Reimagining Startup and Enterprise Innovation

Five female founders share the pivot that changed their lives

Amy Sorrells
Global Communications, Oracle for Startups

It’s no secret that females are breaking barriers and driving positive change in the world. Look no further than female founders and entrepreneurs creating transformational technologies and movements for the betterment of society and business. What is a secret, however, is how these incredible ladies got to their level of success. 

We have the privilege to work with a diverse and dynamic group of women founders and innovators with Oracle for Startups—from the startups in Oracle’s program to our partners across the globe. I’m thrilled to share these life-changing, inspirational stories straight from five badass, successful ladies.

I stopped drinking and it changed my life. 

Arlan Hamilton was already successful and making a tremendous impact on the startup ecosystem. She was highly functioning, building a venture capital fund from the ground up, but she knew something was holding her back. That something was alcohol. Stopping drinking unlocked her full potential and opened up her superpowers.

Thousands of women don’t fit the “alcoholic” stereotype, but their drinking negatively impacts their productivity, physical health and – most importantly – their mental health. Arlan’s message is their hope. 

“What finally helped me, it was a book called This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. I suggest the audio version. It changed everything, it set me free,” she says. 

“I honestly thought I was going to have to go to rehab. I was going to have to disrupt my entire life. I thought it was always going to be a struggle, and I was always going to hate being sober and all of those things. I mean, it was really, really deep and real. For a book to change all of that was just astonishing, it’s still astonishing. I've been able to be so productive since then.” 

Arlan is the Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital, a fund that is dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are people of color, women, and/or LGBT. She is a wildly successful VC, author and global game changer

Vulnerability is a superpower. Embracing mine has made me a better leader.

Vulnerability is not a weakness. In fact, it’s a superpower, says Veera Johnson, an experienced executive and cofounder of Circulor. Ironically, vulnerability is the ultimate sign of security. To be open with others, you have to be secure in yourself. But it’s a journey to get there. One she learned early in life and continues on today.

“I’m still going through the journey. And you just get better at dealing with your emotions – you get more emotionally intelligent – and that leads to more success, progress, peace.” 

Early in her career, she always had male role models and mentors, but very few women. “And whilst the men were fantastic, it was very difficult to explain what I was feeling inside, without making it seem like I was being too emotional. I knew instinctively it was important, but I didn’t know how to do it.”

Vulnerability isn’t widely accepted or embraced, especially in the hard-charging technology and startup space. Veera insists you can be competent, decisive, strong, and still be vulnerable. “I know many men feel the same, but they are better at hiding it. We all have doubts, insecurities, questions – why not embrace that? Vulnerability is the point of connection. And that opens the door for trust, collaboration and progress.”

Veera is quick to remind young entrepreneurs they must know their subject matter. You can’t pretend, lie or imply you know things. You must have the core knowledge base. “We all have innate skills. Find those skills you do naturally without thinking. Because when you get in an emotional situation you can understand and react better. Because it’s natural and true to you.”

Veera’s advice to leaders, “Lead by example. I find that because I’m living it out, it gives others the permission to do it, too.”

READ: The cloud startup driving supply chain transparency forward with Blockchain 

I chose to study engineering. That was my big turning point, in more ways than I imagined.

Maren Bannon is an engineer-turned-entrepreneur-turned-venture-capitalist. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in a progressive family where every person was treated equally and encouraged to become whatever they wanted to be. Maren chose to study engineering at Dartmouth, a decision that would guide her life in more ways than one.  

At Dartmouth’s engineering school, she experienced being an “outsider” for the first time. “It was a sea of men, that first day I sat in the back row feeling very different,” she remembers. “It wasn’t just the gender imbalance, but how they taught, the projects and labs were very male oriented, like video game coding and welding a steam engine. It was really eye-opening for me.”

Despite earning a scholarship to continue her engineering studies, she graduated and opted for the startup and MBA route, partly because of that outsider experience. But the experience ultimately inspired her to co-found January Ventures, a VC firm focused on investing in female and under-represented groups to provide “an equal opportunity tech ecosystem.” 

Females should not feel like outsiders. They should have the support and resources to reach their dreams, Maren believes.  And she’s backing startups that help build that world, like Edlyft. Founded by two females, Edlyft is a platform that supports computer science and STEM college students with collaboration tools and resources to help them graduate with confidence. 

