By Azaina Shaikh and Paola Hasbun
As part of our series about the awe-inspiring women leading the forefront of FEM-START, we had the pleasure of interviewing Leticia Browne. We discussed investment, Ghana’s growing economy, and the inauguration of FEM-START Africa.
Leticia Browne leads Intelligent Capital, an entrepreneurship development organization that helps foster business opportunities for early-stage entrepreneurs through a multifaceted approach. Throughout her career, Leticia has focused on investment, entrepreneurship, and business management and development. She is the CEO of the Advisory Group on SDGs to the President of Ghana.
How did you become interested in entrepreneurship?
I ran into entrepreneurship when my daughter was very young and I wanted to spend more time at home with her it was then that I realized the opportunity that entrepreneurship can provide you with. The ability to change your economic circumstances and to support your immediate family and your community; I see it as a tool. It can also help with the realization of one’s goals and desires as it sends you on a journey of self-discovery. Through my entrepreneurship support organization, I like to think that I am assisting in the transformation of people’s lives and their development to their full potential.
Did you have a role model when you started off in the world of entrepreneurship, someone that you looked up to for inspiration?
Unfortunately no, I did not. I think that the concept of mentorship was never really introduced to me at a young age, and that is something I try to incorporate in what I do. Having a role model or mentor provides you with the benefit of experience and wisdom. It can really help you to shape your ideas and provide clarity. I always wanted to do something that was beyond what I saw around me, but I did not have any idea how to get there. I believe that, if I had had a mentor much earlier on in life, I could have gotten some insight on how to progress towards my goals, who knows maybe I would have traveled a different road. Not to say that I have regrets, but I definitely feel that mentorship helps you to accelerate and helps you to focus, so I have probably taken a longer journey to get where I am.
Do you provide mentorship opportunities for entrepreneurs at Intelligent Capital?
Yes, but it is organic; it is not a service offering. It is something that inadvertently happens when you are interacting with entrepreneurs and as a result of bringing people into your team who you feel you connect with, and to whom you have some value to add.
Talking about interactions, we understand that as the Director of Intelligent Capital, you help to facilitate the interaction between entrepreneurs and investors. How do you build trust and credibility between these two groups?
I believe in being authentic in everything that you do. Authenticity always helps to build trust. And that means that if I do not believe in something, I never try to sell it. I never try to pitch something because I think it is trendy. I pitch ideas and work with people that I genuinely believe in. And it’s the same for both sides: the entrepreneur and the investor. I work with people who I feel align with my own values and with whom I have some kind of synergy in terms of what we are trying to achieve. That naturally allows connections to be developed. And over time, people get to see that there is some kind of consistency in the way that you approach things, so they know what to expect from you.
And what are the values that are important to you?
I believe in transparency, collaboration, and doing things for the greater good. These values are at the center of the way that we interact with our business partners, my staff, and even in my personal life. I think these three things guide me.
Let us shift our focus to Ghana’s landscape in terms of entrepreneurial ecosystems and start-ups. Ghana was having one of the fastest-growing economies in the world prior to COVID-19. What markets or sectors are rapidly growing?
As in most of Africa, we are definitely seeing a lot of activity in Fintech. There is also a focus on climate resilience; entrepreneurs are developing green solutions. But I think these trends are not necessarily specifically related to Ghana, they are a reflection of where money is flowing to. As there is a demand for Fintech solutions and investors have capital to deploy in this sector, many entrepreneurs are trying to get into this space. We are definitely seeing the ripple effects of what is happening across the continent.
Which markets are investors interested in?
A lot of investors, especially angel investors, are quite interested in tech because the investment lifecycle has been clearly articulated. It really comes down to exit opportunities, the exit strategy for technology companies is clearer, as opposed to more traditional businesses.
Are female entrepreneurs in Ghana also interested in technology, or do you see women starting businesses in other fields?
I see women gravitating towards what they feel comfortable with and what they are passionate about, which is typically fashion, beauty, food, and events. There have been quite a few programs to support women into tech, but I think this is a global push and a global issue. I do not think Ghana is any different to anywhere else.
What challenges do women face when they start a business? Do they face any more challenges compared to their male counterparts?
In Ghana around 48% of the entrepreneurs are women. Ghana is quite a progressive country in terms of gender. Our president is actually the gender champion for the African Union. I would say that access to finance is can be difficult for women, securing a loan from the bank, for instance, as the collateral is often in the name of their husbands. But once again I think that this is a global issue not a specific Ghanaian challenge.
