Sun | Aug 25, 2019

WeXchange invites female entrepreneurs to pitch competition

Published:Sunday | July 14, 2019 | 12:24 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter

WeXchange, the platform that connects high-growth entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean with mentors and investors, is ­inviting female entrepreneurs across Jamaica to enter the seventh staging of its pitch ­competition for start-ups.

The competition, which closes July 31, offers a one-week mentoring programme at Microsoft offices in San Francisco, United States, in addition to meetings to potential investors and collaborators to the female with the best business idea.

WeXchange, however, requires that the ­business be less than four years old and has received less than US$1 million ($136 million) in financing to enter the pitch competition. Additionally, science, technology, engineering and math, STEM, should be key components of the start-up business, which should also demonstrate high innovation, impact and global scalability.

“Start-ups applying must have at least one woman on the founding team who will present the pitch,” WeXchange notes.

In designing the WeXchange start-up pitch, the innovation arm of the Inter-American Development Bank, IDB Lab’s target was to unleash the growth potential of women entrepreneurs in STEM-focused businesses throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

The competition also seeks to reduce business-women’s reliance on personal funds by offering greater access to finance. According to the US-based National Women’s Business Council, the male counterpart are often more successful in securing investor financing to develop STEM businesses.

In acknowledging reports of the male counterpart getting a larger cut of investor financing across the region, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation Harold Davis told the Financial Gleaner that the gender disparity in financing could result from the male gender predominantly developing and executing businesses with in-depth focus on STEM.

“For years the JBDC client pool has been 50 per cent male and 50 per cent female. By the time the screening process is completed, we have roughly 65 per cent women-owned businesses in our Accelerator and Business Monitoring Programmes. So the women are right up there with the men,” Davis said.

“While the JBDC is seeing an uptick in ­women-owned businesses in these programmes, regionally speaking, however, I understand that where the start-up high growth space is concerned it tends to be more male dominated,” he continued.

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Globally, technology, health, financial services, logistics and transportation are listed as some of the best industries for starting a business this year.

“Most of what they categorise as high growth businesses in the region are those that are tech industry-driven, the .com businesses, and those tend to be more occupied by male entrepreneurs under 35. Perhaps those are the ones that the investors in the region are looking to fund,” Davis said. Efforts to get an estimate of the number of Jamaican female entrepreneurs with STEM as a key component of their business model proved unsuccessful.

WeXchange is in its seventh staging and so far has gathered more than 1,600 entrepreneurs, 340 investors, 170 sponsors, collaborators and mentors from 24 countries. This year, six finalists from the region will be selected to pitch their businesses before an international panel of investors. The forum is scheduled for Asuncion, Paraguay, on November 13 and 14.

“As we are launching the programme here in Jamaica we encourage Jamaican female entrepreneurs to apply as they will have the opportunity to compete on a global stage and showcase the innovation and scalability of their business models,” Terry-Ann Segree, Private Financial Operations Specialist at IDB Lab, said.

Last year, Unima, a company formed by Laura Mendoza in Mexico, was announced winner of the WeXchange start-up pitch competition.

Unima has developed a fast and low-cost diagnostic and disease surveillance technology for diseases which allows doctors, nurses and community health workers to diagnose disease directly at the point of care, in less than 15 minutes, without the use of any lab equipment.

The process is carried out in three simple steps: taking a drop of blood, placing the blood in a diagnostic paper device, and taking a picture of the device with an app in a smartphone.

karena.bennett@gleanerjm.com