“We believe the founders of the next decade will look fundamentally different: more female, more diverse, and more distributed. We all play a part, from educators to executives to investors. And to think it all started sitting in the back row as an outsider in engineering school.”

Coding unlocked my tenacity and gave me the courage to become a founder. 

“I found out I was massively tenacious,” said Jenny Griffiths, Snap Vision CEO and founder, of her experience learning to code. It was a surprise discovery for Jenny, a natural introvert. Of course, coding is a valuable skill set, but for Jenny it unlocked so much more.  

Growing up, she was a super high achiever, always at the top of her class at her all-girls school. She excelled in math, science, and creativity. Her experience at the first year in the University of Bristol’s Computer Science program, however, was quite different.

“Suddenly everything flipped. I’m surrounded by nearly all guys, most of which had been coding since they were nine, and I had literally never written a line of code in my life. I went from the top of the pack to the very bottom. It was incredibly shocking and hard,” said Griffiths.

But she didn’t give up and pushed past her own doubts. Even her friends and family would share years later they thought she’d come home. But Jenny persevered through her studies, eventually stumbling upon a new discipline called Computer Vision. “Then everything just clicked. It’s like my creative brain and engineering brain just harmonized. It was a real confidence boost, and it unleashed a feeling of being grateful for having dug in on something I knew I’d enjoy long term.”

She went on to win the University’s top prizes, best engineering thesis in web and university’s enterprise competition, becoming only the second undergrad to do so. That business plan was the kernel of what would become Snap Vision, her AI-based visual search and discovery platform for retailers

Coding unleashed Jenny's dormant strengths and paved a new career path. “I discovered I was very resilient and tenacious,” she says, noting without choosing to code she might not have found out. She mentors young women on the importance of coding, believing in yourself, and developing your strengths.  “Tenacity is a bit like a muscle, you have to exercise it. And it’s in the hard times that you grow, develop, and learn to trust yourself. That’s priceless.”    

WATCH: Jenny talks to Whitney Durmick about the future of digital retail. 

A heart condition had me in a self-imposed bubble, learning to embrace risk set me free. 

Growing up, Riham Satti preferred to be in control, staying inside her comfort zone. Born with a heart condition that required open-heart surgeries, she naturally became more physically timid. “I couldn’t control congenital heart disease, I wanted to control everything else. And I avoided anything risky or uncertain.” Satti says her desire for control was a big reason why she excelled at engineering and math because they are “exact and precise.”

Solidly risk-averse, founding a company was the furthest thing from her mind. “I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. Full stop,” she says. Entrepreneurs take risks, embrace failure, and deal with constant uncertainties. “That wasn’t me…only it turned out it was.” 

In 2011, she decided to take a risk, applying to a school she hadn’t for undergraduate because, “I didn’t think I’d be accepted.”  She was accepted to the University of Oxford for her postgraduate studies in Clinical Neuroscience. This experience introduced her to doing new and scary things, forcing her to expand outside her self-imposed bubble. “I started on the PhD track, but I changed it to a master’s because I realized I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship.”

In 2014, she started the company, MeVitae, an AI-based solution to create fairness in the workplace through non-biased recruiting and hiring tools, which plug into existing HR systems or Application Tracking Systems (ATS). Entrepreneur life threw her more risk-taking opportunities, including learning to network and speak at conferences. “It didn’t come natural. I was a shy, 5-foot-1 black female, and I didn’t look like anyone else. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. I made myself network, I gave those talks. And I was able to burst that bubble and unlock so much opportunity.”

There’s no sign of that shy, timid person today.  A TEDx speaker who was named by Forbes as a UK female founder to watch, Riham mentors young women to embrace risk. “We are much stronger than we think. We all have a growth mindset. Taking risks, calculated risks, and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, it unleashes your true strength and potential.”

LISTEN: Startup helps enterprises bolster diversity in hiring

Being an entrepreneur requires resilience, flexibility, and drive. Often, it also calls for strong support. Oracle for Startups is built to be that support system for growing companies, as a fully-virtual and mutually-beneficial program that connects founders from around the world with opportunities to scale their technology and reach new audiences.

Follow the example of founders like Veera, Jenny, and Riham and join Oracle for Startups today. 

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