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Women on Top in Tech – Sabrine Assem, Co-Founder/CEO of Untap Technologies

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Sabrine Assem, an Egyptian entrepreneur based in Cairo, who focused on empowering people with innovation. Sabrine is the CEO & Founder of Untap Technologies.


What makes you do what you do?

I believe in open and collaborative innovation as a way to find solutions to the persisting challenges facing developing countries and also to identify untapped talent and potential. I am always fascinated by the unexpected outcomes that may result from getting people with diverse experiences together.

In order for Egypt and other developing countries to advance, we need to have effective systems that capture and make use of the intellectual and creative capabilities and contributions of the people. There is a lot of wasted human potential, which is the root cause of the persistent challenges and social conflicts. Well-educated and innovative people are not in a position to communicate and enforce their solutions while challenges keep piling up without analysis.

Instead of trying to get the ineffective state to play its role as an innovation catalyst, one way to activate an innovation system is to get people to work on clearly identified challenges, collaborate, and submit solutions through open innovation platforms.

I am deeply inspired by the business model of the open innovation intermediaries and found it to represent a huge market opportunity if adapted to the needs of Arab countries and other developing nations. Enabling open innovation to be capitalized upon by developing countries and small organizations is a passion and a primary interest of mine; that’s why we created Untap.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

Running a previous company for more than 3 years gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge greatly, attend to a lot of networking conferences, and build a network that has an influence. Relationship building and my professional reputation are one of the most important elements that are helping my business grow. I share the updates of my work with my network to seek out constructive feedbacks and advice.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

I didn’t think it was a stretch because of my gender. Founding a company is challenging for both men and women. Living in Egypt is challenging for women, though on many levels that are not necessarily related to managing a company.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I have several mentors, to whom I am grateful. They have been helping me immensely along my entrepreneurial journey. However, they were not necessarily in my direct industry of open innovation management. These mentors outside of my industry help me even better because they give me different facets from my own perspective. My partner at Untap – Tarek Nasr – is actually a mentor of mine. He used to be my mentor at my previous start-up and he is the one who suggested us working together on Untap.

How did you make a match and how did you end up being mentored
by him?

I met many of my mentors through networking events. The person who is sharing my road since the beginning is Tarek, who I met in 2012 at a start-up speed-mentoring program. Ever since we became good friends and partners. He has regularly supported me and gave me valuable advice.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent? 

I guess I didn’t yet find a “recipe” or a process yet. We are a team of 6.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

There is a limited number of female Arabs in the business owners’ category. As a minority woman entrepreneur, I have been consciously vocalizing and encouraging diversity in the entrepreneurship ecosystem that I am in.

We don’t have enough Arab Women entrepreneurs in the scene, which makes it harder for anyone in this group to pave their startup journey and that’s why I am very vocal about diversity and support high-performance culture.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

No, take in that regard.

Advice for others? What does it take to be a great leader in your industry?  

Don’t start a company for the sake of starting a company. Start a company only when you are crazy passionate about solving a particular challenge and you just want to spend all of your time on it.


To learn more about Untap Technologies, please see http://www.untap.tech/.

We are a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write us here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.


This article was co-written with
Mariem Khemir.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mariem-khemir-36b52a85/

Mariem Khemir is a woman advocate, with an excellent educational background on Technology. She has working experience in Munich, Tokyo, Bangkok, and Tunis in various sectors including engineering, consulting, and a tech start-up.
Always eager to explore and push boundaries in tech, she has worked in different areas of technology, including the web, energy supply systems and electric drives.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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