GFA: Can you shortly present your start-up and what inspired you to start it?

AV: Atopia is a VR-enabled platform that allows you to explore the world’s museums, galleries, and cultural sites from home, making cultural experiences accessible globally. The inspiration came from my background as a violinist and cultural manager, where I have been constantly dealing with the questions how institutions can become more accessible, and better engage diverse, particularly young audiences to remain relevant in the coming age.

GFA: Can you tell us about your journey as a female founder? What inspired you to start your own venture?

AV: The drive to create Atopia was rooted in the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the richness of arts and heritage: I saw a huge need for Atopia’s solution in my everyday work in the cultural sector, and at the same time no one seemed to solve the problem the right way. This is when I decided to take on the challenge myself.

GFA: Have you faced any specific obstacles as a female founder and woman in the tech industry, and how did you overcome them?

AV: One of the challenges I faced was my own reservations. It’s not unusual for women to be rather reserved and self-critical. Realising this and dealing with it, for example in fundraising, was very enlightening. However, it’s an incredible time to be a woman starting a business because there are lots of great support programmes. For example, participating in the Female Founder Office Hours with FOV Ventures and Women in Immersive Technologies not only enabled me to travel to Silicon Valley last year and win the startup competition at the largest global conference for immersive technologies, but also led to an investment from my dream VC FOV Ventures.

“Sometimes, a healthy amount of sleep or a workout session is more productive in the long term than ticking-off a task that’s at the bottom of your to-do list.” ~ Annabell

GFA: Have you encountered any gender-related biases or stereotypes in fundraising or accessing capital, and how have you tackled them?

AV: Honestly, no. All the investors I’ve met have been very respectful to me, and I’ve never felt less supported or respected because I’m a woman. However, I have heard many less fortunate stories from other female founders, so I am grateful to have had such a positive journey.

GFA: How do you balance the demands of your personal life with the responsibilities of running a business?

AV: My work fulfills me with so much passion, purpose, and fun that, to be honest, I don’t often think about separating life and work. In my opinion, the most important thing to remain healthy is to prioritize. Sometimes, a healthy amount of sleep or a workout session is more productive in the long term than a ticking-off task that’s at the bottom of your to-do list, but if there’s something time-critical, it just must get done. That’s the responsibility one has as a founder.

GFA: Can you share a significant milestone or accomplishment that you are particularly proud of as a female founder?

AV: Building partnerships with key cultural institutions, especially at a time when our product was not yet ready. I believe that this was the most important first step in advancing our now ongoing development, testing hypotheses early and getting viable market feedback before we start building a major product.

GFA: What advice do you have for other women and girls aspiring executive positions or start their own ventures?

AV: Just do it! Additionally, be prepared for challenges but view them as growth opportunities. Even if your company doesn’t work, the learnings you will have on the way are invaluable.

GFA: Have you found any particular resources or support networks that have been helpful to you as a female founder?

AV: Absolutely. Programmes like FOV Ventures’ DVRSTY Office Hours, but also networks like Encourage Ventures, where I found three incredible female business angels who are now supporting me tremendously, are invaluable.

GFA: What lessons have you learned from your failures or setbacks as a female founder?

AV: Adopt a more relaxed approach, embrace every learning opportunity, and don’t take things personally. Facing doubters and setbacks is inevitable when building something unique. While it’s crucial to listen to feedback, trusting your own intuition is paramount. For instance, I firmly believe in VR’s future growth and that now is the time to develop B2C software. Despite encountering skeptics who believe VR won’t succeed, I maintain my stance. As long as I stay informed and confident in my vision, there’s no reason for insecurity.

GFA: How do you stay motivated and overcome self-doubt in the face of challenges?

AV: Having good friends and mentors who have themselves built successful companies, helps to put challenges into perspective. What may seem like insurmountable mountains often turn out to be mere stepping stones with the right mindset, and having close people around me that support and understand me has been critical for me.

Annabell Vacano, Co-Founder of Atopia Space and striving to revolutionize the way people experience art and culture through immersive virtual reality experiences.