Jillian Kowalchuk

Jillian Kowalchuk – Founder and CEO of Safe & The City

By on , in Europe, Interviews

We can’t only encourage more women to become employees or employers in technology companies, we need more female VCs, C-suite members, teachers and allies to support us.

Jillian Kowalchuk is an award-winning entrepreneur, TEDx speaker and is the Founder & CEO of Safe & The City, the AI street-smarts app for safe navigation. She sits on the Commonwealth Businesswomen Executive Team, to empower 1B girls and women into business, and on the Department for International Trade’s Global Entrepreneurial Programme Female Founders Advisory Board. As a TEDx speaker, business coach and consultant she’s sharing her experience of traveling to over 50 countries and a breadth of knowledge on gender equality, tech4good, women in STEM and is a founding member of FemTechTalks.

In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your job, and what role technology plays in it?

I am the Founder & CEO of Safe & the City. But as many of your guests have highlighted, us women tend to wear many other hats. I am also a public speaker, business coach, board member and food blogger. 

My ‘Jill-of-all-trades’ name a childhood friend coined, lives on through my role as CEO of Safe & the City. Everyday looks very different to the next, which continues to grow me professionally and personally, but the North Star that focuses me and the team is our mission to becoming the world’s most responsible data insights provider to enable the design of smarter & safer cities. Safe & the City is a street-smart app to safely navigate and cities through our everyday journeys. 

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

When moving to London permanently I found myself using navigation apps frequently to get around. However, the technology I was using wasn’t designed with me in mind. It would always take me the fastest route, which wasn’t the safest. After a number of experiences of sexual harassment, while following routes I felt were unsafe, I started to look for an app like this. However, when I searched there were clearly two divisions, safety apps designed around feeling scared and reacting in an emergency situation, or navigation apps that ignored safety and a sense of security for different types of groups and individuals. Leaving my role at UCL as a public health researcher, I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey to create Safe & the City.

Safe & the City is an app that teaches you street-smarts from official data, but also learns from your experiences while on your journey to personalize your way and design the spaces to be more inclusive and safe for everyone. We have made massive strides in just over two years with our insights used by the Metropolitan Police to support deployment of their officers to concerns they otherwise weren’t aware of, Mayor of London’s Night-time economy office to support data-driven decisions around effective business and safety interventions and analytics to support UN Women UK on their Safe Spaces for Women & Girls programme. We are excited to announce the next city we are working to keep safe is Berlin! 

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

I would say it was before my career, but it was the unveiling of the iPhone. I remember being at a Christmas dinner with family with my equally passionate uncle showing me the demo of the phone, all the apps and capabilities. This definitely had an impact because ever while studying my Psychology degree I began planning my first app. I’ve always been fascinated by technology, but also was told by many I wouldn’t be able to do it. I listened to them for a while and so decided to pursue my MSc in Public Health & Epidemiology. However, the opportunities within technology to help impact millions, be a successful ethical business and make these changes rapidly never left my mind. Creating Safe & the City has been a humbling and transformational experience not only through the thousands of crowdsourced reports we receive but how we are shaping businesses and cities to be designed in a way that everyone feels safe to be themselves in. 

I’ve always been fascinated by technology, but also was told by many I wouldn’t be able to do it. I listened to them for a while and so decided to pursue my MSc in Public Health & Epidemiology. However, the opportunities within technology to help impact millions, be a successful ethical business and make these changes rapidly never left my mind.

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

Not enough women and representative groups in technology. This leaves me with mixed emotions of being afraid of the consequences if we don’t accelerate diversity into this sector at the same rate technology is advancing, while also feeling hopeful that every person can play a powerful role, even through becoming part of communities like GalTalksTech, to witness the progress from our collective efforts. 

We always hear there are not enough women working in tech. What needs to happen to change that? Why do we need women-focused groups in the tech community?

The ecosystem needs to be as diverse as the problems, perspectives and people we seek to change. We can’t only encourage more women to become employees or employers in technology companies, we need more female VCs, C-suite members, teachers and allies to support us. Each of these groups needs to be accompanied by a safe space where women and other minorities can discuss specific challenges they’re facing and how to work through them together. 

