Year in and year out, one of the most inspiring aspects of the Women in the World Summit is the celebration of ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that takes place at the annual event. Those qualities are embodied by determined women who conceive unique business ideas and then see them through until they are real, tangible products and services that aim to make the world a better place. And the 2018 edition of the summit was no exception as women who have created remarkable technologies took center stage and told the live audience all about their incredible inventions.
Since 2012, Toyota has granted over $1 million in funds to women who contribute to their community and the world through innovation, entrepreneurship, and invention. To date, Toyota has honored 22 Mothers of Invention and they have impacted millions of lives around the world. At the 2018 edition of Tina Brown’s Summit, three brilliant women were honored and had the chance to tell their stories.
Maxeme Tuchman, CEO and co-founder of Caribu
Maxeme Tuchman’s story began with a heartbreaking photo she once saw of a U.S. soldier holding a children’s book up to a laptop’s webcam in an attempt to read his daughter a bedtime story. The moment made her think there had to be a better way for facilitating such a precious, important and fleeting part of the parenting experience when parents are unable to physically be present with their kids. So she founded Caribu, which allows people to read bedtime and other stories to children — even when they’re separated by great distances. Summing up how her app works, Tuchman puts it like this: “We like to say, we’re FaceTime meets Kindle for kids.”
Tuchman, who lives in Miami, was interviewed by Sade Baderinwa, an anchor for WABC-TV Eyewitness News in New York City, on day two of the Summit. She explained how her experience as a 12th-grade teacher informed her belief in the importance of early-childhood literacy, which underscores the mission of Caribu. Tuchman talked about how her high school students who were approaching graduation were only able to read on a fifth-grade level and she felt compelled to find a solution. “When you really start peeling back the onion and see where that all starts, it’s early-childhood literacy. It’s between the ages of 0 and 3 — and we focus on the ages 0 to 7,” Tuchman said.
Tuchman also talked about how the tide is turning for women, even in the technology sector, and she believes women are in the dawn of a golden era. “It is great to be a woman right now,” Tuchman told the audience. “I know everyone keeps saying it’s the year of the woman,” she said, shaking her head, and drawing a round of applause from the crowd. “It’s the millennium of the woman. We are not going away in 365 days!”
Emily Kennedy, CEO and founder of Marinus Analytics
Later in the Friday program, Toyota and Women in the World paid tribute to Emily Kennedy, who devised another remarkable technology that’s now being used around the world to help fight sex-based crimes. Harris Faulkner, the co-host of Outnumbered and host of Outnumbered Overtime on Fox News, interviewed Kennedy about the ingenious artificial intelligence her company Marinus Analytics has developed that helps track down victims of human-trafficking.
Kennedy, who hails from Northern California, began working on the technology in 2011 at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute. The software began as a senior thesis project, but its true genesis dates back to an encounter she had in Europe, when Kennedy was a 16-year-old tourist traveling abroad. She saw some children begging on the street and was saddened to learn that they were being trafficked by the Russian mob. The image of those children haunted her and she resolved to do something to help combat the problem. The result is a product call TrafficJam, which uses a technology called FaceSearch.
TrafficJam is a suite of AI tools that turn big data into actionable intelligence for sex trafficking investigations, including the first facial recognition technology designed to find human trafficking victims online. Before TrafficJam was developed, police detectives would manually hold a physical photo up to a computer screen as they combed through online images of advertisements for sex — a labor-intensive and time-consuming endeavor — hoping to find a match. Now an algorithm is able to do in moments what once took days or weeks.
“We’ve seen huge success with this,” Kennedy told the audience at Lincoln Center. “One detective, in fact, was testing out TrafficJam — this was his first day of using it — and he found a news article where a 16-year-old was pictured, a young [girl] in the San Francisco area, who her brother believed was being sold online. So the detective just took her photo off that public news article, uploaded it to FaceSearch and within seconds found her ads in San Francisco. And within the week the law enforcement agency was able to go out and conduct a successful rescue of her and arrest two of the pimps for human trafficking.”
Pretty awesome indeed.
Danya Sherman, founder of KnoNap
On Saturday, Danya Sherman came to the stage for a conversation with CNN national correspondent Athena Jones to discuss her invention, which she has dubbed “the napkin that knows.” Sherman developed a remarkable technology that takes an ordinary cocktail napkin and turns into a smart napkin. KnoNap is a cleverly-designed detection device that can alert people when specific rape drugs have been surreptitiously used to spike an unsuspecting person’s drink, thereby empowering people to feel safer in social settings.
Sherman, a junior at George Washington University, explained to the audience the personal nature of what inspired her to create such a product: an incident that took place in 2016 while she was studying abroad in Spain. She was out for an evening with someone she considered a friend who drugged her drink and then, as she put it, “took advantage of the situation.” After returning home to the U.S., Sherman told friends about her experience and was surprised to learn that several other people she knows had suffered through similar circumstances.
She said she became “laser-focused and motivated” to create a product that would bring about social change. And she has succeeded triumphantly in that pursuit. KnoNap, when a small droplet of a beverage is dripped on it, is able to recognize the presence of nearly 40 known substances used in drug-facilitated sexual assaults. She hopes one day KnoNap will be available in every bar, restaurant and club, so that people can be empowered to know whether or not they’re safe.
Jones asked Sherman about her ability to build KnoNap from the ground up, and how she’s been able to hobnob with investors and make her idea become a reality. Sherman told a story about a chance encounter with a celebrity who also moonlights as a venture capitalist.
“I live my life by something I call the the Ashton Kutcher 30 seconds,” Sherman chuckled onstage. “At the Forbes 30 Under 30 conference, I ran into Ashton Kutcher and — it’s a little known fact that he’s a venture capitalist that is really passionate about combating human trafficking. And there is an intersectionality between human trafficking and rape drugs. I approached him and told him about my company and gave him my business card, [but] don’t remember the conversation, and walked away.” Sherman told the audience. A few months later, Sherman was scrolling through the newsfeed on her personal Facebook page and saw that Kutcher had shared a web video that had been made about KnoNap. “If you’re watching, Ashton — thank you!”
Near the end of the discussion, Sherman became emotional when she talked about how she would advise other women entrepreneurs who are working hard to make a business idea come to life.
“I would say, go for your dream. KnoNap has and will forever change me in the aspect that I’ve been so humbled to have had the chance to speak with so many thought leaders that are passionate,” Sherman said. She added that “I didn’t fall in love with KnoNap’s product. I fell in love with our mission, and our mission is to empower, educate and advocate against drug-facilitated sexual assault and crime, and I will do whatever is in my power to make sure that mission comes alive.”
Watch the full interviews with Tuchman, Kennedy and Sherman at the top of this story.
More from the 2018 Summit