIB and Enterprise Ireland to provide opportunities for women in the tech startup arena. Their ‘Female Founders’ initiative brought women founders together with highly qualified team members, mentors and advisors to validate their ideas and get them moving towards implementing their businesses.

Kevin Sherry, Manager of High Potential Start-Ups (HPSU) and Growth Engagement, commented to Geektime, “A particular highlight of 2014 was the continued strong performance in the number of new female-led start-ups. The previous year Enterprise Ireland expanded its ambitious program to drive an increase in the number of new projects being set up by female entrepreneurs. New initiatives during the year included the development of female accelerator programs in partnership with knowledge providers and the launch of Enterprise Ireland’s first peer-to-peer online networking platform for female-led companies. I am delighted that 2014 turned in the highest number ever – we supported 43 new female-led start-ups during the year, 18 HPSUs (up from 14 in 2013) and 25 Competitive Start companies.”

Niamh Bushnell, Dublin’s Commissioner for Start-ups, expressed similar views about these efforts to increase the number of women in tech in Ireland in her post “Women, Tech and Hell,” stating that, “Since Enterprise Ireland started offering female specific programmes in 2012, funding for women led businesses has jumped from 7% to 23% (HPSU and CSF) in three years.  This is impressive by any standard and well above European and US averages.”

Paula Fitzsimons, the national director of Going for Growth, an organization tackling the gender gap by encouraging more female entrepreneurs to be ambitious and supporting them to achieve their growth aspirations, also provided us with figures demonstrating an increase in women-led businesses in Ireland:

  • In 2013 in Ireland, there were almost two early stage entrepreneurs that were male for every one that was female (1.9:1).
  • If we focus on those who have actually set up a new business, and exclude nascent entrepreneurs, then the ratio is narrower (1.4:1).

An increase in female-led startups, but a lack of women in venture capital

Though Ireland has made strides in increasing female-led tech startups and businesses in general, Niamh Bushnell claims there are only five female venture capitalists in the whole country. (One of them, Elaine Coughlan – co-founder and general partner at Atlantic Bridge Capital – was named among  the 50 most inspiring in Europe’s tech community.) Many of the female founders we spoke with commented on this lack of representation, citing it as one of the few barriers they have encountered.

It’s worth noting that the women portrayed here are mostly from the sectors of e-commerce, EdTech, art and culture, travel and health. It might be a small sample, but it is probably indicative of the fact that we still largely see female entrepreneurs operating in fields that are stereotypically attributed to women. Also, none of the women interviewed here mentioned having children: Either they were young and haven’t had children yet or did not want children. Hopefully Ireland will continue not only increasing the number of women leading startups, but also supporting women in tech when many need it most: raising a family.

So, without further ado, let’s meet the ladies that lead amazing startups in Ireland:

1. Julie Currid – Co-Founder and COO of initiafy

Julie Currid with her Sean Fennell - CEO and Co-founder at initiafy

Julie Currid and Sean Fennell (CEO and Co-founder of initiafy) / Photo Credit: PR

Tell us about your company:

Some industries such as construction and retail face the challenge of high volumes of new staff who all need to be introduced to the company culture, policies and safety procedures.

Initiafy is an online platform that helps companies manage the initial steps new staff take to become productive, safe members of their workforce. Customers customize the platform to suit their needs so that new starters can self-register and self-train before starting a new job. Our customers include Domino’s, Pfizer, Adobe, Sodexo, Lidl and five of the top 20 construction companies in the world.

Can you tell us about your experience as a female founder in Ireland?

When I started the company with my business partner, Sean Fennell, I had very little experience of the startup world, technology and investors. For me, having a business partner who is hugely encouraging and who believes in the merits of gender diversity has made the experience of founding a company very enjoyable and exciting.

It’s quite daunting presenting to a panel of ‘all-male’ VCs. As a company we have met most of the VCs in Ireland and only one was a woman. However, Enterprise Ireland has initiatives in place to encourage females to start their own businesses and to encourage investors to put weight on the opportunities presented by female-led companies. The National Women’s Council of Ireland and Going for Growth are also very pro-active is helping women in business.

I believe Ireland is behind the curve, particularly when it comes to females on private boards and the investment that female-led start-ups receive. In Ireland, 90% of private boards are male.

