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Women in Tech: Interview With Ellen Fischat, Founder Story Room and Inspiring Fifty SA Ambassador

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Ellen Fischat is the Founder Story Room (Pty Ltd)

On inclusive digital transformation, effective business networking, women empowerment and diversity in tech

Ellen Fischat is the Founder Story Room (Pty Ltd) , a boutique innovation consultancy. She was the first managing director for The Silicon Cape Initiative and has previously held positions which include Business manager for Propella Business Incubator, the NMU Incubator in Nelson Mandela Bay and the Enterprise Development Manager for the SEDA NMB ICT Incubator. Ellen has a focus on social enterprises and technology and is involved in the mentorship of technology start-ups and volunteers in various community outreach programmes that focus on personal development, digital literacy and increasing employability of marginalized young women through STEM initiatives. Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online.

Heath: You are an advocate for the advancement of women in tech; what advice would you give to women looking to break into a predominantly male field?

Ellen: I would encourage women to not over think their desire to work in any male dominated field. It’s important that they find allies or mentors to help them navigate a male dominated environment, if they feel uncomfortable or not seen or treated as an equal. The highest paying jobs are the ones in male dominated environments and we should not allow our fear to take those opportunities away from us.

I’m not saying it’s an easy task, but we sometimes don’t realise how many other women are watching us, in support and admiration. Sometimes you just have to be your own hero.

Heath: As a speaker at the upcoming Women in Tech Conference in Cape Town on the importance of building a business network. Can you please share a few key takeaways?

Ellen: Building a successful venture is essentially about the ability to build strong, loyal and reciprocal relationships. Building a strong network is key to having access to information and opportunities. And when we are informed, we are able to make the right business decisions. The workshop will focus on sharing some of the lessons I have learned on how to establish these relationships and how to maintain them but also nurture them. No woman is an island.

And it’s not only about who you know, but actually who knows you. So, the more your name and work is raised in discussions in a positive light, the more credibility and trust you accumulate.

Heath: Has networking played a role in you achieving your career objectives?

Ellen: I have spent years networking full time. There was so much I needed and wanted to learn about business. That I made sure I was present wherever the networking happened. I also wanted to understand what the cool kids had that I didn’t. I also learned that when people see you on a regular basis, you establish rapport, then the networks start viewing you as “one of them”. It is more likely then, that they assume that you are trustworthy and are willing to engage with you. It doesn’t always mean that your presence leads to true collaboration, but it’s also a process to discover who you want to be associated with and work with.

I am a natural connector. I always see the benefit of connecting people with each other. So networking is a very important part of my business, but more importantly I focus on making deposits into my network, as opposed to only making withdrawals. Most people hate networking and it really is hard work investing in the people around you not knowing what the return will be. But practice makes the skill and art of networking easier. In fact I now prefer to attend networking sessions on my own, so that I am forced to engage with others, than stick to the people I already know.

Heath: What is that one advice for tech companies getting started with diversity and inclusion?

Ellen: That they need to accelerate the process that’s if they have even given the matter serious consideration. I would encourage senior executives and managers to speak to their existing minority groups of “diverse” staff and take their lead from them, as to how the company could execute more effective actions to recruit more diverse talent.

Diversity and inclusion should not be a negative and begrudged process in any 21st century organization. Rather it should be a welcomed and intentional execution of organisational strategy.

Heath: What would help women in tech become not only successful business leaders but effective motivators and change leaders?

Ellen: I think that female leaders have these aforementioned traits or represent them. But I do believe that we need to make these successful business leaders and effective motivators more visible and be more intentional about celebrating their successes. People can’t be what they can’t see. We need more visible role models. And women need to stop questioning their value and seeking external validation. It’s a recipe for disaster, rejection and becomes a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.

Heath: What influences your leadership style and what values are important to you?

Ellen: An intrinsic belief that we are honored to be viewed and acknowledged as leaders. It’s a huge responsibility that should not be taken lightly. And as leaders, the onus is on us, to serve the people we lead and are responsible for. I personally strive to surround myself with people that know more than I do, so that I am always learning from them and not the other way around.

Our role as leaders is not to shine in our own light, but to be the bearers of light, so that others in turn can shine, grow, thrive and become leaders in their own right. I consider mutual respect, integrity, empowerment and honest communication as the most critical values required for any successful environment and culture.

Heath: What institutional and societal changes need to be made in order to empower business women in South Africa?

Ellen: Statistically, as far as employment of women in senior government positions is concerned, we aren’t doing half bad in comparison to other continents. So that box is ticked. We do however fail dismally as a society when it comes to cultural rights of women and their physical safety and emotional wellbeing. South African women are subjected to high degrees of domestic trauma and are often the sole financial providers for their families and children. As long as the personal, physical safety and wellbeing of women is not drastically improved, then one has to wonder what the influence and impact is of women in a business environment. It’s hard to imagine that cultural and societal beliefs are left at home, when people go to work.

