Appreci: a ‘modern village’ start-up, for and by Cyprus’ female entrepreneurs

According to a 2017 European Commission report, Cypriot women were only 40 per cent as likely as men to be starting or running a new business, which was less than in the EU at large.

What accounts for such a disparity? Do Cypriot women have sufficient opportunities for entrepreneurship? And what specific start-up challenges do they continue to face?

We put these questions to Appreci CEO and founder Juliana Saavedra, a chemical engineer and educator, turned mother and Cypriot entrepreneur. What follows are highlights of her responses.

Where did the idea for your start-up come from?

“It came out of need. After giving birth, I had the initial support of my mother, who is a wonderful, experienced registered nurse and midwife, but when she had to go back home, I could not find any person who could replace all the care she was offering us. In the end, I had to assume the full-time care-taking responsibility and quit my job to stay at home with my child.

“I learned there were many women my age in this situation, who, even though they had their mothers in town, could not get the support they needed, mainly due to the generation gap between them and their own mothers.

“At the same time, I discovered that about 80 per cent of parents working full-time, who had permanent support, often needed ad-hoc care solutions as well.”

“So, such first-hand experience of the lack of village, turned into my mission: to understand what ‘the village’ means for others and to address this modern-day issue with an empathic vision, while bringing helping hands in a modern way.”

What is the mission of Appreci? What does it offer?

“Our vision is to be a global, innovative, standard-setting company, leading a new field of on-demand services with high social impact in areas insufficiently addressed. These include post-partum assistance, special needs, elder care and flexible childcare, as well as mental health.

“In practice, Appreci represents a reliable, faster, safer way for families to source back-up quality care and other ad-hoc family services. It also offers modern job opportunities with flexible schedules, and a chance to gain experience and make a positive difference in people’s lives.

“We aim to go beyond the typical on-demand service model, to also help in re-skilling and empowering the entrepreneurs’ community.”

Are women becoming entrepreneurs primarily to launch innovative new products and services, or more due to lack of employment?

“I am also an innovation consultant and wished I could say they become entrepreneurs because they have the initiative to create an innovative product or service.”

“Most women do it the other way around when they can’t find a job allowing them to be present with their families, or flexible enough to accommodate doctors’ appointments and health requirements. So, they look for ways to create something on their own and enter the entrepreneur landscape.”

Does this mean traditional 9-5 working hours are eventually losing ground?

“Definitely yes – depending on the nature of the work, of course. But, whenever possible, flexibility is the way forward. I honestly believe 9-5 are not the most effective working hours for most people; many sit at a desk forced to fill in the hours.”

“It has been proven by leading forward-thinking corporations that employees are more efficient and productive at nights and weekends. And women, mothers of young children, most often can work at nights or early mornings – times not usually considered “proper” for work.

“Even younger professionals without children are demanding this flexibility. The typical work landscape is definitely shifting.”

Typically, to which age group do these entrepreneurs belong?

“Many young women, recent graduates without work, who are being creative in the digital social space, are becoming entrepreneurs with ease.”

“Also, many professional women, around their 40s,who  choose entrepreneurship after leaving the workforce to care for their family and cannot return. More and more of these women are entering the entrepreneurial world with products and services, leveraging the digital space.”

Are there enough entrepreneurship opportunities for women in Cyprus today?

“The entrepreneurship ecosystem is fortifying since last year. However, in entrepreneurship there are no job vacancies – you need to have a vision, think outside the box and create the opportunities yourself. Societal needs are many, so thinking of solutions to these is a good start for a business idea.”

What are the main challenges that Cypriot women face in starting and running a new business?

“Starting and running a new business is challenging for anyone. Start-ups initiate with a high degree of uncertainty, needing a team and financial resources, yet most founders lack both.”

“Starting up in Cyprus is particularly challenging, as there is the cultural tendency to resist new ways of doing things. At the same time, support given to female entrepreneurs is not apt for the digital space, and incumbent procedures don’t really allow for agile development. I have seen great movement in the right direction, accelerated by the pandemic, but we’re still not there.”

“Being a woman, a mother, adds another layer of challenge. In a detailed survey, we found 50 per cent out of 360 participating parents had a regular, 9-5, full-time, on-site job, and the remaining 50 per cent varied: from full-time stay-at-home parents, to part-time working from home, etc. Yet, only one father was in the second 50 per cent. Which means the women, most of them highly educated, were the ones to accommodate and make different work arrangements due to parenting.

“Personally, I am creating a business that helps women find solutions to juggle between their careers and family. There is a need of women in policy-making, there is a need of angel investment funds for women in Cyprus, and there is, of course, a need of Appreci.”

Do women tend to take fewer risks in entrepreneurship than their male counterparts?

“Yes, definitely, in a great part due to the pre-conditioning we had as little girls. This message of girls being weaker and needing to be more careful is changing, but very slowly.”

Do you work with a mentor and sponsors for Appreci’s mission?

“In the early stages, I had mentors who provided encouragement and validated the idea. Appreci has also been sponsored by the Cyprus government, through the female entrepreneurship grant scheme, as well as through the Research & Innovation Foundation which allowed me to take my first steps.

“This year, I also teamed up with an expert child-care entrepreneur who is providing valuable insights from the service provider’s perspective.”

Is Appreci attracting entrepreneurs from younger generations: Millennials and Gen Z?

“Yes. While Appreci started with a pool of experts in their field, who genuinely want to make a difference, it’s also an easy way to be self-employed, and great for recent graduates in need of experience.

“With our pre-registration now open, we invite early educators, social workers, psychologists, nurses – or anyone with a degree willing to gain care related skills and able to work in Cyprus – to join us.”

Learn more about Appreci here.