Impact Worlds Collide: TechWomen from State Department Program Meet Founders from Singularity University Ventures Incubator

In September 2018, 100 brilliant, visionary, compassionate, and curious changemakers descended on Silicon Valley to absorb the vibrant culture of the world’s most innovative technology hub. This is TechWomen. For the past seven years, tech companies across Silicon Valley have opened their arms to female leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) from 20 countries in Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. The TechWomen Programme is an international exchange programme supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It aims to recognise and amplify the potential of women in STEM fields by connecting them to a network of impact coaches, professional, and cultural mentors in Silicon Valley.

This year, TechWomen Emerging Leaders had the privilege to expand their minds by attending a 10x experience at Singularity University on Friday 12 October. CEO Rob Nail and EVP Carin Watson welcomed us to the magical technological wonders that SU staff consider routine. While many in the audience had exposure to some exponential technologies through their work and ventures at home, Mandy Simpson’s Introduction to Exponentials provided a wholly new light on how these technologies may be used to usher in a different future. A future that, according to Mandy, is not so far away.

People posing in front of an airplane

Molly Pyle from SU Ventures stirred excitement with her new vision for the Global Startup Program (GSP), encouraging Emerging Leaders to embrace an exponential mindset when solving the greatest challenges they face in their home countries. How to do this became a lot more concrete in conversations with the startup founders of the SU Ventures incubator. During roundtable discussions, we learned how they are using exponential technologies to leverage their business models to reach a billion people.

For most of the Emerging Leaders, attending the event provided a unique opportunity to understand Singularity University’s abundance mindset, and to gain exposure to how exponential technologies can be used to solve humanity’s grand challenges. Many who have businesses at home or are looking to start a business were particularly looking forward to meeting startup founders to discuss solutions to challenges they are passionate about. Learning about SU’s Global Impact Challenges (GIC) from Regina Njima was particularly exciting, as they present a tangible way for TechWomen to connect with the SU community.

TechWomen indulging in a group chat

In the words of TechWomen Emerging Leader Saleha from Pakistan, “I came to know about the theme of exponential—or moonshot—thinking, observing how the company applies innovative ideas to scale their business impact.” Emerging Leaders from Lebanon really enjoyed hearing how Prasenjit Sinha from SU Ventures is using smart bins to solve waste problems in South Africaa solution closely aligned with their own social impact project they have been developing during the TechWomen programme.

The networking, presentations, and discussions were an inspiring experience for the TechWomen cohort. The event ended with a sunset tour and many selfies on Moffett Field at NASA Research Park.

We thank Jill Finlayson and Molly Pyle, who not only made the event possible but have also been fantastic professional mentors for the three weeks that we were hosted at SU. Jill and Molly drive SU Ventures and have a long history with the TechWomen programme. For our fellow changemakers out there looking to accelerate their efforts to solve big problems, consider applying to GSP and/or entering a GIC.

Ayesha Majeed and Wiebke Toussaint

Ayesha Majeed is an Assistant Professor at BUITEMS in Quetta, Pakistan and a mentor in the first Business Incubation Center in Baluchistan city. Ayesha came to Singularity University looking to increase her technical skills on virtualization solutions and cloud infrastructure, learn how to analyze big data and apply machine learning techniques, and to work with a leading host company that is working with innovative startups. When she returns to Pakistan, she will pursue her Ph.D. on mobile cloud computing from the United Kingdom, build out startup curriculum programs for the Incubation Center, mentor more women entrepreneurs and STEM leaders,  and is considering startup of her own. Follow her on Linkedin.

Wiebke Toussaint is a Data Scientist from the University of Cape Town. In her TechWomen application, Wiebke was seeking to learn from the shapers in Silicon Valley’s startup ecosystem, gain exposure to innovative applications leveraging AI technologies in IoT networks, and connect with the AI community in Silicon Valley. Specifically, she sought (and we think found at Singularity University) her ideal host company that “is reimagining the future of humankind by concentrating the talents of thriving individuals into exponential teams that are using machine intelligence to build life-changing systems and technology products.” When Wiebke returns to South Africa, she plans to start a social venture to increase diversity and inclusion in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.