Whether it’s my brothers, my father, my boyfriend or my business partner, I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by men who believe I’m as capable as they are. This has given me the confidence to be able to leverage the benefits of being a woman in business and creating a gender diverse team – whether that’s better decision making or stronger, more predictable revenues.

 

2. Kate O’Daly (COO), Aoibh O’Daly (CCO), Emer O’Daly (CEO) – Love & Robots

Kate, Aoibh and Emer (left to right) / Photo Credit: PR

Kate, Aoibh and Emer (left to right) / Photo Credit: PR

Tell us about your company:

Love & Robots puts you, the customer, at the center of product creation. We enable customers to influence, tweak and personalize our products before they buy them. We then make all of our products with love and robots. By collaborating with our community (love), and by using 3D printing (robots), we create beautifully-crafted, customizable, unique, 3D printed and locally-made products for design lovers everywhere.

Can you tell us about your experience as a female CEO/CCO/COO in Ireland?

In our experience over the past couple of years, there has been considerable support and encouragement for women in STEM. Many organizations such as Enterprise Ireland are keenly aware of the gap, and are making a real effort to close it. It’s happening on the ground, with grants, networking events, mentoring partnerships and accelerators.

It can be discouraging when you hear that only 15% of C-Level executives are women, and only 2.7% of venture capital goes to female CEOs (in the U.S). but things are gradually changing. It’s inspiring to see women like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer heading up some of the biggest tech companies in the world. We hope this trend continues.

3. Tara van Zyl – Founder and CEO of iCostume

Tara van Zyl / Photo Credit: PR

Tara van Zyl / Photo Credit: PR

Tell us about your company:

Seamless is a collaborative software platform that allows film and television crews to communicate in real-time. Information is secure, shareable and traceable among all departments on a production. Our aim with Seamless is to offer a digital solution for the vast amounts of information being updated and shared on a daily basis.

In the summer of 2014, I participated in the Female Founders pre-accelerator program at the NDRC. Since then, my vision for what is possible has grown far beyond a simple necessity for one app; I can see technology changing how crews work.

Can you tell us about your experience as a female CEO/founder in Ireland?

I am very new to the whole world of technology and entrepreneurship. I have been a ‘HOD” (Head of Department) for the last 10 years, and don’t find my experience as a CEO terribly different from being a HOD on a film.

However, being new to the tech industry, the most prominent difference is that I am always classified as a female founder or female CEO compared to the film industry, I have never been called a female HOD. I still find it unusual how often my gender is stated.

Overall my experience in the tech world has been extremely positive. There is so much support for female entrepreneurs. I have probably received more attention because I am a woman in a male dominant industry.

Being a female manager in the tech world has given me the opportunity to meet so many outstanding people with a ferocious hunger and drive.

 

4. Aine Behan – CEO and Co-Founder of Cortechs

Photo Credit: PR

Aine Behan / Photo Credit: PR

Tell us about your company:

Seven percent of children worldwide have ADHD and these kids have huge challenges staying focused. With medication as the current solution, parents seek out drug-free alternatives. Neurofeedback therapy, using brainwaves to retrain the brain, is proven to increase focus in ADHD children but it’s costly and hard to access.

Cortechs are the first to make neurofeedback therapy mobile and deliverable. We couple our brainwave technology with fun healthy gaming to improve attention deficit in kids with ADHD.

In March 2015, I won the EY Future Health competition in the NDRC and I am an Enterprise Ireland recipient of the EI Competitive Startup Fund.

Can you tell us about your experience as a female CEO/founder in Ireland?

It’s exciting, rewarding but also challenging and a roller coaster of emotions, so hold tight. As a female founder you take on the tag team duty of being an advocate for females in leadership roles automatically as there are so few of us as entrepreneurs – this is a role that I am quite passionate about promoting as well so I have found myself getting involved in female national STEM promotion events, European girlsintech events (won most innovative pitch) and also Womens Innovation Forums (chatted to SAP representing European Centre for Women in Tech).

As an entrepreneur, I have found that it has been very rewarding but equally challenging and you wouldn’t want to be afraid of working long hours and grafting and persevering as it takes time to build your empire and always longer than you think as it takes grit to juggle work/life balance more so than I had ever experienced in academia.

