Kicking off our interview series, women++ had the opportunity to chat with Marija Musja, Founder of Empowerment Lab, an EdTech startup that offers meaningful education while preparing young girls at an early age for the big league and high-growth digital skills.
- Tell us more about yourself.
I’m Marija, the proud founder of Empowerment Lab, an EdTech e-learning platform. Originally from Estonia, I now call Geneva, Switzerland home. As a former politics and law student, turned human rights advocate, I have found a new calling in empowering young girls to explore tech-related careers. Through the power of data science, we can match their personal interests with online courses and opportunities that inspire and foster growth.
2. Share more about your startup journey with us! What was your motivation for starting The Empowerment Lab?
As a human rights advocate, I saw a need to address the lack of opportunities for girls living in remote parts of Ukraine. Shockingly, a survey that we conducted of 400 children from these areas showed that only 1% of them were interested in STEM subjects. Determined to make a difference, I founded Empowerment Lab to economically empower young girls with digital skills fit for the future.
We launched a one-year pilot project in Ukraine, which generated an outstanding impact in terms of helping young girls gain self-confidence in digital skills. The impact generated keen interest in Switzerland, and that was when I officially launched Empowerment Lab. We are fortunate to be working with educational departments in Switzerland and funded by the Federal Government of Switzerland.
As I wanted to adopt a unique approach to skills matching, I partnered with the University of Luzern to develop the Quiz, and the research was funded by Innosuisse. The assessment, which is backed by data science, intuitively matches interests, talents, and career options to help girls find a career that resonates with their interests before entering college or university. In addition, Empowerment Lab offers courses beyond programming, such as game design, mobile app development, and more as opportunities to test a career direction and develop new skills.
3. What are some significant challenges you have faced, as a female founder, when working on The Empowerment Lab?
It is a fact that female entrepreneurs are held to a different standard. Studies have shown that in 2022, less than 2% of venture capital investment will go to female founders. Female founders receive less VC funding due to a variety of factors, including gender bias in investment decision making, lack of female role models in venture capital, gender-based stereotypes, and few female founders with prior entrepreneurial experience.
Speaking from personal experience, I had a strong sense that investors doubted me — based on their language used and questions asked during the pitching and fundraising process. Research shows that investing in female-founded companies is not only the right thing to do for gender equality, but also a smart financial move.
4. Throughout your startup journey, what insights have you gained or discovered?
Bringing your ideas to life can be extremely thrilling, but as a founder, you may also discover that it can be a lonely journey. I believe being a founder means being a great leader who inspires the team to work toward a vision that serves others. As a founder, you are at the center of the organization, making decisions that align with all stakeholders and serve the target group. Having a business partner who shares your values and with whom you can openly communicate is essential for ensuring your company’s success.
5. Diversity and Inclusion (DNI) is a really hot topic of discussion these days. What is your view about the current DNI situation within the Swiss tech industry or even on a global level?
In today’s business world, companies simply can’t afford to ignore the importance of diversity and inclusion. The cost of filling tech vacancies alone can cost millions of dollars, not to mention the challenge of attracting and retaining young talent. That’s why I believe the higher education pipeline has one of the key roles to play in advancing the DNI within the tech industry.
Switzerland, for example, has one of the lowest proportions of female STEM graduates in the OECD, with only 22% of women graduating in STEM fields. The goal of Empowerment Lab is to help students better understand different tech-related career opportunities and find a career path that resonates with their interests before applying for university or college, thereby increasing the number of girls enrolling in higher education with a focus on tech-related subjects.
6. What advice would you give to women looking to start/switch to a career in tech?
One of the greatest things you can do for yourself is to get to know yourself better and fully understand what makes you happy. Take time to try new things and explore your interests; the more experiences you have, the better you’ll know yourself. If you’ve realized that you’re on the wrong career path, don’t be afraid to make a change. With determination and perseverance, you’ll find your way to success no matter what.
7. Do you consider your work as purposeful tech? In your view, is it important to help the new generations find purpose within their jobs?
I believe that as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of technological advancements, it’s crucial to enable young people to find meaning in their work and make meaningful contributions to society. One such technology, ChatGPT, has revolutionized the job market — making it even more essential for our youth to understand their unique value and abilities. We must invest in guiding the next generation to recognize their strengths and align them with their goals to find purpose in their careers.
#purposefultech #femalepreneur #femalefounder
About the author
Clara Cho is a volunteer content writer with women++ based in Zürich. Armed with an academic background in European Studies and Political Science, Clara has embarked on a unique career path in communications and marketing for a variety of organisations, making her a versatile personality. She is enthusiastic about new ideas for creative and effective communication and is a big advocate of teamwork. Clara hails from cosmopolitan Singapore. She enjoys Zumba, hiking, travelling, handmade crafts and discovering new places during her free time.
One of her favourite quotes:
“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art”. ~Helena Bonham Carter