Winners Spotlight: Celebrating Four Female Entrepreneurs

FINCA Ventures Prize Winners Celebrating on stage

On March 28th, FINCA hosted the first annual FINCA Ventures Prize Competition at our headquarters in Washington, DC. After receiving more than 300 applicants, this event brought together the top finalists from each of our four categories related to healthcare or agriculture to compete for $400,000 in grant awards. Each finalist presented their pitch to a panel of esteemed judges who then deliberated and awarded a $70,000 grant award to the first-place winner of each category—all four of whom were female entrepreneurs.

Why Is Supporting Female Entrepreneurs Important?

In 2023, just 2% of all US venture capital (VC) funding went to female-only founded startups while nearly 80% of went to male-only founded companies. This is of particular importance when considering that multiple surveys by the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, and more have consistently shown that female-led businesses generate wider economic, social and environmental benefits.

Though the FINCA Ventures Prize Competition was open to all entrepreneurs, we did include judging criteria related to gender equity within each company’s business model. It has been proven time and again that when women are empowered to thrive, their whole families, communities, and even national economies benefit.

Regarding the finalists of the FINCA Ventures Prize Competition, we are proud to say that 10 of the 12 finalists had at least one female founder—including all four of our first-place winners. Below we have provided more information about each winning company and how they plan to use their prize awards to impact even more lives.

Agriculture Category Winners:

Female entrepreneur, Ashley Speyer, presents on Kazi Yetu

Kazi Yetu

Ashley Speyer, Founding Partner

Kazi Yetu is a female-led agribusiness producing a range of teas, herbs, and spices at an all-women factory in Tanzania. They source all their ingredients through local farms across the country to create a variety of traceable and ethically sourced products, which they sell throughout Tanzania and internationally.

Regarding Kazi Yetu’s win at the FINCA Ventures Prize Competition, Founding Partner Ashley Speyer was elated. She explained:

Winning this prize today is truly catalytic for Kazi Yetu. We are going to use this money towards US sales and expansion and also obtaining certain certifications to help us access new markets.

Ashley also went on to thank FINCA for supporting a women owned and operated organization. She also emphasized how meaningful it is to Kazi Yetu to receive this type of funding to empower women in agriculture and support an organization with a sole focus on empowering women.

Rio Fish Co-Founder and CEO Angela Odero

Rio Fish

Angela Odero, Co-Founder & CEO

Rio Fish works with smallholder fish farmers in Kenya, using data and technology to enhance production efficiency and provide market access, cold chain facilities, and capacity-building opportunities. They operate within the fish value chain with a focus on empowering underserved members of the community—particularly women and youth—improving livelihoods and supporting economic growth.

Rio Fish Co-Founder and CEO Angela Odero expressed that they plan to use their first-place grant money to help more women gain access to Rio Fish’s technologies so they can use it become more productive and improve their livelihoods. As Angela put it, “For me, data-led smart farming is the way to go.”

Angela also shared her gratitude to FINCA and our supporters for supporting female entrepreneurs:

FINCA is a one-of-its-kind organization, because they really focus on women entrepreneurs. And for me, as a woman of color, raising finance has been my biggest problem[…] So FINCA saw my need, and they came in, and they came through for me.

Healthcare Category Winners:

Female entrepreneur Sona Shah represents Neopenda on stage

Neopenda

Sona Shaw, Co-Founder & CEO

Recognizing that medical devices are not designed for the unique constraints of 85% of the world’s population, Neopenda was founded to innovate needs-based medical technologies for emerging markets. The company’s first product, called neoGuard, is a wearable vital signs monitor that alerts clinicians to patients in distress.

Neopenda plans to use the prize money to scale, with Co-Founder and CEO, Sona Shaw, saying:

What the prize will do for us is enable us to actually scale what we know is already working—so bring on more resources onto the team so that we can replicate and start to have bigger impact in our communities.

Naom Monari, Founder of Bena Care

Bena Care

Naom Monari, Founder

Bena Care has a mission to lower healthcare costs for chronically ill patients and their families in Kenya. They have built a network of healthcare workers and use technology to connect them with patients in need. Through this network, Bena Care delivers affordable, in-home nursing and therapy while also empowering family caregivers with essential skills to ensure continuous home-based support for patients..

With their grant award, Founder Naom Monari said that Bena Care plans to expand significantly:

We are going to purchase about 98 homecare equipment—like hospital beds and ventilators—and they are projected to serve and reduce healthcare costs for more than 300 families every year.