creating female entrepreneurs
Fe/male Switch
This is a social impact project that builds female entrepreneurs by dropping them in the middle of a virtual startup village where they have to survive. It's an educational RPG for those who want to succeed in life.
1
One year in the making
Fe/male Switch started as an answer to the call from the Dutch government that declared that they desperately needed more women in tech startups. We poured our entrepreneurial, academic, technical experience onto a few ideas and came up with a technical, innovative and scalable educational game. The rejection letter from the Government came in April of 2021, saying that games do not really have any real life value and our team doesn’t have what it takes to build the game within the time framework and with the allocated budget. They did love the idea though as they called it highly innovative, fun and scalable. They just didn’t think an early stage startup could actually build it.
2
Challenge accepted
So we did built it, and we spent even less than planned. And that felt good. We even ran the first pilot with 15 users and received enough feedback to build further. One user later on changed her career and started studying blockchain. That is for sure just a coincidence, because games cannot actually change behaviour, right?

We hired more people and continued building. Oh by the way, that’s not even our main startup. This all started as a side project that began as part of our social responsibility, because we are a gender-balanced startup and we want to bring more women into tech. So long story short, we bootstrapped the second part of the development and got ready for the second pilot. We added a possibility for the users to get the NFT of their 3D avatar (using our proprietary tech that registers copyright of digital models in Blender), partnered up with a bunch of software companies to give our users a nice discount on the software that they will learn to use. There was a lot of media coverage of the project, competition trying to sneak a peak, so a nice organic buzz. And that’s when we faced a problem: we wanted 50 users for the next pilot as it’s still beta testing, not everything is automated and, like I said, it’s a bootstrapped project. In the first week since the announcement of the pilot, we received more than 120 applications (with zero cost of acquisition). So we doubled the planned capacity and….received another rejection letter for another grant that we applied for. The letter followed the same scenario: games are just games, with no link to real life. Team is too junior, too t-shaped, lack of methodological experience, too early stage, too vanilla with business and tech skills and so on and so forth.
The CEO sounds very motivated on the topic of female entrepreneurship and this is a strong value that should drive her to take the company to the next level. The proposed team as presented is gender balanced and given that the product is targeted to help get more women into technology, then gender issues are well addressed by the company.
Anonymous middle-aged white man
Evaluating comittee
1818 Magazine by Stephanie Toole
So, to us this sounded like this:

-A female CEO? -Yes!

-Gender balanced team? -Yes!

-An innovative and scalable solution to bring even more women into startups and STEM? -Yes!

-Sounds amazing! I'm out!
3
Analysing the situation
The CEO has a few higher education degrees, including an MBA; a strong knowledge in cognitive linguistics, bilingual code switching, neuroscience, language acquisition, developmental psychology and a lot of other things that make her more than qualified to understand how to create a game that would have a link to real life (anything from skill certification, to knowledge retention, to employability) and what the concepts of unlearning and re-learning imply (from the behavioural and neurological points of views).

The team is junior, hmmm. Not sure what is implied here: it’s either an ageist remark, because indeed we hire a lot of young people; or it’s a remark towards lack of official qualifications. We assume it’s both as traditionally age is correlated with knowledge. Let’s assume that this is true (humor us), then it means that the founders (all above 30, with 2-5 higher education degrees each, years of experience in education, politics, law, IT, design, PR, etc) cannot make rational decisions, because they are hiring people who are too “junior”? So one might ponder if there’s any reason as to why we are doing this. For example, we have a guy who doesn’t have any higher education degree, but he is the one who has built our platform. This sounds impossible to some people, it seems.

All of our people are multidisciplinary. All of them. That’s our conscious choice. Our people mostly have a university degree, many have a couple and they have a position in my company that usually doesn’t directly correlate with what they studied in the university. This is not a bug, this is a feature. They are all in the process of becoming very solid t-shaped individuals that not a single university can produce. They are learning by doing and they are awesome at it. And this is a strategical decision.
A few words about methodology and education, which according to the evaluator is missing. That’s one of my favourite topics of discussion. In short, our methodology is that we never use one single method, but always blend a combination of the ones that have demonstrated their efficiency. Moreover, we have created our own methodology: gamepreneurship. One of the mistakes that we made was to hire a university professor for the first pilot. We let her go because the university approach goes against everything that the game is about. Our users don’t have 5 years to waste on theory. They come here to get tangible results in days or weeks. Not years. They build a website instead of learning about building a website. They get their first users instead of learning about getting them. They buy their first crypto instead of learning about crypto. They get shit done instead of learning about 10 best ways to shit. How’s that for a methodology? No wonder that rigid organizations don't like it.

This was not to complain, but just to demonstrate our journey and to tell ours users to be ready that people will bet against them because they are just a nobody (even after 3 years of running a legaltech startup with a massive R&D component and a proprietary tech) and because innovative and creative people don’t follow the crowd, they lead.

A data-informed serious role-playing game for future female entrepreneurs that is fun to play just doesn’t fit into a box. Add a tokenized internal economics, 24/7 availability, certification of all skills on the go and the government doesn’t believe that you can do it.

It’s not all that bad, we did get support on the way. Malta Enterprise liked Fe/male Switch and we added it into the business plan for our Maltese R&D base. Moreover, we got a substantial grant from a private company and a few individuals made smaller donations. On top of that we got some money to create a Bias Score algorithm, based on the data that the users accumulate by creating content in the game. By the way, the users will co-own that data. But that’s a different story.

So, here’s to all of you who:
  • never worked for Google, Facebook or any other company with a big name,
  • don’t have a fancy (often useless) degree or any degree at all and you learned everything by yourself,
  • don’t want to do what your university taught you so you learned a new profession and are good at it,
  • don’t have any previous startup experience,
  • don’t have deep technical skills but “no code” sounds fascinating,

I’m warning you, you will piss a lot of people off with your contrarian approach, but you have to stay true to yourself and in the long run that’s what matters: if you no longer love doing what you do because you have to do it a certain way, you will quit. If founders are not happy in their work, the startup will fail.

And another important point that I want to make and I am integrating this into the game: feedback from an anonymous person is a pile of crap. Feedback in general is rather useless as it gives you no chance to explain yourself. Applications, homework, reports and whatenot cannot be handed in without a mandatory follow-up where both parties sit down to discuss all the misunderstandings and to request more information.

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