leanne robers

Photo: Athirah Annissa

At the heart of the bustling tech world, She Loves Tech is leading a quiet yet powerful revolution that has been brewing over the past nine years. It’s a movement that aims to assist women entrepreneurs navigate the intricate terrain of tech startups and mitigate the pervasive funding chasm that often curtails the trajectories of women-led startups

From its modest beginnings as a passion project, She Loves Tech has expanded into a global force that reaches over 70 countries, supporting over 13,000 startups and garnering US$300 million in funding for them. The startup competition it is known for has matured over nine years into the largest of its kind.

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“Looking back, just seeing how much we’ve grown, I feel like a proud mama bear, for both the startups and the team,” explains co-founder Leanne Robers, 39, who started the accelerator and launchpad for women entrepreneurs in 2015 with Rhea See and Virginia Tan.

As She Loves Tech progresses, it’s not merely scaling up: It’s reshaping its original purpose without losing sight of its fundamental objective. The development of a comprehensive digital platform, slated for launch this October will redefine perceptions of She Loves Tech, reckons Robers. “Given the sheer amount of data we’ve amassed from women entrepreneurs worldwide, we’re organically emerging as a data company – as well as a tech entity ourselves.”

The 2023 Monte-Carlo Woman of the Year laureate and the first Singaporean to receive this esteemed accolade, radiates palpable enthusiasm regarding the digital platform. Presently designated the She Loves Tech Digital Platform, a name Robers laughingly concedes isn’t the most polished, it draws parallels to the well-known CrunchBase. The digital platform is poised to emerge as a formidable repository of women-led tech entrepreneurs to galvanise interactions among founders, investors and corporates who share common aspirations. Its initial phase will encompass approximately 5,000 startups, all from She Loves Tech’s 2022 and 2023 editions. 

Noteworthy in this pursuit is Robers’ emphasis on the power of fostering connections — a tenet that aligns with She Loves Tech’s ethos to elevate women entrepreneurs in tech.

Becoming the go-to platform for women-led startups: How far they’ve come

“We want to forge a nexus — a sanctuary — for women tech founders that caters to an array of needs,” she articulates with unwavering resolve. The support, she elaborates, functions as an incubator for a diverse tapestry of aspirations: community camaraderie, a spotlight on visibility, an echelon for pioneering thought, and a conduit for essential funding. 

This mission, she assures, is upheld through an intricate lattice of enterprises that span their ambitious spectrum. In the realm of visibility is the tech startup competition. “There was a distinct pattern,” she says, her tone contemplative. “The founders we welcomed into our fold through the competition were grappling with unique challenges.” This realisation amplified the founders’ determination, giving rise to a diverse range of workshops, boot camps, mentorships, and training modules. The intention, she emphasises, was clear: to equip these pioneers with the tools to surmount their hurdles. “These are not just abstract concepts but robust cornerstones we’ve raised for these burgeoning leaders.” 

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leanne robers
Photo: She Loves Tech

Robers also points out the dearth of substantial thought leadership in the realm of women and technology. “There were fragments of discourse, fleeting conversations,” she muses. “But where were the voices of global leaders? Where were the dialogues that could inspire action, incite change?” And from this yearning, the She Loves Tech Conference was born: a convergence of luminaries discussing not only trends and challenges but, more importantly, pathways to action.

Arianna Huffington and Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of The Huffington Post and LinkedIn respectively, have graced their stage, she reveals with pride. 

Not always smooth sailing

On the surface, it seems the tapestry of She Loves Tech is woven with resounding success. Yet, the journey to its present zenith has not been without obstacles. Harkening to the embryonic years, Robers reminisces, “In those early days of She Loves Tech, nobody truly grasped its intent. During the initial phases of entrepreneurship, personal compensation takes a back seat. My mum was constantly worried, and couldn’t fathom why I was dedicating so much effort to this endeavour without a salary.” The prevailing perception reduced it to a charitable escapade, to which she says with conviction, “Women are not beneficiaries of charity.”

In the moments of resonance, Robers adds, “We encountered nods of affirmation. But they translated to pats on the back, instead of the financial and logistical backing that we genuinely required.”

leanne robers
Photo: Athirah Annissa

The pandemic proved to be a pivotal moment in She Loves Tech’s evolution. “COVID-19 came, and like the rest of the world, we truly believed that this was going to pass in three months,” Robers recalls. But as it persisted, She Loves Tech adapted, leveraging technology to transition from physical events to online platforms. This transition resulted in a remarkable increase in reach, expanding to 30 countries from 16 within a year, then subsequently to 72, ultimately accelerating its impact.

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A silver lining, perhaps? Robers acknowledges the dichotomy of the situation — global calamity intermingling with blessing. “It was tragic as well,” she remembers, describing the financial challenges the organisation faced during that period. Budgets dwindled, and the company even faced moments where Robers herself had to dip into her own funds to support the team.

On the personal front, Robers was beset by moments of doubt and contemplation. “As a founder, every day is a roller coaster,” she admits. Moments of burnout and the weight of responsibility have tested her resilience. 

But such instances are balanced by a firm sense of direction and the clear impact She Loves Tech is making. Through the challenges and triumphs, Robers’ journey with She Loves Tech epitomises the essence of an entrepreneur’s commitment. It is one driven by hope — the hope that every step taken, every programme launched and every founder supported contributes to a more equitable tech industry. “Hope is what I’ve held onto for many years. Every year, when we see the number of startups that we’ve touched, I tell myself that this is why we do  this,” she reflects, bringing up her earlier analogy of a proud mama bear. What we’re doing as She Loves Tech isn’t a nice-to-have, it is a must-have — and we are actively making the world a better place.”