FEM-START Up Awards: Women who dare

FEM-START Up Awards: Women who dare

Written by Paola Hasbun

Watching women come together with a collective intention is a powerful experience. I went to the FS not knowing what to expect, and not knowing that I would leave feeling extremely inspired. The room was full of excited women entrepreneurs ready to make a difference and share their ideas; ready to pitch. How do you summarize your idea, added value, and years of hard work in 3 minutes?

 

Barbara Rogoski has the answer to this question. She can teach you how to show investors and the jury what they are looking for: a visionary, confident speaker who believes in her idea and clearly describes how it can improve the world. And that’s exactly what we saw next! 9 powerful female founders who dared to make a difference and create scalable, sustainable companies with positive social impact. They want to make things better for everyone: create plastic-free skincare, extend clothing’s lifecycle, and recycle and re-use human hair. Their focus is on creating more inclusive workplaces and societies, reducing burn-out rates by measuring performance differently, and supporting each other through a mentoring platform. These female entrepreneurs want to eradicate allergies in children, democratize digital innovation, and bring online dating offline to increase connection in a world that is losing its essence behind screens and computers. These are women who dare. They share a passion to make a difference, to not accept the status quo, a passion for making societies better.

 

As I sat there, waiting for Joachim Goyvaerts -Director of Paypal- to announce the winner, I realized they’ve all won. They stood up against the odds, they crossed the many barriers that women face when starting a business, and they made it happen. Getting funding is one of the most crucial parts of setting up a business, and unfortunately, women have way less access to funding than their male counterparts. When women become entrepreneurs, they make their families, their communities, and entire societies flourish. Why are we then not giving more funding to women-founded companies? Fortunately, Marian Spier and Sandra van der Pal created FEM-START to close the funding gap for female entrepreneurs and launched an educational module for women on how to raise funding.  Yes, because they also dared. They are making a difference.

 

The journey of entrepreneurship is not easy- that’s for sure. A 3-minute pitch does not reflect all the hard work behind the idea, or the effort put in setting up a start-up and getting your first customers -it certainly doesn’t. But one thing is for sure: you are not alone in the process. FEM-START is here to support you. There is a whole community of entrepreneurs and businesswomen who are willing to walk the journey with you, advise you, and support you to make it to the top. Because when women support each other and come together, the whole village flourishes. So what will you dare next?

FEM-START EDUCATION:  MANAGEMENT SKILLS

FEM-START EDUCATION: MANAGEMENT SKILLS

How do you manage a company?

Management skills can be defined as specific attributes or skills that executives must have to complete specific tasks in an organization. That includes performing business functions in the organization, avoiding crises, and resolving problems quickly when they occur. Management skills can be developed through learning and practical experience as a manager. These skills help managers establish contact with their colleagues and know how to treat subordinates properly, thus facilitating activities in the company.

Good management skills are essential for any company to be successful and achieve its goals. Management and leadership skills are often used interchangeably because they involve planning, decision-making, problem-solving, communication, delegation, and time management. Good managers are not always good leaders. In addition to leadership, the critical function is to ensure the cohesion of all parts of the organization. Without this integration, various problems can occur, and failures are likely to happen. From senior leaders to mid-level supervisors and first-level managers, management skills are essential for all positions and levels of the company.

 

FEM-START EDUCATION:  PITCHING

FEM-START EDUCATION: PITCHING

 How to attract investment for your company.

Learn to prepare a good pitch and present your business. The pitch or pitching is a term that comes from “sales pitch” or “sales speech.” It is a brief presentation of an idea for a project. Although it is characterized by its shortness (between 5-10 minutes), the objective is to show the full potential of the idea, what it is, and how an entrepreneur could develop their business successfully. For this reason, it is essential to have tangible information. A fundamental aspect of a good pitch is knowing how to keep the attention of investors and arouse their interest. In a few minutes, it should be as evocative as it is precise. How you present your pitch will depend on the type of project and the investors you show it to. It is essential to know that we are not only offering a business but also selling it. It’s important to keep in mind that we may not be able to sell what we have in hand. Still, if your business left a mark in the presentation, it may be that in the future, possibilities of collaboration with other companies will arise out of that pitch presentation.