Usually, the investors are men, which plays a part in this challenge. What do you think we could do to counteract this?
I am a realist in the sense that, I think for years to come we are still going to see far more men in the investment space than we see women. Although we are trying to accelerate this process, I think that real systematic change takes time. I believe that positive discrimination can only take us so far. In the meanwhile I think we need to focus on how we ensure that more capital is given to women? It is by educating men. We have to include them in what we are doing, gender lens financing and specific initiatives. Goldman Sachs recently announced their objectives regarding diversity on the boards of companies that they invest in. I think that is a step in the right direction. Let us make more inclusive investment decisions.
You co-founded FEM-START Africa in Ghana a couple of months before the onset of COVID-19. Could you share with us your experience? What are your plans for FEM-START Africa in the coming years?
The objective of introducing FEM-START to Ghana is to provide female entrepreneurs with information, services, and a program that is designed specifically for them; we want to provide this program in a way that women are ready to receive it. Thus, we are trying to provide a cultural context that does not exclude women from participating in order to get the help they need to develop themselves as entrepreneurs. We want to be able to provide programs that meet women where they are and that gives them the flexibility to engage without taking away from their other commitments. If these programs are not well thought out, you lose participants, and the idea is to bridge the gap in opportunities.
Thank you for joining us and sharing your inspiring view on entrepreneurship!
By Azaina Shaikh and Paola Hasbun
A visionary leader, Marian has worked with a diverse clientele across the world, coaching, consulting and advising them on a myriad of topics, involving tech, communication, diversity, and inclusion. She is a leading social entrepreneur in the Netherlands, a recipient of Inspiring Fifty for three years (2013, 2017 and 2019), and winner of the EU Business Angel award for her work with TEDxAmsterdamWomen Start-Up Awards.
As COVID-19 swept the globe and confined us to the safety of our homes, the writers at FEM-START spoke with the founder of FEM-START, Marian Spier, via a conference call. We talked about some of the ramifications of the pandemic on female business owners and the efforts of FEM-START in remedying them, the reality and myths of entrepreneurship, and the importance of mental well-being.
Could you briefly share with us your journey into the social entrepreneurship space?
I worked in education at the University of Applied Sciences Amsterdam and started to discover more about social impact and how by doing good you can create a better world. It also happened because of TED Talks. I started listening to them, went to the conferences and also organized TEDxAmsterdamWomen. That is how it started. This led me to make social entrepreneurship a primary focus while starting off my business.
In the beginning, I struggled and thought: what am I doing? Social entrepreneurship was not as popular when I first started. Talking to people helped me gain a better understanding of exactly what it meant to be a social entrepreneur, and through many interviews, I discovered my voice. This gave me focus. Focus helped a lot – focusing on not doing everything, but on doing what I was good at. Also, finding a team of people who were better in other areas compared to me played an important role in my journey.
How did you become the leader you are today?
Reading a lot and listening a lot. You learn from other people. Listen to people who know more than you in a certain field. And write everything down and read back! Lastly, I would say build a strong relationship with people and your clients; do not be entirely focused on what you can attain from the person. You reap what you sow. I am reaping a lot because I sowed a lot.
The spectrum of social entrepreneurship is vast, ranging from technology to sustainability. What areas have you been interested in?
My main focus is on inclusion for women and youth with a focus on entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, you must always look for places to add value. I found that I could add value to the female entrepreneurship ecosystem.
What challenges do female entrepreneurs face?
Women usually start a business because they identify a need or a lack of something. The problem they inadvertently run into is in scaling up their businesses. Hence, they stay as small-medium enterprises and people view female entrepreneurship at a micro-financing level. I believe that investing in women-led businesses and helping to scale up will bring about more of a change! I once heard that women “have rights, but do not have the same opportunities.” Indeed, this is a global phenomenon, even in The Netherlands. The inherent bias against women and the lack of confidence in presenting their company are a few challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and they stem from the lack of accessibility to relevant knowledge.
How do you overcome these obstacles?
An entrepreneur must be prepared for whatever may happen to them and their business including a global health crisis. It is important to build a network of mentors, sponsors, and, very importantly, a tribe: people you can talk to about your problems and people who willcontinuously challenge you. Another important ingredient is your mental health. It is imperative because you need the positivity and mental stamina to push forward and come up with creative solutions to solve the problems you may be facing.
