The Journey of impact startup We Encourage
Every startup faces struggles, challenges, and successful moments. People come and go, there is uncertainty, there is hope and sometimes hoplesness. There is determination, and sometimes, not so much. Every journey is unique, and only by looking back you can see how far you have come.
This is a short summary of the journey of We Encourage, an impact startup on a mission to empower women and girls with the fundraising platform and the conversational AI tool. It is not comprehensive but it gives an idea of from where we have started, and what has happened along the way.
The starting point. Our founder and CEO Anna sees a documentary: Sonita. It’s about an Afgan rapper, who manages to escape her forced child marriage. Anna gets angry and frustrated.
Anna calls to Johanna Sjöholm, a founder of a Finnish NGO, Nichearts (supports immigrant women and girls) and asks “What if we just buy all those girls free that are under threat of forced marriage?” Nichearts later becomes the very first partner for WE.
Anna continues her life as a stay-at-home mompreneur with 2 kids and occasionally talks to her friends how she will some day help those girls become free.
Due to her work as an entrepreneur Anna is following closely trends and technology and gets more and more interested in possibilities of Blockchain and AI.
Anna finds her way to Blockchain Forum’s event. Tells about her idea of using blockchain to help girls under threat of forced marriages and gets encouraged to pitch the idea at upcoming Blockchain Summit in Helsinki.
Anna pitches her idea at Blockchain Summit and the worst happens. The first jury to speak laughs at her and says: “How stupid you are, who would sell their daughter into marriage?”. WTF? Seriously? Anna had just explained how 12 million girls are a victim of such practice 😒. Luckily, another memeber of the jury, Teemu Jäntti, sees potential in the idea and opens his network to support Anna. Also the founder of Oxygen2050, Jari Ala-Ruona, invites Anna to impact entrepreneurs community.
After the summit Anna is in crossroads, should she continue with her career as retail entrepreneur or should she surrender to this ambitious, scary mission?
Anna decides to surrender, and she becomes obsessed to learn more about child and forced marriages, women’s history, Islam and sharia law, and so on.
Anna attends High-level Conference Governing the Game Changer — Impacts of artificial intelligence development on human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Helsinki and gets invited to speak at UNESCO.
First prototype of the idea created.
Phi, a tech person with knowledge with AI and blockchain gets interested about Anna’s idea and joins the team with another tech guy Trung. Phi later becomes a cofounder.
Hanna, the first co-founder joins the team.
Anna connects with Nepalese human rights activist and a founder of IDEA Nepal, Rachana Sunar, for supporting her mission towards ending child marriages in Nepal
Kickstart the AI tool building and ideation with an NGO.
Anna is a panelists at Blockchain — Practices and Perspectives conference organized by UNESCO in Paris
Challenges with very strict Finnish fundraising act, Anna bothers her attorney husband with her ideas how to comply with the law. The team learns about the new Fundraising act that becomes into force in March 2020. And about the possibility for companies to offer a fundraising agent services. Strict regulation and laws in Finland around blockchain forces the team to drop the blockchain from the first stage MVP that was planned to be build from the scratch.
Search for ready to use blockchain solutions begins and some negotiations with collaborative companies are kickstarted, unfortunately leading nowhere.
We Encourage finds a partnering organization to collaborate on the AI tool.
Trung drops out from the team.
A mentor, Visa Virén, joins the team to support.
The company We Encourage Oy Ltd is officially established.
We Encourage is nominated at Nordic Startup Awards as Best social impact startup.
Hanna drops out from the team.
Sharmili joins the team and later becomes a co-founder.
The team grows as We Encourage opens internship positions.
The AI tool collaboration doesn’t continue due to lack of funding. AI tool is put on hold and the team is concentrating on the fundraising platform.
The mentor suggests We Encourage to continue working with the AI tool as well.
Interns Subin, Lisa and Olivia joins the team. Emily starts as a content creator.
Anna speaks at IPR summit In Helsinki with Yrjö Raivio.
We Encourage attends Rauhankone (peace machine) hackaton with the AI tool idea. Gokul Srinivasan joins the team as an AI advisor and builds the prototype of the AI tool for the hackaton. AI tool is voted as the best solution by the participants. Collaboration with Gokul continues and the AI tool leaps forward.
Kristina joins the team as graphic designer.
Phi (CTO) drops out from the team. The team faces challenges how to continue building the fundraising tool without the tech person.
New people join the team offering their help to move the mission forwards and to plan and organize the upcoming launch event.
AI tool is introduced to the United Nations Technology and Innovation Lab (UNTIL) and the collaboration with them begins.
New intern, Laura-Maaria, joins the team for UI/UX design.
The fundraising platform dilemma is solved and the MVP building can continue.
Kristina continues to suppor the mission even after her internship period ended.
New team member Trang, joins the team as marketing intern and growth hacker.
Letter of Intent signed with UNTIL (United Nations Technology and Innovation Lab) for AI tool building collaboration.
Sharmili drops out from the team.
The fundraising platform launch event is supposed to happen. But, Coronavirus postpones the launch event.
We Encourage is selected as SME on BlockStart. Collaboration match with another attending startup, Charity Wall.
AI tool building continues: finding experience experts on intimate partner violence, selecting the partnering NGOs, fiding advisors and experts.
Looking for and selecting first pilot testers for the fundraising platform testing.
Collaboration starts with blockchain partner Charity Wall.
Shout out for the very first fundraising pilot testers for creating a cause for the pilot testing.
Kickstart of interviewing the survivors (experience experts) of intimate partner violence for the AI tool.
Feedback session with volunteer testers for the fundraising platform.
Interviewing NGOs, experience experts and planning the AI tool. Pychologists to support with the AI tool are found.
Finalizing the fundraising platform for piloting.
Planning and creating the first pilot testing cause with the very first small-scale fundraiser Sharon Elizabeth Freundlich for Dalit Women Forum.
First pilot testing kickstart! Stay tuned!
We have been on our knees, we have been on our highs. We have had our moments of success, and failure. We have had our moments of joy, and moments of fear and sadness. But, what’s most important, we have been taking one step at a time to take our mission forwad.