Women Taking the Lead at the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit

Ilyse Stempler COO of Open Development, a Round 6 Saving Lives at Birth grantee, shares her experience participating in the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit

At the recent 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, as a woman entrepreneur, I was fortunate to join more than 1,500 entrepreneurs, business executives and government officials as they gathered in Hyderabad, India to showcase innovations and debate how to empower a new generation of entrepreneurs. This year, the theme focused on “Women First, Prosperity For All.” Over 50% of the attendees were women, and more than 10 countries were represented by an all-female delegation, including from Afghanistan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As USAID Administrator Mark Green noted women often face unique challenges that prevent their ideas from ever being heard. The 2017 GES was an opportunity to highlight the innovations and potential of women from around the world and to provide a forum for innovators to meet potential investors. From the 15 year girl old from Azerbaijan who is turning rain water into energy, a women-led company that developed portable toilets that vaporize off-line sewage to women at the forefront of the space industry, the GES showcased the potential of women and girl entrepreneurs to offer new approaches to seemingly intractable development problems.

 As a woman entrepreneur, I attended to highlight my own work which streamlines and automates patient, health care provider and payer transactions to help governments engage private healthcare providers, drive improvements in quality maternal care, and empower women by giving them greater choice in where to seek care. The tool leverages existing technologies including near field communication, clinical decision support and e-payments to disrupt the current models that rely on outdated and cumbersome claims processing systems.

Yet the challenge for women and girls is not only to be heard but also to be given the financing necessary to become entrepreneurs. We were fortunate to be one of the few recipients of a Round 6 Saving Lives at Birth Grand Challenge Seed Grant. As a women-owned, small business, it meant we would could translate our idea into reality. But like many women entrepreneurs, we face challenges in accessing the resources to take our idea to scale. In 2016, women got just 2.19% of venture capital funding—a smaller piece of the pie than in every year this past decade, with the exception of 2008 and 2012.

That is why it is important for the global community, with leadership from USAID and Administrator Green, to continue to expand the spaces, like GES, that allow women and girls to unleash their creativity, to be change-makers, and to be heard and viewed as entrepreneurs deserving of investment. 

When given the opportunity and encouragement, women entrepreneurs can come up with ground breaking ideas to seemingly intractable problems. With a little support and visibility, the next big idea will emerge not from Silicon Valley but from them. I look forward to keeping track of where my fellow GES attendees go next.