 

Mentor spotlight: Astrid van Leeuwen

Mentor spotlight: Astrid van Leeuwen

I am Astrid van Leeuwen – the owner of TekstAppeal, an agency for journalism, editing, and communication, and owner of coaching practice MovingMinds Coaching Amsterdam. Unraveling people’s dilemmas, drives, and (hidden) passions with warmth and commitment is second nature to me. After a challenging start of my career as a press officer at Het Nationale Ballet (Dutch National Ballet), I have developed into a versatile freelance journalist and communications consultant. Besides, after extensive training in this field, I started my coaching practice. I focus, among other things, on career guidance, guarding your limits, high sensitivity, and effective communication.

What is your story, and what led you to join the entrepreneurial world?

Autonomy is a high priority for me. I thoroughly enjoy the freedom and flexibility I have as an entrepreneur. I come from a family of entrepreneurs – father, brothers – and already knew at an early age that I wanted to be my own ‘boss.’

What have you learned in your entrepreneurial career?

It is a continuous learning process in which you keep growing and keep responding to changes and new developments. The most important lesson for me was: always follow my intuition.

What is one thing you still really want to do in your entrepreneurial career?

I want to inspire young people to be the best they can be and, above all, to believe in themselves.

Looking back, what is one thing you would do differently?

I would have paid more attention to my pension accrual. As a young entrepreneur, I was – foolishly – not concerned with that.

What is the reason you joined FEMpreneurhulp?

I have had many ‘mentors,’ people who believed in me and who helped me take a step forward in my career. I am now at a point in my life where I can and want to take on that role myself.

What are common challenges women face in the startup world, and how can we tackle them, according to you?

What you need is the focus, passion, capital, and belief in yourself. What you run into are prejudice, indifference, and gender inequality. How you can break through all of that is different for each situation.

What would you advise women to start their journeys in the entrepreneurial space?

As I said before, above all, follow your intuition and believe in yourself.

The Realisation Journey – Q&A FEMpreneurhulp

The Realisation Journey – Q&A FEMpreneurhulp

Laura Heerema, Founder of GiantLeaps and Frances Singleton -Clift, Legal Tech Innovator & mentor at FEMpreneurhulp’s perspective about this article on Medium

Q: Tell us a bit of how you got into Tech, your personal trajectory?

LH: For me, working in Tech was a means to an end. I saw a problem – lack of information and awareness about the climate impact of food – and looked for ways (business models) to solve this. The solution and business model that suited me best was a ‘tech’ one. This could partly be a coincidence as many of the other options were not techy at all, but in part, I think it was also because of the potential of scaling impact and the excitement of trying something in a new area.

FSC:  I actually went into law first – via the most traditional vanilla route. I studied law at Oxford, spent all three weeks on a vac scheme at a law firm, and decided RESOLUTELY that I was not too fond of law. Thankfully I paid for my own education, so I didn’t have to justify all that wasted cost to my parents, or this would be another story… I only got into technology when I moved to the Netherlands and began working on the Rechtwijzer project at HiiL. The project was one of the first to digitize a civil procedure fully (in this case, divorce) to reduce cost, conflict and produce better outcomes for all parties involved, including the children. The project itself was successful, but the funding/finance structure wasn’t, so ultimately, the project fell by the wayside. However, it sparked my interest in technology and how we can use it to improve legal outcomes and access justice for people globally. It even pushed me (an AVOWED social sciences girl) to learn how to code in Python. So clearly, I’ve assimilated fully into the tech world. I now divide my time between super nerdy data/finance modeling in specialist insurance, legal tech, justice innovation and legal tech consultancy, and marketing for AM Law 200 and Global top 200 legal tech products.

Q: As a woman in Tech, do you think Silicon Valley is overrated and/or should be abolished? (Please motivate) 

LH: I think there are tech hubs all over the world, and Silicon Valley is one of them. Just like for some other industries, you will always have clusters. Does this mean the clusters are holy? No.

