“As women, we should expose other women to ideas of what you can be, what you can do and what you can dream of.”
Day five of #twrwanda was all about innovation, entrepreneurship and meeting some of Rwanda’s brightest graduate students and emerging entrepreneurs.The day kicked-off at Westervelle Startup Haus, a co-working space and incubator, as well as at RBD Innovation Center, an incubator and training center for students and aspiring entrepreneurs. At both locations, groups of mentors and fellows had a chance to meet local entrepreneurs, coach them on their businesses and share best practices on pitching, funding and creating a sustainable business model.
At Westervelle, a day led by fellow Lisette Gaju Shyamba, mentor Shadi Nayyer of Twitch delivered the keynote on what investors look for. In her talk, she stressed the importance of a rockstar team, telling a good story and being open to pivoting: “You have to be in love with the problem, not the solution — because the solution can change,” she said. Before the entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to the delegates, mentor Elaina Tia of LinkedIn delivered a pitch training, using real-world examples that demonstrated how to tell a story, use persuasive language and gather feedback. In the Q and A that followed, fellows and mentors answered questions on creating diverse teams and the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people: “Don’t choose people who think like you, walk like you or behave like you,” said 2015 fellow of South Africa Baratang Miya. “If you want to go to a party with your entire team, you’ve chosen the wrong people.”
At RBD Innovation Center, mentor Tina Shakour also delivered a speech on what investors look for. “Believe in your product for investors to believe in your story,” she told the group.
At both locations, it was then time to hear from the entrepreneurs themselves at a pitch feedback session, where delegates listened to business ideas such as turning waste into recyclable materials as well as an online marketplace that sells Rwandan-made products. At the breakout sessions that followed, small groups discussed building strong teams, going global with a business, building your brand and social media and marketing.
Meeting with students at Carnegie Mellon Africa
The afternoon was spent with female students at Carnegie Mellon Africa — the only U.S. research university offering master’s degrees with a full time faculty, staff and operations in Africa — for a day coordinated by CMU graduate and fellow Solange Tuyisenge. CMU director Vijaykumar Bhagavatula opened the afternoon session, speaking about CMU’s efforts to increase the number of female faculty and students. The university has come far, he said — when he started his position, there were just two women enrolled, and now the university is 30% women — but they are still working towards a goal of 50% female enrollment. TechWomen director Katie Zee followed, introducing the TechWomen program and its mission of empowering and uplifting women in STEM globally. “All of you are amazing women in STEM, and we encourage you to apply and join us,” she said.
At a fireside chat, mentors Saura Weiner Naim and Jenny Martin addressed the students in STEM fields, offering their advice on work life balance while remaining ambitious in their careers. “Sometimes raising your hand isn’t always about getting something for yourself,” explained Saura. “It’s about raising up others or advocating for opportunities for others.” Jenny emphasized the importance of being bold, taking risks and focusing on continuing training and education: “When you invest in your competencies when you’re young, you open doors for when you’re older,” she said. After, during a series of lighting talks on innovation, mentors and fellows spoke about AI, machine learning, cyber security and changing the African narrative through innovation in technology.
The day concluded with time for networking, where mentors, fellows and CMU students came together to speak about their career journeys, share common challenges and celebrate each other’s achievements. The connections created on day four embodied the spirit of TechWomen: mentors and fellows exchanged information with students, hoping to continue the conversations they began. 2019 fellow of Morocco Lamia Fikrat went above and beyond, coaching the local entrepreneurs she met during in-person meetings in the days that followed. Day four was yet another reminder of the positive change created when international communities come together, share experiences and work together to create global impact.