Member Spotlight with Priya Guha
Priya is a Venture Partner at Merian Ventures, a San Francisco HQ-ed VC investing in female-led innovation, a Non-Executive Director at UK Research & Innovation,a Member of the Innovate UK Council, is an Advisor for a startup, Kheiron Medical Technologies, which has built some of the world’s most advanced cancer detection AI and is now building a holistic AI platform for cancer care. Priya was previously the General Manager for RocketSpace, launching their UK operations and prior to that, was the UK Consul General to San Francisco, as part of a 20-year diplomatic career.
We asked Priya to share some of her personal experiences and advice for female founders in the UK.
What got you interested in being a part of the tech space/community?
Priya: For me, it’s all about the ideas and the people. When you’re out on the West Coast, it’s a melting pot of ideas to bring fundamental change and achieve major societal goals. Quite often, the people driving those ideas forward are the fastest, craziest and most fascinating people you can ever meet!
We are seeing more UK female founders/entrepreneurs in the tech space, what advice would you give the women in this space?
Priya: One of the most powerful tools women have is their network. So I’d encourage female founders to leverage their network and make the ask. Even if you’ve never met someone, tools like LinkedIn enable you to get connected to someone who can make a transformational difference in your business’ trajectory. But nothing beats face-to- face events, and it’s great to see those restarting at Home Grown) and elsewhere. However you’ve been introduced to someone, be proactive, follow up and build relationships with the people you meet. There’s also an incredibly supportive community out there of fellow female founders (and allies) so build a peer group where you get answers to both mundane and key questions
Since 2016, Innovate UK has awarded annual ‘Women in Innovation’ Awards to 80 women, which include funding of £50,000 and bespoke support services , is there any data/information about how successful this programme has been?
Priya: Partly because of these Awards, InnovateUK has seen a 70% increase in the number of female-led applications to its programmes and has built a new community of over 9,000 women innovators. But it’s also so important to showcase these innovators as role models to inspire the next generation. Part of the Award includes the recipient going back to their old school to put up a ‘Purple Plaque’. It’s an incredibly powerful way for current students to see what’s possible. .
At a slightly earlier stage, I’m also involved with supporting ‘WeInnovate’ at Imperial College here in London. A 5-month pre-accelerator programme, it has had a huge impact on supporting talented female innovators from the Imperial community to bring their ideas to market. Since its inception in 2014 it has supported more than 400 women and alumni have raised over £16m in funding.
A piece of professional advice that you would give your younger self that you would like to share?
Priya: Find your tribe;the people with whom you can share your professional and personal life. Friends that support you throughout your journey and are both source of professional advice but bring joy and laughter into your life as well. Friends with whom you have absolute trust. I have an incredible group of friends who bridge my work and personal life for whom I’m eternally grateful.
Was there a particular challenge you faced and overcame that other females might go through as well?
Priya: I like to think that people are no longer intentionally biased in how they operate, but unconscious bias is sadly still ubiquitous. Whether it’s who takes the notes at a meeting, who pours the coffee or how we judge people’s leadership potential based on assumptions we make, I think there is an obligation on all of us to call out unconscious bias when we see it. It can be uncomfortable but it’s the only way we change the dial and make sure everyone has a seat at the table.
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