FSC: I want to confess. I did start reading this article with my hackles up. I thought it was trying to lump all technology into this wasteful box, making the rich richer. Ultimately, technology is a tool. I have been lucky to see some incredible innovations around technology and justice. I have been particularly impressed with how huge their impact can be in countries where the justice gap is considerably wider than it is here in Europe. Seeing the difference that projects like M-Haki (a text message-based legal service for those in townships in Kenya) or SEMA (citizen feedback guided service delivery improvements in Uganda) can make is clear evidence that technology has the power to drive positive change. However, the longer I read the article, the more it picks apart the distinction between tech the tool and tech the nebulous beast that Silicon Valley has come to represent. To a certain extent, I believe the negative influence that Silicon Valley exerts is tied to another problem pervading the modern world. Large tech companies have become so dominant within their markets that they are no longer beholden to anyone but shareholders. Their businesses exist too, as the article states, make money. Their products may improve users’ things, but they are designed to extract cash for services whether or not those services are harmful to their users. Worse yet, the lack of fair market competition means they suffer relatively few consequences when their products are unequivocally shown to cause harm. We’re looking at you on social media. Products and services have grown faster than the controls designed to keep more vulnerable users safe. This is no new phenomenon – gun control laws arrived after the weapon. Not before. However, Silicon Valley is pushing us to ignore the need for regulation because they are a private company providing a private service. Anyone in the world accesses that service. Is this really a fair argument? Without a doubt, this bizarre push for self determinacy by large silicon valley tech, and at the same time stating that their status as private entities means they should originally have little governmental regulation, is absurd. You can’t be both—a market setter and also just a small private business. I have gone off on a huge tangent. Let me return to the original statement. Yes. I think Silicon Valley should be abolished. But not technology. The difference is this. Any market where competition is all but removed (by corporate buyouts or other price-fixing strategies that continue unchecked) is an undesirable place for society and employees. Tech is designed to be agile, to solve problems, and automate unnecessary work. However, in larger institutions, we lose much of the innovation-based work; we slim down products and services to appeal to the lowest common denominator (rather than working for the whole range of needs and abilities in the world), save on cost, and make more profit. In turn, as the author states, this creates a working environment that will not appeal to anyone trying to improve the world. Worse yet, it produces behemoths who profit without a sniff of consequences when their products are used for violence, intimidation, racism, or any other number of awful things. Silicon Valley is an exercise in unchecked power. For that reason, it cannot hope to look after its users.

Q: Should women be convinced from a young age that they belong in Tech?

LH: Women should be convinced that they belong anywhere where they want to be from a young age. Whether in tech, arts, science, at home, HR, schools, or board rooms.

FSC: I think the wording of this is wrong. For me, Technology is not in and of itself anything. It is a tool. It has produced a whole industry around itself, but fundamentally if we see it more as a tool (and teach it as such), we can reduce many barriers to entry that currently exist. To make a comparison – it would be like asking whether we should convince women that they should write. Writing is a way of achieving things. It is essential. It is a tool that everyone should have in their work belt. Tech is the same. One of the most eye-opening things for me about entering tech is how many ways I can use it to improve my work, even when I’m not working on a tech product. I create bots to remind people about Slack channels when I need them to share data/photos or something else. I automate my invoices with tools like zapier – so it automatically sends out an email for every invoice I produce, with the correct details inside. We should be teaching everyone – all children – that technology is a way of automating or innovating how you do things. We should give them the tools they need to understand how to build a process, a virtual machine, or code front end or back end things for a website. Then they can use that tool as and where necessary. Suppose they want to use that technology to increase access to justice – great. Suppose they want to use it in STEM fields as a physicist to make data models – awesome. To sum up – Tech is so ubiquitous in our society that I think we have to stop teaching it as if it is a separate subject. It should be part of basic literacy. You learn reading, writing, math, and tech. This gives you the tools you need to express yourself; to work; to build; to do whatever you want in the modern world. And HELL YEAH, women should be a part of that.

There is a cultural world paradigm shift with replacing old systematic gender biases and morals with inclusivity and diversity. Thus also replacing our existing economic system with one that values human life over profit. 

Q: As a woman in Tech, how do you think we can collectively advocate this? Besides the general knowledge of: voting in representatives, nominating women in Board Members/Executive positions, etc. 

FSC: I’m actually working on a project with the Humanity of Things to do just that. We want to start by changing our accepted definition of literacy to include understanding and using technology. If we change this, then you create a level playing field. Everyone understands that technology is a tool – how it works (and its positives and negatives) and the building blocks of that tool. You teach all children a new curriculum, which includes technology as an essential subject. This should be different from our current teaching of tech. You don’t teach programs – how to use Word or Excel. Instead, you teach how tech works. What is the code? What are the different types? How do databases work? You give kids the tools they need to make their own tech. You teach them to understand how computer intelligence works and that tech exists mostly as automation. Then lets kids experiment. Let them make a program. Or design something. Or even just host a zoom party with fun backgrounds. But get them to test the tool’s limitations and, where possible, to build those things themselves.

