Illustration by the one and only Rozalina Burkova

Dismantling Gender Inequality with the Power of Scalable Tech

How FemGems38 harness innovation to advance our society

Elisheva Marcus
Aug 9, 2020 · 7 min read

Imagine you’re at work, waiting in line, or in transit and you hear a sexist comment. You freeze for a moment. We’ve all been there. That instant when you can’t decide if you should speak up, do something, or bite your tongue.

You might think you need to evaluate how the comment was said or understand the context to determine your position. You might think you need to know a particular phrase to counter what you are hearing.

But what if you could reach into your pocket to access an app that prepared you for such moments, that guides you through these types of issues?

Imagine removing any doubt or surprise that sexist comments happen frequently. That’s what FemGems38, sister duo and co-founders of Equalista, have been tirelessly working on. They are building a solution that fosters learning to achieve much-needed gender equality.

Meet Equalista, the world’s first learning app helping users understand and act on gender equality.

FemGems38 Louisa Wiethold and Theo Kauffeld set out to create a product that fulfills what they needed themselves. For over a year, Theo read purely books on gender equality and recognized the need for a place where all the learnings could live in an easily accessible way. Both women have business backgrounds and effectively collaborate — building on Theo’s idea and Louisa’s prior experience as a founder. Theo guides the product vision and Louisa guides finance, team-building, and administration. As sisters, they can practically read each other’s minds.

Equalista offers language learning, facts, and figures, combined with practical examples of how to use your new knowledge. The content is delivered via gamification to forge new mental connections (they have a neuroscientist on the team), so you get familiar with terminology like ‘benevolent sexism’ and ‘tone policing’ with engaging methods to fight it. Think of quizzes like: “Who said it: Trump or Heidi Klum?”

The idea is that the app meets you where you are, on your phone of course, whether that’s on the tram or wherever. You gain access to learning modules and curated information as well as ways to test out your new insights. Their solution mixes gaming, learning, and habit training.

The app tackles a taboo topic — because after all, who likes to be called sexist?! It allows you to make progress in your understanding of a complex topic without any judgment. Equalista represents distinct progress that the German government recognizes: Equalista’s co-founders are the recipients of a German public grant dedicated to innovation. The sister-founders were not deterred when they heard early feedback like:

“Oh, gender equality is so 90’s.” — an initial response

Instead, they pursued the actual decision-makers of funding grants who ultimately agreed that the issue of general equality is definitely not resolved. With Equalista, these co-founders show that recurring topics women face regarding inequality are not personal but rather structural.

Illustration by Rozalina Burkova

Rewiring Your Mind

Equalista delivers confidence to trust what you now know and not question yourself: did I wear the wrong thing, did I do something to trigger this comment? All the content in the app is backed by in-depth scientific research. So using it, you’ll be sure if you are experiencing structural sexism, and receive information about what you can do. You also get information about what options you have to make an informed choice of when, how, and what you want to do in response.

“We all have internalized misogyny.” - Equalista Founders

And Equalista goes deep. According to the co-founders, they are addressing the fact that “We all have internalized misogyny.” That includes men and women, and the app aims to unpack these complex structural and social problems using an accessible, scalable, and customized method.

Illustration by Rozalina Burkova

Topics of gender studies make up entire college degrees, yet are not taught in grade school the way mathematics is. Why is that? The co-founders of Equalista will have you asking all sorts of questions as you reexamine your own socialization. Theo and Louisa won’t stop there. Although they are kickstarting their B2C product at the moment, they see ample possibilities to apply this model to educate people about ageism, racism, and more. The core of what they do is anchored in their name — they are experts in the fight for equality.

It could not come at a better time in history!

Equalista’s co-founders joined FemGems’ founder Dora Dora at FemGems Live Show at Factory Berlin to share insights on what they’re building. Below are key takeaways but be sure to catch the full podcast, followed by a special Q & A session.

Illustration by Rozalina Burkova

Five Entrepreneurial Learnings from FemGems38

1. Avoid rookie hiring mistakes; always look ahead.

Make sure new startup team members share your vision for the future, not that they necessarily have done certain tasks before. To hire for your startup, make sure your new teammate is enthusiastic about the idea and willing to learn. Look for that quintessential ‘startup mindset.’

2. Explore your own experience to discover disruptive opportunities.

Every pain point that a woman experiences in her day is a product waiting to be developed. Take note of what those pain points are and consider what businesses can emerge from there. This is why the founders believe women are the most disruptive force in business right now.

“Women are the most disruptive force in business right now.” — FemGems38

3. You need the freedom to fail.

The sisters suggest that if you have an idea for a new business, you should ask yourself what would be the worst-case scenario if you would decide to pursue it. If you can live with that, then keep going and work on subsequent plans. With this risk-management, also consider that even by trying to build something, you will learn a huge amount along the way. As the FemGems’ podcast host, Dora rhetorically asks: ‘how can we even consider that learning to be a failure?’ Equalista’s co-founders encourage questioning your own socialization: why are women told to be so risk-averse to begin with? Female-founded businesses are statistically more inclined to succeed.

4. Type of investment matters.

Equalista chose bootstrapping and public funding rather than the venture capital or angel investment route. Why? At the pre-Seed stage and without yet having a product, they wanted to protect future shares in their company as well as keep control of all decision making. That led them away from traditional capitalism, VC, and angel investment– especially since angels may expect an even higher return than traditional investors.

Don’t shy away from public grants. But do ensure you have someone who can help you navigate the German language if you’re in Germany and not a native speaker. If you meet 70% of the grant criteria, talk to the grant giver, because you have very good odds. They want to help you, so treat them as allies. Know that you will need to dedicate a lot of time to tasks like an in-depth business plan, but the biggest risk is taking none at all.

5. Mentorship plays a pivotal role.

To get the kind of feedback and guidance you need to pursue your ideas, speak with people experienced in entrepreneurship. Theo shares: “Talk to people who have already founded a company, and don’t let people who haven’t scare you!” If you want to be connected to experienced female founders such as Theo and Louisa, apply for the newly-launched FemGems Club.

Discover more of the backstory about FemGems38 in conversation with Dora on Instagram

Check out the full interview here as well as an insightful Q & A with the founders here when they were live in Berlin earlier this year.

FemGems 38 Theo and Louisa

Do you want to get access to the knowledge and experience of inspiring women entrepreneurs? Learn more about FemGems’ result-driven support system for early-stage female founders here.

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