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A conversation with Saskia van den Ende, senior director at Antler!

Hi Saskia. FEM- START is happy to be speaking with you today. Tell us, what has inspired you to work for Antler and why the world of venture capital?

Working in the world of Venture Capital gives me the opportunity to sit at the forefront of innovation. I am surrounded by founders on a daily-basis who work with cutting-edge technology, such as generative AI or semi-conductors. At Antler, we work with the founders that build the defining companies of tomorrow, which is very humbling and inspiring to me. We operate at such an early stage of the company’s journey, hence we get to focus on the team more so than the idea. You look at who are the founders, their motivations, their skillset, the composition of the founding team ect.. I studied psychology and team dynamics have always been fascinating to me. And Antler operates at a global scale, which is cool because we get insights into various startup ecosystems across the globe! And we have the unique advantage to be able to back founders throughout their lifecycle. All the way from day zero to series C!

Why is it important for you to invest in female entrepreneurs and their ventures?      

Despite women representing 50% of the world’s population, most companies are still run by men. Only 3% of venture capital funding goes to women or all female teams and I have not seen the statistics improving in the last few years; if anything it is getting worse. We need to actively work to craft role models, shine light on their achievements and companies, as well as educate investors! At Antler we are at the top of the funnel when it comes to investing in and creating new dealflow, so it is my personal mission to make this ecosystem a more diverse one. It is an issue we need to solve progressively.

What made you want to partner with FEM-START for the FEM-START Up Awards? How successful do you think this can be in setting a positive path towards increased female-venture funding?

FEM-START aims to close the funding gap and address this issue behind the lack of diversity. Besides an inspirational mission, FEM-START has an impressive board and team working behind the scenes. The combination of providing a network, community and education as they do is essential and fundamental for the next steps.  Collaborating with partners to bring the awards to life and have a ticket size of 100,000 euros worth of investment is a positive step forward. In terms of success and increasing female-venture funding, we all need to commit to that step and it starts with raising awareness. By highlighting role models, giving women a platform, and encouraging them to step out of their comfort zone, FEM-START is opening the path for this initiative. Marian Spier (CEO of FEM-START) and Simone van Bijsterveldt (CFO of FEM-START) have a great track record, a large reach and they have a strong voice that people want to hear. Whilst we have a long way to go, FEM-START is definitely a good initiative to help pave the path.

What are some of the most essential aspects and strengths you look for in an entrepreneur?  

In Antler, we look at five traits and aspects. Firstly entrepreneurs need intrinsic motivation and drive to make it through this journey and succeed. They need a strong degree of grit, as they will get many ‘no’s from customers, partners, and investors alike. Many successful companies have had hard beginnings. Third, they need excellent communication skills, and the ability to voice their ideas and inspire others. It  is important for co-founders, team members, customers and investors to be convinced. Entrepreneurs need to be able to communicate clearly what they are building, e,.g. what the problem is, and how they want to solve it. Intellectual capacity is also important, as a founder you wear many different hats. At the beginning, you learn from doing any task, you need to be able to pivot fast and don’t look back. Entrepreneurs also need to know how to creatively solve problems, issues tend to come up unexpectedly. Fifth and last, execution skills and speed  are crucial components we look at at Antler. The timing to execute and deliver results needs to be fast-paced.

I know Antler looks for ventures that include multiple founders. What do you think makes a good team?

The power of a strong founding team lies primarily in the complementarity and diversity of skill sets. I think finding someone different from you in terms of both hard and soft skills is fundamental. For example, if you are someone who looks at the big picture, you need a co-founder or team member who is detail-oriented. Or pairing an extrovert with an introvert in a team can work well. There is also the element of equal involvement, it is important that co-founders are equally invested, with equal shares and equal voices, so you can also challenge each other. Co-founders need to listen and work well together. In a strong team, you have a high degree of trust and alignment where vision and mission is symbiotic. Entrepreneurs generally find that they move faster as a good team.  

What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs, particularly those who do not believe they can do it?

First, you need to believe in yourself. You need to be able to persevere. You will fail a couple of times so don’t give up. Grit and perseverance makes or breaks a business. I think female entrepreneurs need to be proactive; money and customers won’t come to you just like that. You need to be vocal about your aspirations. Women are too reserved compared to their male counterparts; there is nothing wrong with dreaming big and wanting to change the world. Use your network and your community’s network! The more you speak to others, the better.

What are you looking forward to in the New Year? Any exciting projects you are working on?      

In the next year in June, there will be developments within Antler Netherlands where we will integrate with Antler Germany. We are excited to have a more central European Antler setup. We will integrate with Berlin and Munich. We are also going to kick-off our second round of fundraising to raise more capital and hopefully back many more great founders in the near future!



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