Category Archives: Research

Bernelle Verster

Woman in Tech of the Week – Bernelle Verster

Name: Bernelle Verster
Designation: Water Maverick, Shit Stirrer
Company: indiebio
What do you do every day?
Writing, mostly. Sometimes growing things – bacteria, algae, plants, fungi, animals (like flies, worms). I am trying to learn how to play with hardware like Arduino and getting better at data driven visualization to help communicate my work.

I work in beneficiation of diffuse pollution through biology. This includes wastewater treatment, but I’m also moving into urban waterbodies like urban estuaries. I like interfaces, connecting the dots to fill in the gaps. So much of my time is spent translating between what, for example, engineers say and what ecologists say and try to find a way that both can be accommodated. Or, what the public perceives and try to communicate all the trade-offs and complexities. At the moment I am trying to see how to coordinate bottom-up, DIY type behavior with the efficiency and economy of scale that engineers prefer but that comes with environmental trade-offs.

How did you get into the tech space?
I wanted to become a vet, but then fell in love with biochemistry in first year of university and stuck with that. Then I realized the cost of biotech is way too high and needed to learn some tech and engineering to make the biology work better. I’ve sortof just stumbled along with things, there wasn’t ever much direction or specific support.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Do what you can with what you have; and you will always be someone’s dog (in other words, don’t expect to come out ‘on top’ and then all your issues are over. That just doesn’t happen). The advice I never listened to was ‘it’s time you stop dreaming and get a proper job’.

What advice would you given someone wanting to get into the tech sector? Dream. Big, small, doesn’t matter, but don’t lose sight of reality. Prototype, play, fail fast. Look at what is – the current reality, even if it is uncomfortable. Ask the tough questions, listen to what people say. You don’t have to believe them, but they are coming from somewhere, interrogate what they say. Don’t underestimate the value of incremental change.

What motivates you to get out of bed everyday?
Frustration. Having a big goal is nice, but really it’s the frustration of ‘if only this small thing can work better!’ Generally I wake up thinking, I’m going to go at it from this angle, maybe that works today. I think the real value I add to society isn’t through my big dreams and passions, but the little itches and irritations I try to smooth out along the way. Connecting people who can help scratch 😉

Who do you want to be when you grow up?
A whole person. Not a whitewashed darling on a pedestal.

Twitter handle @indiebio
Website: indiebio.co.za
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/indiebio/

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Johannesburg 28 out of top 50 cities for women entrepreneurs

Dell has announced the findings of its 2017 Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index (WE Cities) – a global, gender-specific index that looks at a city’s ability to attract and foster growth of women-owned companies.

Johannesburg ranked 28th out of the 50, ahead of Seoul, Barcelona, Tokyo and Dublin, to name a few notable locations. The top five cities for women entrepreneurs are New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, London, Boston and Stockholm. Cities are ranked on five categories of characteristics – capital, technology, talent, culture and markets. The study ranks cities to show the impact of local policies, programs and characteristics in addition to national laws and customs on high-performing women entrepreneurs.

“Globally, women’s entrepreneurship rates are growing more than 10 percent each year. In fact, women are as likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets. However, financial, cultural and political barriers can limit the success of these businesses,” says Karen Quintos, EVP and chief customer officer at Dell. “By arming city leaders and policymakers with data-driven research and clear calls to action, we can collectively improve the landscape for high-potential women entrepreneurs, which in turn dramatically lifts a city’s economic prospects – as what is good for women is good for the economy.”

Johannesburg’s rating

Johannesburg Overall Score 38.6/100 | Overall Rank 28/50
4.7 million population
$102 billion Gross Metro Product (2016)
Top industries by employment are: (1) Finance, (2)Trade, (3) Community services & (4) Manufacturing

Notable Strengths
Powerful women in South Africa, at least in politics, are not uncommon: the percentage of women in the Parliament of South Africa, 44%, is among the highest in the world.
Additionally, women represent 42% of the Cabinet and 38.4% of local government.
The country also has several policies designed to decrease gender bias.

For example, Section Nine of the Constitution of South Africa guarantees “equality before the law and freedom from discrimination” and the Employment Equity Act defines “unfair discrimination” as a difference in terms and conditions of employment between employees of the same employer performing the same or substantially the same work or work of equal value based on gender, among other characteristics (ranking it 7th on Policy in the Culture pillar).

Moreover, female talent in South Africa extends beyond politics: in Johannesburg, 76% of adult women participate in the labour force and there are four local business schools with an average female enrolment of nearly 43%.

Ranking 11th on Markets overall (driven by its 7th place rank in Policy), the City of Johannesburg also has a website that helps people start a business and the national statistics agency, StatsSA, collects gender data on income and employment at the regional level in the Quarterly Labor Force Survey (QLFS), which helps keep track of women’s economic progress over time.
Areas for Improvement
Johannesburg has many opportunities to better nurture and support women entrepreneurs.
Education is a key area for improvement, both for entrepreneurial women and the workforce at large: less than 19% of the female working age population has a tertiary education or above (although this is still higher than the 17% of the male population with a tertiary education or above). Another area of improvement is paid maternity benefits, which currently stand at just four months of unpaid or partially paid maternity leave. This would help women maintain and build their capital base where the city ranks 39th.

Johannesburg could host networking opportunities and build city level organisations and/or incubator and accelerator programs specifically for entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs.

Johannesburg also ranks 50th on safety. That said, it could address its high crime rate (and its percent of people worried about being attacked) so the overall working environment is safer for women.

Johannesburg could also increase women’s use of technology by developing programs to decrease the high average monthly cost of internet (ranking 41st) and by creating technology training programs specifically designed for women (where it ranks 48th out of 50).