From the hard work of starting and growing a business, to tackling the challenges of being a working mum in the tech sector. We sat down with Sakthy Selvakumaran, Founder at BKwai about the proudest and most challenging moments in taking her construction data startup which helps engineers develop smarter, more sustainable built infrastructure to scale up success.

What is it like being a woman in tech?

Working in tech has many exciting opportunities to leverage the latest in science and engineering and apply that into real-world problems. To be honest, I’m looking forward to the day where being a woman (and in my case, a woman of colour) in tech doesn’t have a different set of hurdles and challenges. 

What are the benefits you have received from starting your business?

Starting a business is hard work! Especially in the early days, there is a lot of work, few hands and everyone is wearing lots of hats and trying to keep many different plates spinning. For me, it becomes worthwhile when you see the solutions that you have developed being used in real life. One other benefit is being able to take control and be in the driving seat to makeshift change in a sector which struggles to change. We can make things happen and move quickly to do so.

What are you most proud of?

At BKwai, we have the chance to make big impact the built environment – the buildings, roads, rail, energy, and other assets around us that keep society going. From using our technology to help build London’s new super sewer safely, to keeping people connected by spotting potential problems in our roads and bridges, we get to make an impact. On the people side I’m also proud of our team and what they have been able to achieve in a short time without huge resources – as entrepreneurs we tend to look forwards and have a vision of the future, but taking a moment to look back lets us see how far we have come.

What is your super-power?

This is a hard question for an entrepreneur as you find yourself always learning and growing, and very often you’re never on top of everything! For me, I think my super-power lies in bridging gaps – being able to see the connections between silos, in industry, in technology, and in people who should speak/work together. I’m in a multidisciplinary space even on the technology side bridging data analysis and civil engineering, and I like bringing diverse perspectives together to solve problems.

What are the most significant barriers you have faced as a leader and how have you overcome them?

One barrier is getting access to resources and opportunities – it has taken a lot of time and effort to get access to communities and people who can our journey. Some of the connections we have are by luck in happening to meet the right people at the right time (and sometimes you realise that they were what you needed a few steps back to help avoid pitfalls in your journey!).

Additionally, there is always the challenge of balancing family and career ambitions as a female leader of a company – I’m fortunate in having a very supportive partner and wider family, but there are still challenges and barriers within the working environment. There are organisations that will promote their support for women in marketing, but their actions do not always back this up. 

Who is your role model and why?

Can I say my mother? My mother is not in tech or a senior industry leader, but she has achieved a lot in her life to balance what she needed to do professionally, as well as work with my father as an equal partner in building opportunities for my sister and me. Having become educated, left Sri Lanka during a period of civil war, built a new life, and looked after two children (one born with a physical disability that needed her to leave work for a time) – she has achieved so much against an extremely challenging background. And she is focussed on her own personal balance and supporting those around her. She is an impressive but understated woman who has always balanced career, her family and her commitments to her wider community. 

What is your advice to other women looking to follow in your footsteps?

No one person builds anything on their own – new tech, a company, a career, etc. I would really recommend thinking about who is in your network: who can support you on getting to your next step, and those who you can support yourself (we certainly need more women moving up the ladder!). Building a network is itself a skill, and very much worth the investment in time. You never know what value you find from these relationships that you would not have initially expected.

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