Why I quit the fashion industry to work in technology

After studying fashion for eight years, Mariska van Bohemen discovered a passion for data science and its potential to revolutionise personal privacy. In 2013, she founded Dime – Data Is Me, a platform that gives individuals back control over their data.

What drove you to pursue a career in digital technology?

From a very young age, I wanted to work in fashion. I worked in the industry for nearly a decade, but I eventually reached a point where I no longer truly enjoyed my work. After taking time off, I decided to change tracks and study media communication and information technology.

During one lesson, we were asked to create an innovative concept for the information industry. I had always been frustrated with companies like Google and Facebook for profiting from our information. I asked myself, ‘What if we could earn money by brokering our information ourselves?’ We are living in a totally new world in terms of what we can do with data science, after all. With this epiphany, I decided to quit the fashion industry and try something different.

Why is Dime an important start-up to watch in 2017?

Right now, data trading resides within a grey area. Companies sell private individuals’ online information every day, and the owners almost never know what happens to it. Moreover, companies are being increasingly criticised for how they treat personal data. Dime changes this.

We seek to create a fair market for personal data. With our user-friendly platform, private individuals can decide what personal data to share and can earn money for doing so. At the other end, companies can request access to comprehensive, honestly obtained information. As part of our service, we ensure that the data is secure and useful.

What obstacles have you had to overcome in launching your own company?

To be a woman entrepreneur, you need guts and passion for your idea. I’ve found that women must often go further to prove themselves. Reporters who call for interviews are often surprised that I, as a woman, am the founder. In other cases, reporters call because they consider a woman founder unusual and worthy of attention. Though this can be disheartening, I draw strength from seeing other women express passion for their own initiatives. I enjoy attending pitch competitions. When I see women participating, I feel solidarity, and this gives me the energy to stay strong.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

Be sure people know you. When I switched from fashion to technology, I wanted people in the industry to know about me and my ambitions. I sought out executives and entrepreneurs on LinkedIn and at events and had conversations with them. In some cases, I asked them to coach me on topics like strategy, sales and sourcing the right knowledge. Once people know you, when they come across an opportunity, they will call you instead of someone else.

Finally, as you navigate the professional world, don’t limit yourself because of your past choices. It’s okay to change your path. My coach taught me that all you can ever do is take small steps in the right direction. It takes a lot of time to do things right.