Written by Susan Tackenberg, Regular Attendee of the Global Female Leaders Summit

The Global Female Leaders Summit has long been a can’t-miss feature on the calendars of women around the world who are either at the top of their field or whose feet are firmly on the ladder towards making it. We thought about the line-up of extraordinary speakers we have been honoured to welcome on our Summit stage over the years, and wondered how their worlds have changed and where they find themselves in their careers today. So we reached out to some of them and asked them to give us an update on their stories – and we’re delighted to share what they told us with you here.

Samantha Payne MBE

Samantha Payne MBE took to the stage at Global Female Leaders Summit in 2017 with an impressive talk about the company she co-founded, Open Bionics. Her inspirational story about Hero Arms told of setting up a prosthetics company where groundbreaking technologies are deployed to produce below-elbow prostheses for children and adults. The use of 3D printing technology to make these prostheses kept costs to a minimum – especially important for children who grow quickly, needing replacements more often. We wanted to know how Samantha had weathered the COVID-19 disruption and how Open Bionics is doing today.

The Global Female Leaders’ Summit is a wonderful platform for sharing ideas. My talk there was covered by the Financial Times, which really helped to raise awareness of our mission. Robotics and hardware is hard – investors prefer software. But hardware – especially life-changing hardware like Open Bionics' Hero Arms for amputees – is life-changing. We need forums like GFLS to highlight young women tackling hard problems. We receive a tiny proportion of venture capital funding so we need all the awareness we can get. It also helps to inspire younger generations to pursue hard challenges and believe in themselves.

My focus has shifted to the US, where I am growing our team and operation there. It’s very exciting! I’ve gained an in-depth understanding of the healthcare systems in the US, the UK and Germany – the latter of which is definitely ahead of the other two. We launched in Germany last year, and it’s been amazing to work with German clinical partners to deliver Hero Arms. We’re the first company to bring a 3D-printed bionic arm to market.

Obviously two years of COVID disruption to a hardware startup was extremely painful to live through – Elon Musk said running a startup is like chewing glass, and he wasn’t even talking about building a company during global lockdowns!

My next challenge is to scale our business across the USA. Now that Open Bionics operates both a D2C and B2B model, we need to increase our geographic reach, which means funding our own clinical expansion. We currently operate 4 clinical sites and my aim is to double that this year. I would love to find a funding partner or investor who is interested in US healthtech to work with. We also have two incredible hardware products in the pipeline that will enable us to serve two new patient segments. It’s an exciting time for our company.

The one thing I’m afraid of is getting ‘comfortable’ and becoming risk averse. I want to stay curious, and am willing to take the leap of faith that any optimist needs to make radical change and have impact.

I don’t have any regrets other than perhaps wishing I’d taken more time to look back on past lessons – everything is a lesson learned as long as the learning is applied!

I’d love to be invited to return to the Global Female Leaders Summit – according to the Financial Times, my keynote was rated as one of the most popular of the summit that year, and I’d be delighted to share what I’ve learned since then as a woman in robotics building a global tech company for good.

Speaker Asher Jay

CEO and Founder | Incorporate, USA

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Asher Jay

Self-styled wild creative, Asher’s career has taken her across the world, from artistic conservationist through manufacturing to campaigning brand authenticity warrior with the odd tech company start-up along the way. When she delivered the closing keynote at Global Female Leaders Summit in 2022, she was fronting a community-driven blockchain application that took ESG impact investing to new levels. What happened after that is still unfolding, and an exciting step towards uniting her abilities and insights in unique ways. This is what she told us:

What I encountered at the Global Female Leaders Summit was a place where women are seen, heard and can share unapologetically the things that matter. I learned so much and was so inspired by the other women who spoke, even just seeing them showing up for all these diverse roles in one space. That was so different to the sense of exclusion I’d often experienced in places where I felt like an outlier. Here were women who were holding their own, utilizing their voices, shaking up the status quo and forming this strong network in a truly interdisciplinary gathering.

I also realized since then that female enterprises typically focus on alleviating societal problems, and this inspired me to dig a few layers deeper than seeing things through a design and communications lens, to an internal focus: how can I shift what is really being done. This has meant examining how I can thread the entire framework of impact logic for organizations to better optimize their impact output, instead of just communicating it for them.

This has led to my current challenge – a tech startup called Henoscene.com, where we bring accountability, longevity and credibility into the impact space. There is currently no systematic or standardized way of measuring impact because the logic varies in the way it’s applied to different organizations, so we’re creating the infrastructure solution that computationally gives companies those capacities. This makes their Corporate Social Responsibility more measurable and more consistent.

My biggest fear in the impact space is that people are shooting darts in the dark – they are often unaware of how, although they are trying to have a positive impact in the world, it could be disastrously at odds with the efforts of others. I’m focusing my resources on helping brands map their blindspots and disconnects, so they can develop a cohesive, actionable purpose arc that is in alignment with brand positioning and corporate strategy

I have spent a lot of time concentrating on problems and not enough time, I think, on solutions – that requires one to step away from the problem long enough to look at the opportunities that lie within the problem-scape. The one thing I took away from my education in design thinking is that in a well-framed question lies the answer. I think we’re often emotionally derailed by the scale of problems, identifying too closely with them rather than assessing them in a meaningful way. Instead of getting riled up about negative social and environmental issues, we should apply critical thinking to them and find the right questions!

I look forward to being back at the Global Female Leaders Summit – hopefully next year!

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