Visa On Bringing More Female Founders Into The Reinvention Of Retail

In some ways, the dawn of 2020 is a golden time for female entrepreneurs — in that there are more female-founded firms than ever before. In fact, women are founding new firms at 1.5 times the rate of their male counterparts.

However, while women may be founding more businesses in the second decade of the 21st century than ever before, they are still collecting merely a fraction of the funding, Visa’s Senior Vice President and Head of North American Marketing Mary Ann Reilly told Karen Webster. In the name of closing that gap, Visa headed into its fourth season of tech partnership with New York Fashion Week — this year, with a special focus on female entrepreneurs.

“We wanted to shine a spotlight on women who are really paving the way for other women with our activation this year,” Reilly explained, “because it really gives us a chance to focus around the intersection of fashions and entrepreneurship.”

This year’s activation includes a curated Fashion Week of “essential” products from all female-founded brands. The shop will include a “Fashion X Sports” exhibit, “Paved with Goals”, celebrating notable accomplishments of women who are connected to Visa through the company’s partnerships. Products from female-founded brands, Clare V. and The Daily Edit, were customized onsite, with 100 percent of the purchase price benefitting Women’s World Banking, a nonprofit providing women entrepreneurs with financial tools and resources.

The Fashion Week event also presented the opportunity to roll out the latest Visa Everywhere initiative challenge, with a call to female-led firms to “look for ways to bring technology to retail that [will help drive] fashion as an industry,” Reilly said.

All the entries were, by Reilly’s account, “impressive,” and the scores were incredibly close. However, at the end of the day, Visa chose Eon, a sustainability-focused startup run by Founder and CEO Natasha Franck, with an idea for making the products that consumers purchase trackable — not only to the point of sale, but beyond.

The Competitive Field 

Though Eon ended up winning the day, Reilly noted, the competition was incredibly difficult because the entries were so diverse and, frankly, quite clever. One offered a tool to improve product search, while another had an idea for remodeling the digital retail experience into something that feels more like shopping at a physical store. One favorite was a startup with the goal of taking the mystery out of clothing sizes for shoppers — since any female shopper will attest that a size worn in one store might be a wholly different size in another.

“What was really amazing to see,” Reilley said, “was that as much as this was a competition between these firms, by the end this, [it] was also very much a collaborative feeling among the participants, where they really were rooting for each other’s success. These were all amazing women, with great ideas and great businesses.”

Eon won the $25,000 prize because of the variety of things its product-tracking offers — a mechanism for consumers to recycle or resell, a connection point for brands and their customers after a purchase, and a way to authenticate products. Speaking to Karen Webster shortly after her firm’s victory was announced, Franck noted that products are currently tracked from the moment they are produced until the moment they are sold. After that, there is little data.

“Our vision is to take the products [that] brands make, and connect them in a way that powers transparency and a sustainable life cycle management of products,” she said. By embedding something into a product (like a QR code or RFID tag), Eon believes it can create that transparent life cycle in a way that is good for brands, consumers and the environment all at once.

Leveraging A New Connection Point 

The Eon concept is simple, and works with and for a wide variety of goods. Once a consumer leaves with their purchase containing that embedded QR code or RFID code, the process is a voluntary opt-in — Eon doesn’t build technology that lets brands follow their goods once they’ve been bought. What the tech does, however, is give a consumer the option to scan that tag (via a phone app or phone camera) and learn what options they have, not to mention instructions for how to tap into the option.

That could mean all kinds of things. For some items, particularly higher-ticket products, the scan might reveal a buy-back on that particular item — and instructions on where/how to collect it. For lower-ticket items like t-shirts, it is more likely that the consumer will get recycling or reclamation instructions.

“The simple answer is we want to give brands and retailers the power to manage and monetize their products beyond the point of sale,” Franck said. That’s because, whether it is a t-shirt, a piece of haute couture picked up at one of the runway shows this week or an electronic device on the hunt for a new home, “every product has a unique life cycle after it is sold.”

Today, the end of that life cycle is often in a landfill buried under trash. With better tracking? The possibilities open up in a way that is better for the consumer, the merchant and the planet.