The implications of the current pandemic on all facets of society are innumerable; its effects on the female entrepreneurship ecosystem can be anticipated. How is FEM-START going to help mitigate these effects?
In these times of crisis, we will be focusing on women entrepreneurs as they will be amongst the largest group to be affected in business. When things begin to settle down, nobody will have the time to think about the minorities; one of those groups is also women of color.
FEM-START is building a platform both online and offline for female entrepreneurs who are going through the crisis. At the moment we are creating online chapters in Africa and Europe. Traditionally, we are based on events and face-to-face coaching. Now, we are making our services available online. Femprenerhelp.nl, soon to be launched, is going to serve as a coaching platform to help female entrepreneurs navigate through all the necessary information and really cater to their needs. We intend on making information and help accessible to female entrepreneurs in need. People have leaned towards the Internet to help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that we all experience these days. Social media has been an outlet of self-expression for creatives and a platform for growing entrepreneurs.
What role do you think social media plays in business?
Social media plays a huge role. You can make an Instagram account and start a business for free. You can gain global interaction very fast. People of color entrepreneurs have been using social media to start and expand their business. One such example is Huda Kattan,who founded her cosmetics line, Huda Beauty.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to social media, as well. It romanticizes the culture of a start-up. It creates a false image of success and people think it is instant. You may see someone on Instagram one day and the next day they may be successful. However, it does not show you that it takes years of hard work and going through some tough times to be a successful entrepreneur. It also depends on your mindset.
What practices do you engage in to keep up a positive attitude and a strong mindset?
I meditate and I pray. I take my time in the morning to be thankful and happy that I am alive. Mental health and well-being is a huge part of self-care for me. Your surroundings need to be good, or else you cannot function. As I always say, you need to relax. Take this time to relax and think. Go for a walk, listen to relaxing music and do breathing exercises.
If you are stressed, you cannot solve the problem. Now is the time to be creative!
Photographer Jurre Rompa
Interview with Priscilla Amaabea Adams, founder of N&A Organics
What is N&A Organics about?
N&A Organics is a skincare brand which seeks not only to bring you natural products targeted at treating specific skin issues, but to inspire women to embrace their true self, be intentional about taking care of their skin, and be confident in whatever shade they come in.
How did you come up with the idea of N&A Organics and become an entrepreneur?
Most of my friends had skin blemishes and looked for products that will help them treat it but ended up making it worse, and the rate of skin lightening in Ghana was becoming alarming. After doing a market research, we realised that about 99% of cosmetic products used in Ghana was imported, and most of it contained harmful cosmetic ingredients. I realised that issues concerning the skin can affect the way people see themselves, and in finding a solution to this, I became an entrepreneur.
Which challenges did you face to start with N&A Organics?
We didn’t have enough funds to do paper works like registering the business, getting the necessary license and equipment needed to make the products. We also needed some form of formal education in natural skincare products formulation and how to generally run a business or start up.
How did you overcome those difficulties?
I took a course in natural skincare product formulation, and I applied for an incubator and accelerator programme in Ghana. I qualified and received some funds to start my business as well as trainings on business development and how to run a start-up.
As an entrepreneur, what motivates you and drives you?
My motivation usually comes from the excitement that customers express when our products give them the results they desire, and by the fact that we provide income to the women in the Northern Region of Ghana who provide us with the raw materials and ingredients needed for our products. Currently we are working on our #loveyourmelanin campaign and our first #letyourskinsmileletachildsmile campaign, where a percentage of sales is given to support the children of the women we source our ingredients from.
What would you advise to other women entrepreneurs who are starting to develop their ideas in Ghana and Africa?
I would say to other women entrepreneurs that every idea or dream they have is valid. With and unshrinking conviction and a dogged determination, they should keep pushing. They should not cower or forsake their dreams even when naysayers and skeptics ridicule and doubt them. Instead, they should remind themselves of why they set out on that journey and go for gold.
How was the experience of participating in the FEM-START awards?
I had an amazing experience at FEM-START awards. Seeing women who were just like me share their struggles, how they pulled through, and how they balance work life with other things made me know I can do anything if I put my mind to it. I want to thank FEM-START for the wonderful opportunity and for proving to me that the ideas I’ve had all these years were feasible. I was shocked and excited I won, and I can’t wait to experience and go through all the plans and trainings FEM-START has for me!