So, I have little faith that we are seen as equals in a business environment, if we are not recognized as such in our personal environments. The safety and influence of women will only be truly effective if we are acknowledged as equals in all areas of society and business.

Heath: How can we encourage more women and young girls to consider careers in tech?

Ellen: I think women and girls need to be more exposed to the wonderful and important work female business leaders are doing. They should be stimulated to maintain their curious minds and to contribute towards discussions and solutions, without fear of being professionally and sometimes socially ostracized for this. We should raise our girls to be confident in their abilities and encourage their leadership and not taint them as being “bossy” and “unfeminine”.

We should encourage our boys and men to treat girls and their female colleagues as they would want their mothers and sisters to be treated. And that’s why I believe that the mission of Inspiring Fifty SA is so important and should receive greater support. We aim to make female role models in tech more visible and celebrated because “if she can see it, she can be it”.

Also Read: Interview: Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls Executive Director, Gugulethu Ndebele On Girls And Leadership

Visit: Ellen Fischat

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Joan Nwosu- helping entrepreneurs and corporate professionals create meaningful lives

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Joan Nwosu is a serial entrepreneur, business consultant and career transition coach based in Toronto, Canada. She is the CEO of Joan Nwosu Coaching and My SoftLanding Canada, both birthed from a deep desire to help people, using her life and career experience over 20 years.

Born and bred in Lagos, Nigeria, where she spent the earlier part of her childhood. Upon completing high school, she moved to the United Kingdom in 1997, to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Internet Computing at London Southbank University. Her journey as a career woman also emanated from the UK, where she spent a considerable amount of the first 35 years of her life. In those years, she shuffled between the UK and Nigeria.

Joan would say, “In the era where I grew up, the societal norm was to get educated, find a job, climb up the ranks, work till the age of 65, and then retire. I followed this trend and became an overachiever, often transitioning through different careers and industries.”

In a bid to find fulfilment, she said “I explored roles in Management, Consulting, Marketing, Communications, Business Development, Operations, and even Artist Management, amongst others, all to no avail. Although I enjoyed the human relations aspect of my career, some of these environments were toxic for me, and I was never satisfied. After working 20 jobs and making 6 career changes across 3 continents, I quit.”

While transitioning through careers, she noticed the void of dissatisfaction and lack of fulfilment in many professionals including herself, which led to the birth of her coaching business, Joan Nwosu Coaching (JNC). Founded in 2019, JNC is an organization that helps corporate professionals and independent entrepreneurs start, grow, and scale purpose-driven businesses they are passionate about. She said, “In just over a year of operation, we’ve helped hundreds of professionals. My experience in different fields plays a vital part in the execution of my role as the Lead Business Coach at JNC.”

Image credit: Joan Nwosu

In her words, “I have always had the entrepreneurial drive in me having ventured into entrepreneurship at the age of 19, and launched a total of six businesses since then; a bakery, lifestyle business, political consulting firm, an NGO, coaching practice, and an immigration consulting firm, of which the last two are still in operation today.”

In 2015, she moved to Canada and two years later, founded My SoftLanding Canada, an organization focused on helping new immigrants to comfortably settle in Canada. Today, My SoftLanding Canada has helped hundreds of Canadian immigrants transition safely and get good jobs quickly.

Also Read: Black Mamba- Changing the world one chilli at a time

Over the years, she has embraced Public Speaking as an avenue to express herself, amplify her voice and message. Again, her vast professional experience has contributed immensely to her success in inspiring and motivating people through seminars, webinars, conferences, events, and other platforms.

Entrepreneurship fuels her desire to make a difference in the world through social impact. According to her, identifying voids, proffering solutions, and providing value is king.

Her purpose is to help people live full lives and not just exist. To live life on their terms doing only what they love while making a difference in the world. She believes everyone deserves to have this regardless of age, background, or environment, you too can have the life of your dreams.

Joan Nwosu Coaching

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Chynna Morgan – helping brands create memorable experiences using sound + music with GIF Out Loud

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Chynna Morgan is the Founder at GIF Out Loud, an experiential technology startup that creates unique experiences and allows customers to spontaneously create and share your brand, sound and music. Chynna shares her story with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online.

As a young girl, I have always been a dreamer- dreaming of ideas that I can bring to life to help or shape the world that I live in. Somehow, I always knew I would be an entrepreneur, but never in a million years did I see myself in tech. I like to say; I didn’t look for tech, tech found me. In the middle of finishing my master’s in healthcare management, I suddenly had the idea to start my tech company (GIF Out Loud). I noticed the lack of shareable experiences that amplified a brand’s voice or sound that fans or consumers could interact with and share during events or brand activations.

