Earlier this year, Accenture and Springboard Enterprises, a network of influencers, investors and innovators dedicated to building high-growth companies led by women, expanded their alliance to bring complementary people and capabilities together to increase opportunities for female entrepreneurs.
Accenture Ventures, which serves as a bridge to the global innovation ecosystem by bringing clients together with best-in-class, enterprise relevant start-ups, taps into Springboard companies to help women innovators expand their industry network and effectively engage with large enterprises. Accenture and Springboard share a common commitment to gender-parity and together help propel the growth of female-led companies.
In October, Accenture and Springboard Enterprises celebrated “Women Transforming Industries” and the organization’s 20th anniversary by honoring women CEOs in the retail as well as health industries for their technological innovation.
“These entrepreneurs are reimagining how we can more efficiently and wisely leverage technology to access healthcare, shop and live in safer, smarter ways,” said Kay Koplovitz, Springboard chairman and cofounder. “For 20 years, Springboard’s mission has been to accelerate the growth of women-led entrepreneurial companies through access to essential resources with our global community of experts. We know that introducing our entrepreneurs to the right people and access to financing is crucial to building companies at a sustainable scale.”
Annette Rippert, group chief executive officer of Accenture Strategy & Consulting, said through Accenture Ventures, which makes targeted equity investments in emerging technology start-ups and matches their capabilities with the business needs and priorities of Accenture’s clients, “we’ve worked hand-in-hand with several Springboard companies and are excited about their contributions to the business landscape. Helping build high-growth innovative companies is part of Accenture’s DNA, and we’ve been impressed by how these executives are leading the way to transform industries.”
Here, WWD talks with two of the women honored: Neha Singh, ceo and founder of Obsess, an experiential e-commerce platform enabling retailers to turn their web sites into interactive 3-D virtual that bring the off-line discovery behavior into online shopping, and Stephanie Crespin, ceo and founder of Reflaunt, whose mission is to build a world of positive consumption by bridging luxury brands with secondhand marketplaces so they can implement efficient circular models and empower consumers to see fashion’s long-lasting value.
WWD: If you had a single piece of advice for a mentee what would it be?
Neha Singh: Believe in your vision for the change you want to bring — the specific form in which it will come alive and the path you will take will change along the way. But amidst all the choices you have to make as an entrepreneur, that vision serves as your guiding light.
Stephanie Crespin: Being terrified of following your dream, taking that leap and grabbing that chance by the [obscenity] when all the odds are against you is a great sign. If you’re not petrified, you probably don’t care enough. And you’ll need to care loads. It’s that combination of fulfillment, exhilaration and jitters that nourish the most important ingredients you will need — grit and resilience.
WWD: For years there’s been a skill gap in tech between men and women that started in school; are you seeing that gap close?
N.S.: In engineering, from what I’ve seen in the hiring pipeline, I’m not seeing the gap close.
S.C.: We’re starting to see more women taking up tech careers and technical roles within the entrepreneurial journey, but at least in Continental Europe, these roles are still very much male-dominated. With more women than ever pursuing STEM degrees, I believe we’ll see the trend following Nordic or North American countries, which are ahead of us in closing the gap.
WWD: This year, only about 10 percent of venture capital firms funded start-ups with at least one female founder. Did you find fund-raising more difficult and think one of the issues was gender?
S.C.: I found fund-raising to be very difficult, and extremely time-consuming, and that gender surely does play a role in it — sometimes because of unconscious bias in male-dominated investing teams, sometimes because our product may resonate better with women who have experienced the hurdle of reselling their clothes or have explored secondhand platforms in their shopping (which their male counterparts, as of today, are a lot less likely to have done).
However, I have to say I’ve been quite impressed with the diversity of investing teams we have been talking to, and the positive reactions of interest and curiosity we’ve received from all investors. Diversity is crucial from both sides — from ours, we tried to have myself and my male cofounder present at every pitch, as our communications styles and competencies are quite complementary, which I think worked very well.
Sometimes I felt my male counterpart would be able to project more confidence and credibility, but my experience in this market and shaping Reflaunt would always help drive the conversation, and there were always important learnings for both of us. There is definitely a long way to go for female founders to get the attention and funding they deserve…but I have no doubt we’re on the right path, and women’s perseverance and resilience will turn the tables in no time.
WWD: Neha, your immersive e-commerce platform seems particularly relevant in light of the pandemic; do you think e-commerce is here to stay post-COVID-19?
N.S.: E-commerce was here to stay even before COVID-19. Experiential e-commerce was also predicted to be a primary reason why fashion purchasing would shift from off-line to online in the coming years. This trend was accelerated by COVID-19. Obsess is an experiential e-commerce platform, and we have seen a 400 percent increase in demand compared to last year.
Our proprietary patent-pending technology enables retailers to create beautiful, discovery-driven brand worlds on their web sites that delight their customers and present products in a new way for digital shopping. The e-commerce interface, which hadn’t evolved much in 25 years, is transforming, as brands realize that their dot-com is their new flagship.
WWD: Stephanie, with more people out of work as a result of the pandemic, are you seeing more people looking at the circular economy as a way to both buy and sell?
S.C.: The online resale market has accelerated rapidly in the past three years (growing more than three times faster than traditional fashion retail), and it is expected to grow even faster in the next five, with research estimating a 12 to 15 percent annual growth driven by the rise of Millennial and Gen Z shoppers valuing sustainability and responsible consumption in their fashion choices, as well as price accessibility, marketplaces offering enhanced user experiences, and the large selection of items available ranging from vintage to limited-edition or collaboration pieces (which appreciate in value due to their scarcity in the first-hand market).
This year, the pandemic has only accelerated this growth as consumers confined to their homes have “off-loaded” a significant portion of their wardrobe to marketplaces, while other shoppers turned toward online shopping when off-line was no longer available and scouted for more affordable-priced luxury purchases.
WWD: If you had to do it all over again, what would you change?
N.S.: I would not listen to advice from as many people. Everyone has an opinion from the moment they listen to a start-up “idea,” and there are a lot of players in the start-up ecosystem. But you know your business the best and your product the best. If I had to do it again, I would listen more to my gut and not to as many external influences.
S.C.: To be honest going through adversity and failures is hard but brings high reward. It’s the most efficient way to learn and to get a bit closer to success. But overall, what I’ve learned along the way is that being an entrepreneur, despite it often feeling like a race, should not be lived on a treadmill, running and out of breath.
When you choose to become an entrepreneur, you accept the trade-off between living an incredible journey spending your time on exactly what excites you and getting an incredible amount of [obscenity] thrown at you along the way. I used to think “when I’ll have X number of customers” or “when I’ll have raised X dollars,” it will get easier. It won’t. Accept that the road is long and those rough patches are part of the job. There’s no endpoint, the journey itself is the destination.