We can’t only encourage more women to become employees or employers in technology companies, we need more female VCs, C-suite members, teachers and allies to support us.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today? 

There have been many influencers along my journey which has made me who I am today. One of the things I’m most proud about myself was the courage to try different paths, whether it was to the 200 cities I’ve traveled to, 9 countries I lived in, 30 different types of industries I tried out, and the diversity of people and thoughts I still choose to spend my time with. Even though to some it may appear as an unclear path, it’s shaped me into a better person, entrepreneur and advocate for those who may not have the same opportunities and platform I have. 

Even though, this did not follow suit of my mother and grandmother’s lives they both still remain the biggest influencers of who I am today, despite neither of them being alive. My grandmother taught me there was no limits to the amount of love you can give, how to take lessons by looking at your role and responsibility in the challenges faced and to make the most out of each moment. Being a mother to 12-children, 40 grandchildren, working, volunteering and being a leader in her community. My mother taught me to be able to laugh through difficult times, use the skills and advantages I have to give to others and to be strong and free, despite some of the challenges of being a woman. Both of them helped me grow even after their lives appreciate what an impact they have had and will continue to. 

If you had 1 Million Euro to invest in women, what would you do? 

1 Million Euros is a good amount of money, but wouldn’t make the impact if it was to only be invested in a couple Female Founded businesses. What I would do is to see how I could best spread this investment strategically across countries, innovations and business in a community of founders who want to also give back. 

The idea of the Female Founders Pledge came to me as part of many Boards and discussions with female founders around the challenges of raising investment. The Female Founders Pledge is a public commitment that should your company reach the scale and commercial success you will invest in other female and diverse founders to keep the growth and vitality of others in this ecosystem flourishing. Watch this space as we will have a number of global partners collaborating to not only gain pledges but give the platform to showcase their companies, learn from diverse founders and take action to see equal representation in technology. 

. The Female Founders Pledge is a public commitment that should your company reach the scale and commercial success you will invest in other female and diverse founders to keep the growth and vitality of others in this ecosystem flourishing.

You are supposed to host a dinner and need to invite three people in Tech. Who would you invite and why? 

Hosting dinners and cooking together is one of the best way to get to know people, so this isn’t a hypothetical for me. If any of these women would like to come to dinner they can check out @vegnostic on IG for an idea on menu options as there will always be a seat at the table for them. 

Jean Lui, the President of the largest mobile transportation platform, Didi Chuxing in China. Not only because she have an impressively fast career as a young woman into a leader of this tech giant, but how she overcame barriers she likely faced because of her gender and age. 

Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM has created a successful career in technology, when gender parity in the industry was much worse. I’d love to speak with her how this has changed and the stoic feminism she must have had to apply in many situations as she climbed in her career. 

Lucy Peng, Founder of Alibaba Group, is only 1 of 21 self-made women billionaires of China and known to many to be the most successful businesswoman in the world. I’d love to discuss with her about her transition out of academic into business, what advantages that brought her, how she dealt with domestic and international perspectives of her being a woman and overcome them with grace and humility. 

Jillian Kowalchuk is an award-winning entrepreneur, TEDx speaker and is the Founder & CEO of Safe & The City, the AI street-smarts app to safely navigate while making your experience count. She sits on the Commonwealth Businesswomen Executive Team to empower 1B girls and women into business and was awarded Most Inspiring Role Model by the 53 Commonwealth Governments. She sits on the Department for International Trade’s Global Entrepreneurial Programme Female Founders Advisory Board to help attract and retain international female talent to the U.K. Jillian is a TEDx speaker, business coach and consultant sharing her knowledge and experience of traveling to over 50 countries and a breadth of knowledge on gender equality, tech4good, women in STEM to inspire and motivate others to take innovative action to solve meaningful problems. Jillian is a founding member of FemTechTalks, which seeks to find practical methods women can overcome structural and internal barriers in tech. She holds a MSc in Public Health from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and BA in Psychology and currently resides in London.

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