There’s a rising tide of female talent in the hardware sector and the CRL event, Hardware by/for Women event (29 Nov), provided a great platform to celebrate it. The event showcased some of the inspirational hardware entrepreneurs leading the way with innovative products by, or for, women. An enthusiastic audience of fellow entrepreneurs and designers gathered to hear from the five top quality speakers.
CRL’s Marketing Manager, Genevieve Oller, opened by saying that the event was spawned off the back of seeing firsthand how diverse perspectives can influence or even prompt complete pivots in product development.
Mat Hunter, managing director at CRL, was in the audience and he said, “CRL is passionate about providing a platform for female entrepreneurs and for those designing for female customers. Our vision is of a diverse community of innovators creating products for a wide range of customers – and this event certainly delivered on that.”.
The speakers certainly shared the CRL vision, along with a strong desire to use technology to tackle important issues.
Tech makes education fun
First up, was Sadhbh Doherty, product manager for Tech Will Save Us (TWSU). She shared the TWSU vision for accessible educational technology, and their latest products, and gave us a quick insight into how products are developed. She explained that, the TWSU idea was that tech must be presented as simple and fun, and should be engaging for the parents as well as the children. Their early educational kits had involved soldering and other enthusiast-level activities. Having spent time with their customers, the kits have evolved to include conductive thread and easy to make conductive electro dough. She finished up by saying that the commercial success of the latest kits suggested that they were getting the formula right.
An elegant solution to UV monitoring
Next, Sadhbh introduced Nadiya Siddique, who has developed the first modular UV-sensor-enabled jewellery to raise awareness of vitamin D deficiencies in the wearer. We heard how, in 2015, Nadiya broke both ankles, while hiking, and later discovered that a critical vitamin D deficiency was the probable cause. That galvanised her to develop an innovative product to help women tackle vitamin D deficiency and the serious health risks associated with it. She said that the problem was particularly acute for women with darker skin and those who covered their hair or face. Her solution – UNA – which is still in the early stages of development, is a piece of wearable tech in the form of jewellery and an associated app. It provides an elegant way to monitor UV exposure and encourage action to build vitamin D levels safely.
Smart security for vulnerable employees
Chakshu Saharan, spoke next and presented Ignius, a safety alert system for female employees in unsafe environments. She explained that 97% of women in Delhi felt unsafe, and 90 million women had left the workforce because they feared for their safety, on a daily basis. This had prompted her to create Ignius.
Like Nadiya, she started by imagining it as jewellery, but soon realised that employer-backing was the key and therefore it needed to be more practical and robust in design. With the help of the CRL Accelerator programme, Ignius evolved into a smart security pass, which would provide reliable, discrete protection and be more appealing to security service providers. Chakshu relayed that getting that first pilot programme would continue to be hard while female safety was not being taken as seriously, by employers, as it should be.
During the panel discussion proceeding the presentations, Chakshu shared that she felt CRL had democratized hardware for her – an insight the panel and audience seemingly agreed with, and certainly one of the CRL team’s favourite of the event!
From banana skin to food spoilage indicator
Next, we heard from Solveiga Pakštaitė, of Mimica. She told us about her mission to reduce food waste – an increasingly global issue – and how it led her to develop a biologically accurate food spoilage indicator. Her product journey started with an old banana! She realised that the skin was a natural indicator of deterioration and she wondered if food packaging could be made to behave in the same way. She worked with food chemists, and product designers, to develop the Mimica Touch label system which deteriorates as the food goes off.
Solveiga was part of CRL’s very first Accelerator cohort, and relayed that being a part of the programme was one of the first steps towards becoming an established business – holding meetings in an office space is always going to make you seem more professional than holding them at home!
A smart bracelet to cool the system
Finally, Peter Astbury spoke about his journey developing Grace, which helps women cope with hot flushes. He explained that, from speaking directly to women, he learned that they wanted a product that automatically dealt with the effects. His ‘a-ha moment’ came when he heard that cold water on the wrists helped. As a result, he’s developed a smart bracelet which detects the hot flush, and cools the wrist to counteract its effects, before the wearer knows it’s happening.
When sharing the challenge of his journey so far, it was fascinating to learn that, when working face-to-face with women, on the subject of the menopause, he received great support for focusing on tackling women’s health issues. In contrast, when sharing his mission on social media, he was surprised to meet with the verbal hostility from some people – he also mentioned he’d encountered pushback from a number men who couldn’t quite get their heads around it!
All in all, Hardware by/for Women was a great event. The panel of speakers showed that, while there are some exciting entrepreneurs tackling important issues, female founders in a male-dominated sector, and male founders working to improve female health issues, can still face prejudice, ignorance and hostility.
Genevieve concluded by saying that the event should have been called ‘what women want’ – on account of how many times the phrase was said throughout the course of the event – and how open and intimate the event had felt. More the anything, the importance of listening to your customer – whether you’re creating tech toys for children, a wearable for women experiencing menopausal symptoms or safety devices for women in India – rang through again and again, and that can only happen when you seek these people out, and not resting on your laurels.
The event wrapped up with networking drinks and the chance for further chat with the speakers.
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