As a professional actress, and coming from a family of musicians- I have always understood the importance of creating a storytelling experience, and how it connects with people on a deeper level especially using your voice or music. Since my childhood, I saw first-hand, the power and healing that music could bring to the world, just by listening and watching my family perform.

Historically, as an African American, music has always been a pillar of healing, whether that was bringing us through slavery or bringing us together. Because music is so powerful, I always wondered why brands were not creating full experiences to amplify their brand’s sound while simultaneously capturing analytics and data that they need, to stay in touch with their target consumer. This is why I created GIF Out Loud, we work
with brands and music artists to develop interactive, digital, and shareable experiences using music and sound during events and brand activations.

Since I started my company, we have partnered and worked with big brands such as Shell and Pennzoil, and we are currently working on some cool partnerships in the music, retail and sports industries. My goal is to partner with brands in all types of industries to create unforgettable experiences and memories that consumers would want to share using the power of sound.

Also Read: Redshift – Connecting South African small retailers with shoppers during lockdown

When I started to immerse myself in the tech industry, I quickly realized that this space was not intended for people like me, but it was my job to be the one to help elevate this space and let our faces and brilliance be seen. I am looking forward to creating more opportunities for black people in tech and how I can tap into my heritage and create opportunities in Africa. This will help amplify Africa’s brands and most importantly, Africa’s voice all over the world.

I am more than ecstatic to be on this journey, and this only the beginning.

Visit: GIF Out Loud

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Save App: Helping you share moments, send and receive distress alerts real-time

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Samuel Thierry Njock is the Founder of Save, an App that helps you locate in real time, share moments, send and receive distress alerts from your family and friends. Samuel shares with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, more about Save, what sparked the interest and the long term goals. Excerpts.

About Save App

Save App helps you locate in real time your loved ones, share moments, send and receive distress alerts.

Save is a great location sharing app for your family and friends. It’s now more easy and simple to know where the people who matter most to you are in real time, and if they are safe, even when they are far away. With Save, see in real time where your loved ones, and get easily to them, and share what you do through pictures and videos.

Save also offers health and safety features. You can:

– Display the closest hospitals and pharmacies from your location

– Send distress alerts to your loved ones in case of car crash, car breakdown, and insecurity

– Receive in real time data about health and safety issues (dangerous areas, low network in an area, other health and safety recommendations or warnings).

Since the covid19 pandemic started, we have added real time data about the spread for every country in the world, with protective measures against the virus, for users to keep them on mind all day long.

Here are your first steps on Save:

– Invite your loved ones on Save, then add them to your group

– See in real time each other’s location on the map

– Join easily each other with roads

– See live pictures and videos of your loved ones, share yours with them.

The Interest

The Save project arises from the fact that Samuel works in the Northern Cameroon at the beginning of the Boko Haram crisis. His relatives are constantly worried about his safety, and his girlfriend was living in Yaoundé. There was sometimes no way of knowing in real time whether she was doing well or not, whether she was in the office or at home. Samuel then thought of creating an app, which would allow him to share his position with his relatives, publish photos and videos of what they are doing in real time, and send alerts in the event of an accident, insecurity, car breakdown.

Also Read: Envisionit Deep AI launches AI solution to help Radiologists and Doctors fight Coronavirus

The Future

Save has two major long-term goals:

– Allow individuals to navigate more easily and more simply towards each other, especially in the event of a perilous situation such as an accident, an insecurity problem

– Makepeopleenjoy real time location sharing: make it interesting enough for them to forget the tracking part, which most scares them as soon as they hear real time location sharing.

The Team

Samuel Thierry Njock: Founder of Save, a 32 years old Cameroonian and holds a license degree in Management and a Masters in Finance. During his first professional experience in a brewing company, he was passionate about information systems. He is strongly influenced by Steve Jobs, who thought that technology should make it possible to do more simply what constitutes the daily life of men: to move from a place to another, to listen to music, to use a phone, etc. Samuel is great at conception and simple problem modeling, and he’s passionate about design.

Loic Kami: As he often says, JavaScript is his first wife. Engineer, he worked on several sites and applications before joining the team. He works under pressure and quickly, with excellent results

Bertrand Evina: with a master’s degree in international marketing, Bee as he is called joined Save. He attended with Samuel between 2000 and 2004. Passionate about marketing, he is at the origin of all our campaigns, and manages our online community

There are also people who intervene on an ad hoc basis, such as Thierry, the graphic designer, Jef and Stéphane, who lend a hand in development.

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