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Female Founders in Water

In 2018, venture capitalists invested more dollars in female founders than ever before — $2.88 billion 2018 vs. $1.9 billion 2017. Yet the percentage of total VC funding going to women is still low. Only 2.2% of venture capital funding went to female founders in 2018 and just 8% of partners at top venture capital firms are women. This gap needs closing.

Water still accounts for less than 1% of all venture capital investments, so the picture for female founders accessing early stage investment is, spoiler alert, not great. This stands at odds with what we see in terms of outcomes for Imagine H2O (IH2O) founders. In fact, many of the top innovators in the IH2O portfolio are female.

This list includes founders like Christine Boyle at Valor Water Analytics exiting to Xylem in 2018, Liisa Smith at Ignitia providing tropical weather forecasting to 750k farmers in sub-saharan Africa, and the all-female team at Majik Water developing atmospheric water generation devices in Nairobi.

The future looks even brighter. During IH2O’s 2019 application process, we saw a record 35% of all applicants (and 46% of the 2019 Accelerator Companies) having women founders or women in key leadership positions.

Today and everyday, IH2O salutes the rad women in water tech who are narrowing the gap and inspiring the next generation. IH2O recently asked some of the top innovators in our portfolio to share a glimpse of their experience as female founders in the water biz.

IH2O Female Founder Perspectives #IWD2019

Orianna Bretschger: Aquacycl

Becoming a water entrepreneur was an unexpected career change. Now I am a woman in water, working alongside many other fantastic women in water, and I’m loving it. The career change has not been easy and increasing diversity in the industry is an ongoing journey. The best advice that I can pass along is to persevere and take advantage when you have the opportunity. Recruit and support other women. Help to increase the diversity of thought, gender, race and culture whenever possible. Embrace failures. Celebrate achievements (big and small). Never give up.

Emily Hicks: FREDsense Technologies

Being a woman in the water industry is sometimes a lonely gig, but one of the most amazing things is how genuinely helpful and supportive other women have been. We may be few, but we’re strong! Growing up in community theatre, I love being on stage and sharing my story with others — and I’m not alone. I think that if you look closely, you’ll find a ton of inspiring women changing the water sector, all of whom have amazing stories to tell.

Liisa Smits: Ignitia

I’m actually pretty bad at being a woman, much better at being an entrepreneur. When I first started Ignitia, I had one goal in mind — to develop a forecasting model that also worked in the tropics. Under the motto, “While the difficult takes time, the impossible just takes a bit longer,” I conducted research for a number of years before a finally launching a commercial product for Ignitia.

Megan Glover: 120WaterAudit

Everyone (male, female or they) brings unique value to the industry. I think diversity of thought and expertise is so incredibly important to the workforce. Speaking specifically for myself and other women I’ve worked with…many of us are mothers in addition to our day jobs as executives. I think the ability to multi-task both responsibilities is absolutely a benefit to the workplace. Having a bigger purpose, and I can’t think of anything bigger than raising children, can often times provide a sense of clarity and supreme execution and the problem solving that needs to happen to be a successful leader.

Nancy Hartsoch: AquaSeca

I entered the tech industry in Silicon Valley many decades ago, at a time when gender equality in the workplace was not even a discussion. However, with the wonderful naivety of youth, I charged forward never sensing that gender was an issue. That is what I still do, but now without the naivety and instead mimicking the amazing characteristics of water. Water keeps flowing…if it runs into an obstacle, it finds a path under, or around, or through…but it keeps on moving.

Bessie Schwarz: Cloud to Street

Don’t apologize. Don’t let anyone make you think you don’t deserve to be at the table if you are also doing the work and genuinely listening to those around you (both are key). Both men and other women may try to make you feel this way. When this happens, it helps to remember — you and your vision are making them nervous.

Sivan Sidney Cohen: Noria Water Technologies

After 15 years in engineering, construction, tech, and water — my top lessons include: 1) Be able to admit what you don’t know (and then put in the work to educate yourself!), 2) Learn from everyone around you, 3) Pass along the goodwill that you receive from mentors and colleagues, 4) Nobody wants to work in a negative environment — so be kind and respectful, 5) Know your value, and last one! 6) Persistence is the key to success. In the construction industry we like to say “plan the work, work the plan.” Essentially, set out your goals, and with a little bit of effort every day, that will eventually turn into big gains.

Christine Boyle: Valor Water Analytics

Being a woman in the water sector can work both for you, and/or against you, depending on the situation of the day. Setting that aside, I recommend each woman make it a point to shine and be authentic in your professional life. Do that, and success is bound to come your way.

Allie Janoch: Mapistry

There is so much research that diversity in teams, in general, produces much better results, and this is certainly the case in our industry. Not everyone chooses to put enough effort into hiring a diverse team, but one of the fantastic benefits of founding a company is that you can choose to make diversity a priority from day one. It is easy for me to forget that tech is dominated by men since Mapistry is 50% women!

Andreia Michelle Smith-Moritz: Orb XYZ

I have spent all my career in science — first being Physics, then slowly migrating towards Biology. I believe I am where I am today due to the incredible mentors I have had in my life. These mentors provided support as well as freedom to pursue my own interests and sometimes my own mistakes. Ironically most, if not all of my mentors have been men but ultimately the connection is one of mutual respect and a genuine love for science. And now some of my mentors have become my peers and some of my fellow scientists, men and women, have become my mentors. And just maybe my own journey may be able to inspire someone out there