The journey from the entry-level mother to a novel tech founderFeatured

When I had a child at the age of 43, my career was at its peak. However, for the child’s sake, I decided to take up a new position as a full-time “entry-level” mother and moved to Sweden, leaving the never-sleeping energetic Tokyo.

The reason was simple. I wanted my daughter to grow free from the severe competition in Tokyo.

Until the move, I had been working as a market communication expert and manager at one of the foreign-affiliated communication technology companies in Tokyo.

I was ambitious. I learned agile strategies in business development through daily work, business plan competitions, and business-related social networking across the industries which became my life hacks.

I raised the company's brand awareness from 1.7% to 22% in one year and to 83% in two years through strategic PR activities, fostering government, university, and investor relations, lobbying, and internal talent training. I also managed several collaborations with other industry partners.

In Japan in the late 1990s, the concept of mobile internet was already very widespread and we could already transmit large volumes of data. For a while, I worked as an innovation ambassador, introducing the latest technologies (mobile Internet, access to visitors’ guides and shopping via mobile phones at shops or amusement parks) to the international market – technologies that are now normal for everyone but were a technological revolution in the 90s.

I took the external posts as vice chair and chair of the event committee at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and made the most of the experience, creating life-long friends, mentors, and business partners. Some of them are now angel investors and venture capitalists, so I frequently update them on our progress. When I wasn’t working, I was active in the Tokyo Adventure Club (all different types of sports activities) and dragon boat racing – I even joined a dragon boat racing team called the Tokyo Dragon. All of these friends are also my enthusiastic supporters and mentors. Although they are now living in different countries, we are still in touch.

Through my work, I have been involved in achieving global changes at cross-industry levels attracting new customers from automotive and medical technology companies, government agencies, and mobile operators. I truly enjoyed working long hours averaging 13-16 hours a day and didn’t stress about it. I became very popular in the international job market and business practices in Tokyo.

I do consider that I’ve had quite an interesting life in the most exciting and ever-changing industries in Tokyo. I experienced handling large negotiations, worked internationally, and created new innovations with cross-industry players, thanks to my managers who gave me the opportunity to do so.

Since moving to Sweden, my life has completely changed. It’s become slower and calmer.

I did get a job but went through a layoff after 3 years at the company.

When I had my child, I made raising her my main focus. The social and business aspects of my life fell into the background. I raised my daughter and, like other beginner mothers, struggled a little bit along the way. I helped her learn new things and to become curious. I encouraged my daughter and her friends to participate in various activities, such as sports, dance, creative work, technology, and robotics.Raising her caused a shift in where I wanted to focus next in my professional life. I became interested in introducing innovation, technology, and science to children in Sweden – similar to how Japanese children are invited to large tech companies to learn about how their products are made and how their services work.

It was a bit difficult to implement because there was a language barrier since Swedish is not my native tongue. I became interested in providing children and young adults with an innovative environment to foster creative thinking using electronics and wireless communication. I wanted to see them become inventors by offering support and creating opportunities. So, I joined a project to establish a science platform for young people aged 7-18 and also joined the technique club and the First Lego League as a jury to encourage children to be innovative.

During these periods, I carried out several small consulting assignments and at a later stage, I shifted my focus and worked for an incontinence product company, where I became more aware of the dire state of elderly care. Among other things, I observed a man in a wheelchair screaming for help only to have several caregivers ignore him and tell him they would change his diaper at 6:00 pm– which was 7 hours later. It was astonishing to see that his dignity was disrespected and ignored.

That feeling moved me to action and I started noui - a tiny wearable bladder monitor.

I recruited our CTO via a Facebook announcement and a CFO/COO and testing expert via Y Combinator. They are committed to the venture and we established a competent team. I also recruited diverse and dynamic global advisory board members. Now we are funded by several Swedish Governments and supported by the EIT Health and European Union.

My lesson here is that if you are not an expert at making a product but you have a vague idea to solve a problem, you can do it. You are the only one in history with your unique experience, your unique knowledge, and your unique education. Sometimes, your career may slow down because life happens, in my case that was having a child and moving to a new country. It’s definitely not easy to establish yourself and build new career paths in unfamiliar circumstances, especially if you are in your 40s. It can be easy to fall into imposter syndrome or think your promising career is over. But when those thoughts take over, imagine yourself when you pursue and regain power in your career or new role and hold on to that.

Your patience and courage will reveal your talent as an innovator and you will begin to write new pages in your biography.