Ireland’s grants and enterprise network is evolving and it is currently quite supportive of female founders and entrepreneurs and trying to change the ratios and promote gender equality in this space. Not there yet regarding more women in leadership positions, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and it is making changes, in fact ahead of many other countries that I have observed, to get there.

 

5. Katie Tsouros – CEO and Co-Founder of Artfetch

Katie Tsouros / Photo Credit: PR

Tell us about your company:

Artfetch is a curated e-commerce platform for emerging artists. It connects up-and-coming talent from around the world with existing collectors and emerging buyers globally, making discovering and buying new quality art online simple and accessible.

The global art market is currently worth over $65 billion a year. Online art sales are a rapidly growing part of the market, generating an estimated €2.5 billion in 2013, and increasing by an estimated 25% per annum, with an expectation to exceed €10 billion by 2020.

Can you tell us about your experience as a female CEO/founder in Ireland?

I’ve had a very positive experience as a female CEO and founder, and I think being in the minority can often work to your advantage, as long as you’re comfortable with it and know how to benefit from it. There are certainly many opportunities open to women in business and technology in Ireland today, and a lot of incentives and initiatives to encourage women to take the reigns.

Having said that I think a lack of confidence is often a huge barrier for women, myself included, and there is still obviously a massive lack of female role models. I think the visibility of women at the forefront of business needs to improve; greater effort to find, profile and champion women leaders needs to be made in order to change the ratio, and everybody needs to embrace and take responsibility for that.

There are of course sometimes situations and scenarios that would probably play out differently if it were a man walking into a room as a founder as opposed to a woman, and it’s a shame that that can happen, but for the most part I’ve always felt very respected and welcome as a female founder and I’ve really enjoyed it.

 

6. Deirdre Ní Luasaigh – CEO and Founder of CultureArk

deirdre1

Deirdre Ní Luasaigh / Photo Credit: PR

Tell us about your company:

CultureArk.com is a trusted, cloud-based digital repository platform that enables archives, galleries and museums to safely preserve and profit from their treasured digitized cultural collections. CultureArk also allows commercialization and merchandising of collections via online-printing and an on demand shop for books, posters, prints and 3D printed reproductions.

Our unique digital hall marking service uses the bitcoin blockchain to assert digital provenance on all content uploaded to our service. This is most beneficial for proof of ownership and licensing of digital content.

Can you tell us about your experience as a female CEO/founder in Ireland?

I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but in Ireland I have found the startup support structures most beneficial for getting our company up and running. Having been through the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers program in the Rubicon Centre in CIT, and now on the LaunchPad program at the NDRC in Dublin, I can say that as a female founder I have received world class advice, support and direction, which is dedicated to help us flourish as a company.

Ireland is very good at that, and I can only hope more women take advantage of it.

However, I think it is a shame that values of what makes a good manager sometimes can be dismissed depending on your gender. It’s a shame, and it must change. The change should and will be brought about measuring success, execution, growth, customer satisfaction, innovation and profit that a business makes.

 

7. Jennie Mc Ginn – CEO and Co-Founder of Opsh

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Grace Mc Ginn, Jennie Mc Ginn and Sarah Mc Ginn (left to right) / Photo Credit: PR

Tell us about your company:

Opsh is a universal shopping cart for the high street womenswear market online. We provide a single, personalized portal for women to shop across their favorite brands and retailers with just one account. The universal shopping cart model has disrupted the food, travel, hotel and insurance industries, but fashion retail is notoriously slow to change. As women are increasingly time-poor and as online fashion becomes increasingly more accessible, Opsh provides a simple, streamlined shopping experience for the busy woman. Opsh is specifically targeting the mainstream female shopper as the luxury and value end of the fashion chain are well catered-for; that service has not been made available in the middle.

Can you tell us about your experience as a female CEO/founder in Ireland?

My experience as a female founder is generally positive. As an all-female team, founded by three females, we had some challenges in the early days with unconscious bias. But I think, in the main, we stamped out any notions about our team dynamic. We work with some great men and some great women and ultimately we have achieved balance across our wider team.

The tech industry in Ireland is only now going through a major-growth phase and there have been a wealth of female-focused support strategies and networks to promote women-in-business. I know that sexism is a serious issue in Silicon Valley; the main challenge in Ireland is encouraging more women to take leadership roles in business and to do that in a meaningful way.

