Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly shines a spotlight on inspiring and influential women who are shaping our world. We call them the Great Women of Our Time. This year’s list for 2022 includes Leanne Robers, the co-founder of She Loves Tech, a start-up competition and platform that helps women-led companies gain access to funding.
An entrepreneur who has built multiple tech businesses herself, Leanne Robers knows just how challenging it is to forge a business in the industry. “And being a woman founder makes it even more challenging,” she declares. “Now, I help women tech entrepreneurs to succeed and overcome outdated beliefs that we can’t build great tech solutions and companies, by showcasing thousands of women founders doing exactly that.”
The digital field has undergone a significant transformation, but there’s arguably a gender disparity that exists, especially in funding for tech start-ups. Leanne, 37, is the co-founder of She Loves Tech, the world’s largest startup competition for women and technology, as well as a global platform that aims to help women entrepreneurs access funding, and provide the tools and resources to support them in overcoming challenges.
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She says, “The funding gap is real — only 2.2 per cent of all VC (venture capital) money goes to female founders. She Loves Tech is changing that and is committed to unlocking more than USD1 billion of capital to our founders.”
In fact, over 8000 start-ups gone on board the She Loves Tech platform, and raised a total of over USD250 million in funding. “We just launched our She Loves Tech Fund, which we felt was the missing piece — because for us to close the funding gap, we need to fund them!”
Before the pandemic, She Loves Tech was primarily a series of in-person events. But when Covid-19 hit, the team saw the opportunity to go digital instead of waiting it out. Leanne says, “It was something that we had been meaning to do for a while. Going online allowed us to scale significantly. In 2019, we were in 20 international locations around the world. During the first year of the pandemic in 2020, we scaled to operating in 30 countries and in 2021, 50 countries. We were able to reach more female entrepreneurs than we had ever done before.”
Her work in supporting other women has also helped Leanne gain valuable lessons in life. She reveals, “There was a time in my life when I was really hard on myself. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and never felt like anything I did was good enough. I was my harshest critic and it wasn’t productive.”
“Someone told me ‘Leanne, until you learn to respect yourself, how do you expect others to respect you?’ So I’ve learned to love and respect myself. To celebrate my successes and to be kinder to myself when I stumble. And in doing so, I’ve freed up so much inner space to grow and to define my own success and not let others define it for me.”
Her own advice for other women on hushing their own inner critics? “To silence that voice, you have to find the vocabulary for what you’re feeling. Then realise what are the ANTs (the Automatic Negative Thoughts) in your life and reframe them; these are the negative cognitions or beliefs that are based on fears, instead of truths. Finally, have a good community surrounding you to remind you of your value and worth.”
A natural inquisitiveness has also been crucial in helping her succeed, and she bills herself as a curious learner. “I listen to podcasts every day — while taking a walk, while getting ready in the morning, or when travelling from one place to another,” she shares. “It helps to listen to other people’s perspectives and learn something new every day.”
Of course, she has also faced her fair share of setbacks, but she tackles them by accepting them and being flexible. She adds, “Each of my past endeavours has been unique, with its own challenges. While my lessons from each experience are different, I’ve learned that nothing goes quite the way you plan. Things break, customers don’t respond the way you expect, timelines get delayed or accelerated, competitors emerge and evolve, and regulations change. Some things you can prepare for, some things you can’t.”
“Successful people aren’t necessarily better planners – I think they’re better at adapting to the things they can’t control.”
Of course we had to ask — what gadgets and tools does a woman in the tech field use in her own daily grind?
She tells us, “At She Loves Tech, we use lots of different tools. We use Lark as a project management tool, file storage, communication tool, video conferencing all rolled into one! Personally, I use my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G for work and my personal — it’s like having a laptop in my pocket! And its large screen is also great for watching shows and multitasking.”
On the days that she gets time off from her busy schedule, Leanne prefers to catch up on her sleep, take a long bath, and spend time with her husband, whom she says is her biggest supporter.
“I found the ‘perfect’ husband, one whose quiet confidence blew me away and who is my biggest cheerleader. He always believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. He taught me that to love him fully, I needed to first love myself.”
Photography: Kathy Lim
Videography: Stacey Rodrigues
Location: Conrad Centennial Singapore