Wednesday 09 December 2015

70% Of Iran's Science And Engineering Students Are Women

70% of of Iran’s science and engineering students are women, and in a small, but promising community of startups, they’re being encouraged to play an even bigger role.

The common myth about women in Iran is that they are seen, but not heard, that they’re not permitted to drive, that they are second-class citizens, and that entrepreneurship and positions of power are out of reach. These notions are wrong. For years, women in Iran have owned and managed businesses, many of them in male dominant industries like oil and gas, construction, mining, and now tech. And now, with such a high number graduating with degrees in science and engineering, there’s a push to get women more involved in Iran’s blossoming startup scene.

20-year old Ghonche Tavoosi recently practiced pitching her startup Lendem, to a group of VC’s, including Dave McClure of 500 Startups at iBridges, a conference supporting Iran’s tech community. Through Lendem’s platform, friends, colleagues and neighbors lend each other stuff, like phone charging cables, and other items. The website keeps track of who’s got what, reminds people to give items back, and guarantees their return. Tavoosi pitched well. McClure was impressed, though he won’t make any investments in Iran until sanctions are lifted.

In an industry just starting to emerge, women are at the forefront, even if small in numbers. Two sisters, Reyaneh and Bahareh Vahidian, helped organize the first Startup Weekend for Women in Tehran encouraging female entrepreneurs to share ideas and network. Iran’s young women are considered trailblazers in the tech sector, but generations have come before them, including pioneers like Behnaz Aria.

More than 15 years ago, before anyone in Iran knew what a startup was, Aria, and her partners opened the country’s first IT training school, Kahkeshan Institute of Technology. Her challenges in the early days of trying to grow Kahkeshan are not unique to women.

“It was the beginning of IT services in Iran. At that time, our classes were mostly academic. We pretended to be big, but we were just 4-5 people. I would answer the phone in a different tone of voice, as a manager, as tech support, as a regular member of staff, just so we could appear bigger than we were.”

Quickly, Aria and her fellow founders doubled their staff and renovated an entire building to house technology labs and office space. Women make up 40% of its staff, and 37% of its students, higher numbers than ever before. As one of Iran’s great role models for female entrepreneurs, Aria is in good company.

One female founder of a petrochemical firm recalls how different things were when she was starting out in business more than twenty years ago.

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