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Photo credit: She Loves Tech

Nourin Haque Ridi is CEO and co-founder of Dark Kak – a Bangladeshi tech start-up that produces smart jewellery designed to protect women from gender-based violence and crime through innovations in augmented reality and internet of things technology. In an emergency situation, users can press a hidden button on the jewellery, which contains a disguised GPS tracker. The technology is connected to an app on the user’s phone which sends out an emergency call and location details to a selected contact.

Nourin and her fellow female co-founders were inspired to develop the technology from their own experiences. “As app developers, we used to work really late at night and our families were worried when we travelled home from our workplaces,” Nourin explains. “Like many others, we’d adopt various strategies for our protection ranging from using keys for self-defence, pretending to talk on the phone, or avoiding particular routes. From this we came up with the idea of smart jewellery and decided to put our skills and knowledge to use to design a device for women to protect themselves. We strongly believe that women require security at all times to feel confident in their workspace and should be empowered to move freely anytime, anywhere.”

Evolving from this vision, Dark Kak was established in 2022 and is currently led by four founding members, three of whom, including Nourin, are women. Reflecting on the gender biases experienced by women founders in the male-dominated tech industry, Nourin notes that compared with her and her fellow female founders, Dark Kak’s male co-founder encounters fewer challenges in negotiations with vendors. Regardless of gender, Nourin explains that all four founders have faced challenges along their entrepreneurial path, including the lack of income security that comes with founding a start-up, and having to overcome familial expectations. For Nourin personally, coming from a purely tech background, she found she had a lot to learn about the business world.

To support this transition, in 2023, Nourin and her co-founders participated in programme run by She Loves Tech  ̶  a global platform with a vision to close the funding gap for women entrepreneurs in tech. Through her participation in the programme, supported by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Nourin had the opportunity to participate in a start-up competition, mentorship programme and bootcamp providing know-how from industry experts and resources for women-led tech start-ups to accelerate their businesses, through which the entrepreneur was able to build her network and gain invaluable insights into business development strategies. Dark Kak emerged from the programme as the proud winner of the ESCAP Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship award, receiving a US$15,000 cash prize to jumpstart the business. The award was presented to Nourin at She Loves Tech’s 2023 international conference in Singapore.

According to Nourin, the experience of participating in the conference was life-changing, and the funding has enabled the company to hire additional staff and reduce their reliance on exports from other countries or companies. “This will help us reduce cost of the product and make it affordable for women from different income brackets,” she says. “Through this funding, we can make a better product for the women of our country and empower victims of sexual harassment around the world. The experience of winning this award has also helped us to verify that our product has the potential to make a real impact.”

Since 2018, the Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship programme, with funding from Global Affairs Canada, has mobilized over US$ 89.7 million in capital for women-owned and led businesses, and directly supported over 176,000 women entrepreneurs such as Nourin through access to finance and enhanced skills to grow their businesses.

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