@kyokojansson - Hi Kyoko, thank you for sharing your story! It definitely gave me inspiration and strength as a female founder myself. Similar to you, I had to leave "climbing the career ladder" and what I found familiar to move to a new place where I didn't know anyone after I got married. Re-establishing myself, acclimating to the local culture and building new networks has been a challenging journey but a fulfilling one. I am trying to find a co-founder for my startup and am curious about how you recruited and convinced your CTO and CFO/COO to join you on your endeavor. If you could share a little more on that part of your journey, that would be much appreciated!
Hi @Hiellen, Thank you for time to read the post and comment. It is not easy if you are not a University Spin-out. I met our CTO Mohammed, through my Facebook post. He thought it would be very difficult to achieve it. Especially at the beginning, no healthcare professionals were interested in our solutions. Now, gradually it gains attention and we manage to make a consortium with customer organizations. We trust each other but it is a long journey as our case is a medical device development. He is still managing two companies and supervises each stage if the quality is maintained. Co-Founder Alignment is important and first, you recruit a co-founder, you need to write an agreement. There are many templates. I recently lost my COO, as she moved to her own venture. The painful lesson was that I should find someone who is in the same country. Also, it is important to win the competition or expose media coverage. A couple of my former colleagues and university colleagues contacted me offering hands. If you do not know the person, it would be great to get a reference. I did it for investors!
@kyokojansson What an absolutely empowering story and message for new mothers like me! Thank you so much Kyoko - I need to surround myself with messages like these!
Thank you very much for your precious time to read the post. Good luck on your journey as a working mom and dream job! Thank you!
@kyokojansson Thanks so much for writing this, Kyoko; I and so many other women needed to read it. I'm a female founder who is still early-stage (even after two years!) and I'm planning to have a child in the next couple of years. I will also be an older first-time mom, and find myself experiencing great anxiety around the concept of building a company knowing I plan to be a mother soon--this is even more of a pain point as my startup is a fertility company focused on making women mothers. Although I've had a whole 14-year career in Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility and am educated and prepared enough not to fear becoming a mom a bit later than I'd estimated as a very young adult, there is such tremendous pressure--which I think your piece addresses--in feeling like both efforts are so time-sensitive while requiring so much of you. It's less "can I do this?" and more "can I really do this, well?". I love your perspective on savoring the experience of motherhood and still having the wherewithal and ambition to start something new. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, but there are not enough women telling this story. I so appreciate that you took the time to do so.
@ashleighmariebrown, Thank you so much for the time to reach my piece! Really appreciate it and thank you for sharing your story! I think this is my final contribution to the society. Your experience, efforts, and positive thinking "I can really do this" are much appreciated!
@ashleighmariebrown Your story is so familiar to me-- I was two years into my business when I decided to start a family and I was incredibly worried about what having a child meant for my business. I struggled to find the support I needed for both the emotional side of things (mostly fear) and the logistical steps to prepare my business for maternity leave and beyond. After having my son, Adley, I decided to shift my business to provide expecting entrepreneurs with the support I didn't have during such a vulnerable time. I created a free "Prepare Your Business for Baby" guide that you might find helpful if you have a planning brain like me. It offers recommendations on what to be thinking about and doing in each of the 40 weeks of pregnancy to give you peace of mind during pregnancy and maternity leave. Feel free to DM me and I'd be happy to send the extended version to you. If you're interested in learning more about how I support founders who are grappling with the question of what a baby will do to their business, feel free to check out my website,
@kyokojansson thank you for sharing -- I'm really inspired by your story. I'm also an older 1st time mom and am trying to build my own business. It's also caused me to reconsider where I focus my career next as I use to run growth at startups which was quite stressful and demanding. I considered joining an accelerator but declined as I worried that having investors would create too much stress as I would need to grow the business at their demands vs moving at the pace I want (slower to ensure that I'm still prioritizing my family). I am curious to know if you took investments (it sounds like yes) or if the funding by the government and EIT are all grants? If you did take investments with investors, are you able to maintain a work life balance and still be the mom you want to be?
@HeyLori, Thank you so much for the time to read my piece. EIT, EU, and the Swedish Governmental funds are all grants or 50% of total project costs. I have met and discussed with several private investors. I think it is time to take a risk and invite equity investors, however, we have not received any investments from the private investors. I am not in the position to select investors (we desperately need funding!) but I declined some offers. The ones I would really like to work with said "I should show the MVP demonstration from the customer's positive opinions. With a little more effort, hope we could come back to these investors! If we work with the right investors, we could explore more and life may be slightly easier. I know a famous female founder who just sold her medical device venture to a large company. She is much younger than me and has spent enormous hours and efforts on the negotiations!
@HeyLori - I get emails from an organization called Women Who Launch and it's all about grant opportunities and financing options for startups. I haven't personally explored Startup funding but it could be an additional resource to look into. I started another post within Elpha to see if there was a Mompreneur community within the platform. Let me know if you'd be interested in connecting with others moms who are trying to build their own businesses.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful story @kyokojansson. It's very inspiring! I work with moms who are business owners and I support them in the journey to build their business while their building their family. I would love to learn more about the lessons you say you learned along the way as you were prioritizing your family and deprioritizing your business ventures. I see many new moms struggle making that decision.