Meet Sandra van der Pal, co-founder of FEM-START’s latest initiative FEMpreneurhulp, an online platform and mentoring program empowering female entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 pandemic 

Meet Sandra van der Pal, co-founder of FEM-START’s latest initiative FEMpreneurhulp, an online platform and mentoring program empowering female entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 pandemic 

By Azaina Shaikh and Paola Hasbun

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about an array of challenges for businesses worldwide, disproportionately affecting women-led businesses. From working remotely to losing revenue, running a business during a pandemic has not been easy for women. To support them, FEM-START launched its latest initiative, FEMpreneurhulp, an online platform offering mentoring and community network to female entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. We spoke with Sandra van de Pal, the co-founder of FEMpreneurhulp to discuss how this platform is helping women weather the unpredictable obstacles of COVID-19.

You went to Utrecht University and studied Public Policy and Administration. Between graduating and co-founding FEMpreneurhulp, you have been working in the entrepreneurial scene. Did you always picture yourself doing this?

No, I did not! As a child, I do not recall thinking: this is what I want to do. However, I was always driven by the idea of making the world a better place, and I often found myself organizing events for my friends and family, constantly trying to bring people together, connecting and helping them.

After high school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a school in Ghana for three months. During my time there, I wondered: how much do these type of initiatives actually help? The school had teachers, but sometimes they did not feel like teaching and let the volunteers teach instead. I came to the understanding that some development projects are quite futile as they do not really focus on what people need, and the impact of the initiative is often not measured.

After this experience, I decided to study Public Administration and Organizational Science because I was distinctly interested in making policies that actually help people and achieve the impact desired. I focused on International Development and realized that I wanted to combine a business way of working with reaching development goals. That is why I leaned toward the start-up world. I really like the energy, and the lean start-up methodology of ‘build, measure and learn’ is my motto.

The city of Amsterdam conducted a survey in April 2020, which focused on the impact of COVID-19 on female entrepreneurship and women in tech. According to the survey, women face challenges while juggling both professional and personal demands. In your experience, what are the challenges female entrepreneurs face during the pandemic?

Maybe women in general do more things next to their work, often women have more household commitments like taking care of their parents or their children. But also, in general, men have more access to money and funding than women, which is also part of the bias. Men reach higher positions in big companies than women, they earn more, and almost all Dutch VCs are white males. Another problem is a lack of representation of women in start-ups; there are not a lot of female role model figures, for example. Now with the pandemic, many businesses are struggling to move their business online; to keep up the sales, and to manage teams working from home. I think it is really important to build a strong community of women to support each other.

Along with Marian Spier, you co-founded FEMpreneurhulp, an initiative by women for women providing support during this pandemic. How did the idea of FEMpreneurhulp come to you?

Initially, we worked together on FEM-START NL which is going to be a physical hub, where women-led startups can grow in the accelerator. However, due to COVID-19, the physical hub cannot happen yet.

When we were hit with the pandemic, Marian and I started to discuss the ways we could offer help to female entrepreneurs who were reaching out to Marian asking for advice regarding their business. Likewise, in my close circle, I saw my friends and family were struggling with their businesses. A majority of businesses have a hard time moving their business online; and the new circumstances can be very tough also mentally. FEMpreneurhulp was born from the very need to offer help by matching entrepreneurs in need with our network of successful women and experienced mentors.

We know that  FEMpreneurhulp is providing a mentoring service and a community in the form of a network. Could you comment on this?

In our mentoring service, female entrepreneurs can sign up online and get three free mentoring sessions to deal with certain business and mental related difficulties they might be facing due to COVID-19. Next to that, we want to build a community. We ask the entrepreneurs to share their story and their experience with other women. We want women to know that they are not alone and that they have a community to lean on. Moreover, in September 2020 we will host an in-person FEMpreneurhulp event. Of course, in accordance with the COVID-19 measures.

What are your plans for FEMpreneurhulp after COVID-19?

The plan is to continue to help women entrepreneurs who could benefit from this program. FEMpreneurhulp is focused on all female entrepreneurs, including those who have already built their businesses. We are also working hard to build FEM-START NL which is more focused on start-ups. The target groups are different. We intend on keeping the two next to each other as we want women to continue to benefit from the mentoring and to belong to a larger community of entrepreneurs.

Thank you very much for talking about FEMpreneurhulp!