Latvia is about to select its best female startup founder. Five finalists will be pitching on May 24 and the event is open to the public. The winner will visit Israel and represent Latvia at DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival 2016.

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Latvia is among world’s Top 10 countries with the most female managers, according  to WEF. It is also one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the EU according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Let’s look at the finalists for some inspiration:

#1 Ksenija Rostova, founder of InSelly

InSelly is a tool for mobile selling and a discovery engine for inspirational discovery shopping on Instagram. Ksenija started the company in 2013. Since then, InSelly has earned several awards, including Winner of Startup Sauna (Spring 2015), finalist of Arctic 15 (May 2015) and Girls in Tech (October 2015).

Ksenija comes from an entrepreneurial family and has founded her first business, a travel agency, at the age of 20, while still in uni. She found the experience useful but was soon bored implementing a repetitive business model in an established industry.

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“I was ready for new challenges and a more dynamic industry. My husband had previous startup experience and was searching for a new promising venture. We were both into social networks and e-commerce and after some digging in that direction InSelly was born”

Ksenija reveals that she consciously works on balancing her work and family life, even if your husband is also your co-founder. She admits that leading an early-stage startup involves long hours, frequent travelling and balancing numerous uncertainties, but Ksenija is optimistic:

“I’m sure there are still a lot more lessons for me to learn, but I haven’t ever regretted becoming a startup CEO as there’s hardly any other industry where you can grow that rapidly as a professional.”

#2 Ilze Zaharane, founder of CheeksUp

CheeksUp is an interactive facial therapy game to support children with speech and face disabilities. Ilze started the company in early 2015. Since then, CheeksUp has received its first seed funding, won Latvian national selection for Startup Nations Summit 2015 in Mexico and finished among Top 10 most-impactful early-stage startups worldwide.

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Ilze has worked as children’s speech pathologist and therapist for 5 years. Last year she decided to leave her comfortable job for an idea that she believes will benefit more children. She is now building a scalable speech therapy game, so that parents anywhere in the  world can access effective therapy for their children, even if they cannot afford a personal therapist.

“I had startup friends and was to some events before, so I roughly knew what to expect. Still, two biggest changes I remember are: (1) my colleagues suddenly changed from female to male, (2) my neatly scheduled workday suddenly became a free space without any form or structure. It was like jumping into unknown water, but I am glad I did it.”

Ilze reveals that a startup journey is full of emotional ups and downs. Support from friends, family and other female entrepreneurs was very important for her. She has noticed some challenges peculiar to her age and gender, however, she does not feel disadvantaged:

“Building a startup is not easy, for any gender. All founders around me face challenges, some are just different for men and women.”

#3 Gunita Kulikovska, founder of Vividly

Go VR studio has been experimenting with the industrial application of Virtual Reality technologies in particular in architecture and construction field. Gunita started the company in September 2015. Their first product Vividly App lets users walk through architectural concepts in virtual reality. Currently, the team is working with architects and construction companies who believe in product’s industrial application.

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Gunita has background in architecture and urban design. She came into contact with startup world during some cross-disciplinary projects. The projects came and went but the startup vibe stuck. Gunita was invited to speak at TEDxRiga and was featured in local Forbes “30 talents under 30” list.

“I’m that kind of girl who is not afraid to roll up sleeves and dare to experiment. Some say I have moved from bricks to clicks. I say technology is not the goal – as any other tool it must create value.”

Gunita reveals that founders’ personal growth and startup’s growth are closely related. The more you work on yourself, the stronger your startup becomes. 4 months into the journey, she is proud of the high performance standards developed within Vividly team and in their interactions with partners and investors.

#4 Sabine Sipunova, founder of Sorry as a Service

Sorry as a Service is a B2B SaaS solution for corporate apologies. Sabine co-founded the company in October 2014 at Garage48 in Parnu. Since then, Sorry as a Service went through Startup Wise Guys and TechStars London, won Pirate Summit 2015 and acquired customers, including Belron, Pipedrive and TransferWise.

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Sabine reveals that initially she joined the Garage48 project for fun. However, passionate teammates and a real need for their product changed her mind.

“Leadership role in a startup is much more challenging than in any other organisation, because of the higher level of uncertainty, and you need to be inspiring and challenging others to do more and better. Being a woman has some benefits, but also requires more serious attitude to prove you can speak in one language with men when needed.”

#5 Egija Gailuma, founder of Poker Art

Poker Art is a smart poker set for playing at home with friends. It counts your chips and calculates stats automatically, so you can fully enjoy the game. Egija and her team just started and are now testing the market.

The idea came from Egija’s previous business organizing various events – from student parties to team-building activities for state-owned enterprises. Egija reveals that she does not let stereotypes hold her back: she hosted Eurobasket 2015 in Riga, initiated and organized the first and biggest charitable animal show in the Baltics and is actively involved in Latvian youth politics.  

“I have experienced different times as a woman in business but I never let anyone put me down. If I fall 3 times, I will get back up for the 4th time.”

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The competition is organized by Embassy of Israel since 2012. National level pitches are taking place in 23 countries this year. For the first time the event focuses on female entrepreneurs: despite its worldwide fame, only 12% of startup founders in Israel are women. The state is actively developing their ecosystem to encourage more female founders.
Latvian finals are hosted by Latvian Startup Association. Besides five best pitches, the event will also feature two inspirational keynotes by Latvian female entrepreneurs Anna Andersone and Dagnija Lejina.

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