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Breaking barriers in DeepTech: insights from Estonian female founders

Estonia aims to double the number of DeepTech projects by 2025 with an increased female representation in the sector. Founders from Soulie, Fyma, Timbeter, Clanbeat & SageAI are sharing their experience of running a cutting-edge business.

Estonia is a DeepTech state. The country has recently adopted the plan which aims to double the number of DeepTech projects by 2025 and increase it five times by 2030. By the start of the next decade, the country should have more than 500 startups focused on developing a technology based on scientific and engineering research.

The increase in female representation is an integral part of these efforts and the share of female entrepreneurs grows consistently. What’s their experience? Katrin Liivat from FoodDocs, Triin Kask from Soulie, Karen K. Burns from Fyma, Anna-Greta Tsahkna from Timbeter and Kadri Tuisk from Clanbeat & SageAI tell their stories for the Spring 2023 Life in Estonia magazine.

Katrin Liivat, FoodDocs

FoodDocs was founded in 2017 and raised 2 million euros in 2022 to solve food safety compliance issues. Leveraging AI, FoodDocs makes getting and staying compliant significantly less time-consuming than traditional methods. Founder and CEO Katrin Liivat is a strong proponent of unleashing the full potential of women in the workplace.

With a 50/50 gender split on the FoodDocs team, Liivat has seen first-hand the benefits of gender equity and pushes for it wherever she can.

“Showing women what they’re capable of doing, the energy that comes with that is awesome,” Liivat says. “When I hire women, I see the same pattern that I used to have. They have been under this pressure that says, you can’t do it. Once they’ve understood what they can achieve, it’s like a rocket. Only the sky’s the limit.”

Triin Kask, Soulie

Triin Kask is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and co-founder of the Challenger Diversity Accelerator. Kask’s current startup Soulie, the third company she’s led since the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey, allows people to create their own personal algorithm and browse ultra-personalised content as an antidote to mindless scrolling. Kask has raised several million euros for her startups, and 600,000 euros for her latest Soulie, which is set to open its beta to the public later in 2023. Like many women in the startup space, she was initially not convinced there were biases or stereotypes at work in

the VC world. She simply assumed it was that difficult for everyone. “Now I work with other female founders raising money,” Kask says. “And I see how hard it really is. It’s much easier for male founders to raise money at that stage. So I’ve been working on encouraging other female founders. We started our accelerator and female founders’ meetups, which have been really popular and always overbooked. This ecosystem, from women to women, is working very well.”

DeepTech Founders: Katrin Livat, Triin Kask, Karen K. Burns, Anna-Greta Tsahkna, Kadri Tuisk

Karen K. Burns, Fyma

Fyma founder and CEO Karen K. Burns set out to make AI more accessible in 2019 and closed a round of 1.8 million dollars in seed funding the following year. Burns is an outspoken advocate for gender parity in all spaces and is particularly passionate about using her platform to get more women into STEM and management roles.

“Women raise smaller rounds over longer periods of time,” Burns notes. “That, compounded with being a tech company that spends maybe two years of its life actually building the product, you need to push for profitability and revenue sooner because you will have diluted yourself already.”

The quickest way to a solution, Burns believes, is working more closely with VCs and the men in the industry. “A really easy thing for VCs is to change their pipeline,” Burns says. “Last year, I spoke to an investor who would meet a woman-only or mixed-gender team for every male-only team in his pipeline. Within a year and a bit, his portfolio was 50/50. He changed his bias by eliminating it at the root.” Burns believes that on top of everything else, not funding women-led companies is simply bad business sense. “It’s not just about women getting money,” she says. “It’s about good businesses getting money.”

Anna-Greta Tsahkna, Timbeter

Timbeter digitally transforms the timber industry into a transparent and well-managed supply chain. Founder Anna-Greta Tsahkna set out to increase sustainability, efficiency, and profits for the forestry industry and for governments.

In total, Tsahkna has raised 1.7 million euros for Timbeter to date and has established a firm presence in their main markets in Latin America and Africa. At the intersection of tech and timber – not one but two traditionally male-dominated industries – Tsahkna has felt the imbalance inherent in the system.

“As a female founder on the same level as any male founder, you’re still undervalued and you have to jump higher,” she says. “Female-led businesses are actually on average more profitable but still have more difficulty getting funded. We are so used to having men in charge of the money. It will take time, but I do see that there are more and more VCs who really take into consideration that they need to have female founders in their portfolio, such as Change Ventures, one of our investors.”

Kadri Tuisk, Clanbeat / SageAI

Serial entrepreneur Kadri Tuisk is adamant that her daughter, already a founder at 17 and soon raising funds for her own business, should not have to face the same kind of biases in the VC world that she has.

“I want to create a world where my daughter is able to create the change she is hoping to see,” Tuisk says. “If you’re looking at the companies bringing change in the world and they’re all male-led, you’re not looking at a balanced world.” Tuisk herself is at the helm of Clanbeat, an EdTech startup bridging the student mental health gap.

With her Clanbeat offshoot, SageAI, Tuisk is taking an even deeper dive into how technology can unlock human potential. Born in 2022, SageAI offers highly personalised, AI-powered coaching and learning for delivering results in startups, without burnout.

Want to join the club and invest in the Estonian DeepTech sector? Read more on how DeepTech has become a hot topic in Estonia and fill out our e-Consulting form to get started with investing in Estonia.

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