 

8. Danielle Mallen – Co-Founder and COO of Acteavo

Danielle Mallen in her office / Photo Credit: PR

Danielle Mallen / Photo Credit: PR

Tell us about your company:

Acteavo provides online booking software to tour and activity providers that simplifies booking and customer management through one dashboard.

Booking solutions are often confusing and complicated for small businesses to use. Acteavo combines an online booking system with tools to manage your day-to-day business, such as CRM, accounting and payments. We are also developing a suite of mobile payment solutions so that tourism businesses can manage all aspects of their operations on the move. This reduces the needs for costly back office teams and non-revenue generating office space.

We believe that software should serve the customer and not that the customer serve the software. Therefore we endeavor to ensure our online booking software is easy and intuitive to use, requires limited training and grows with your business over time.

Can you tell us about your experience as a female COO/founder in Ireland?

My experience so far has been very positive. There is a lot of support here in Dublin for startups and females in business. Running your own business has its pros and cons. It requires you to take risks, to put yourself out there and it involves a lot of hard work and sacrifice. It is also hugely rewarding to work for yourself, which drives you to succeed.

Ireland is renowned for having a huge amount of support for startup companies. This is also true for women in business and I have benefitted from that. Ireland is however a very small country, so when it comes to fundraising and getting your business international exposure, this also poses challenges.

I worked in a very male dominated environment before setting up my own business, so it hasn’t really been an issue for me. The fact that I’m a woman in the tech world has certainly not been a hindrance. I think it adds balance to our team, as women have a different way of thinking and offer a different perspective on things: our CEO and CTO are both men. In dealing with customers, partners or investors I would say that it has helped. People are often interested in the fact that you are a female business owner as they are used to mostly dealing with men!

 

9. Louise Dunne – Co-founder of Pucker

pucker press

Niamh Mchugh (left) and Louise Dunne (right). Photo Credit: PR

Tell us about your company:

Pucker is a platform that instantly connects clients with vetted, freelance beauty professionals and mobilizes the salon industry. Pucker is currently operating all over Dublin via the website www.lovepucker.com. Customers can book hair, make-up and nail appointments to their home, office or hotel and pay simply and securely online. We are in the development stage of our app.  It will work by connecting the customers and professionals using location based services.

In our research of 200 women in UK and Ireland, 85 percent of women had trouble booking a beauty appointment. We have the opportunity to give mobile make-up artists, hair dressers and nail technicians a lot more business and connect with new customers.

Can you tell us about your experience as a female CEO/founder in Ireland?

My experience has been really positive thus far! I find that the startup community is marked by an unwavering willingness to help one another out, and this unique spirit of “paying it forward” is something which I have never experienced in any other workplace setting. We have a great amount of support at start-local (our current incubator) and it’s here that I’ve been able to meet some fantastic people.

The only thing I would say is that there is not enough female-lead companies. We need to get more ladies in the office! It’s up to women to put themselves out there so that investors can recognize the value that they bring. There is a movement happening though as women are speaking out, making changes and I have to say it’s an exciting time to be a female founder.

I am so proud to be a female founder in this predominantly male-dominated industry. I feel it has made me really push myself outside of my comfort zone in a way that male counterparts might not have to, and to be honest I think it has been a blessing in disguise. In Ireland, whilst there are some supports for female founders, I think there is huge potential for a lot more.

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We hope that some day in the future these kind of posts will be redundant. If you want to let the world know about women entrepreneurs in European startup ecosystems, make sure to update this spreadsheet of Women Startup CEOs, CXOs, & Founders in Europe. There’s a similar spreadsheet regarding women in the CEE countries. Other sites and information on business women around the globe can be found on the wonderful site The Way Women Work.

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Rinat Korbet and Laura Rosbrow

About Rinat Korbet and Laura Rosbrow


Rinat Korbet is a startup outreach manager & analyst at Geektime. Likes to geek-out, play video games, binge watch and blog about culture and media. Laura is a social entrepreneurship enthusiast: This is what happens when a former social worker becomes a tech journalist. She writes mostly about startups, technology, peace and justice issues, cultural topics, and personal stuff. Before Geektime, she was an editor at the Jerusalem Post and Mic.

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  • Awesome article! Great to see Irish women making an impact in tech.