One European founder is revolutionizing the way women find the right bra for them.
By Erin Risner (Director of Digital, The Way Women Work)
After moving back to Croatia from Germany in 2008, it became quickly apparent to Ana Kolarević that she wasn’t going to find a job. With youth unemployment around 50 percent, and overall unemployment at 20 percent, Ana knew she had to do something to save herself.
“I learned that if I don’t create my own job, I wasn’t going to get one,” Ana said.
So she began to look at problems she could solve. And that’s when she tapped into something both personal and emotional, as well as universal among women: the struggle to find the right bra size.
“Because I was always outside of typical sizes at stores, I was following the community, reading about brands and the industry,” Ana said. “I was motivated to help local underwear producers access the European market, but they were shutting down. Even a local store and Croatia brand for lingerie and bras shut down. I didn’t understand why, since there is such a need – if only they would expand their size range! So I did research, conducted surveys, and I asked women about their problems, what they want and need. I saw a niche and that’s when I knew I wanted to create an app and website.”
In 2012, the concept of Sizem was born – a software as a service (SaaS) solution for the bra and fashion industry. Then came Ana’s next challenge. She did not know where to start to create her business.
A friend told her about a local startup incubator in Zagreb, so she found it online and applied.
“In the beginning, I was scared because I didn’t know anyone at the first event, and didn’t know what to expect,” Ana said. “It seemed closed off. But I just started shaking hands and talking to people. After the first event, then I knew people at the second event, and so on.”
Through the incubator, Ana was able to find a mentor. Saša Cvetojević, founder of the local incubator, was one of the people who saw her first Sizem pitch and believed her idea had potential.
As Ana got to know the startup scene in Zagreb, she also tried to find a team, learn about business, and polish her public speaking skills.
“I looked for programmers, researched to learn what I could about IT and business online; I read about other entrepreneurs and their experiences; I started developing a business plan, a budget, and doing more research like why bra’s work and how they are done,” Ana said. “Once I got used to it, I learned that I really enjoyed pitching. Now, presenting to others on stage is one of my favorite things. I especially like pitching in English.”
Her hard work paid off. Ana won a couple of pitch competitions and finally found a team of three programmers and another woman who is a bra expert to develop Sizem. She also won entrance into three high-profile tech startup events this coming fall in Berlin, Vienna and London: TechCrunch Disrupt Europe, Pioneers Festival, and Bloomberg Tradebook Showcase. While Sizem doesn’t yet have investors, they are actively seeking funding.
Ana credits the startup community in Zagreb for being a key part in her ability to succeed each step of the way. It has become her strong support network.“[The startup community] is full of enthusiasm and people who are determined, despite all odds,” Ana said. “Smart people who want to help you because they get the help back – we support each other, giving and taking, creating a balance.”
“I love doing what I do and getting to be creative,” Ana said. “My advice to other women in Croatia who also want to create a job or business, would be to get in touch with other entrepreneurs (female and male); get in touch with incubators. Take time and learn, watch internet courses on startups and business, and business development. Just TRY! Don’t be scared. If you don’t have an alternative, you have nothing else to lose.”
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About the guest blogger: Erin Risner is Director of Digital at The Way Women Work, the go-to place for women in emerging markets and developing countries to seek and share business and career advice. Previous to her role at The Way Women Work, Erin spent four years at Water.org, an global nonprofit working to help communities get safe water and sanitation. Erin is passionate about seeing women grow in confidence and courage to leap into their potential. Follow her on Twitter at @explodingsoul.
This post was originally published on The Way Women Work.