By Azaina Shaikh and Paola Hasbun
As part of our interview series showcasing and celebrating women leading the forefronts of FEM-START, we had the pleasure of interviewing Živilė Meškauskaitė, co-founder of FEM-START Lithuania.
Živilė is dedicated to generating social and collaboration projects. She has worked with Rockstart (EU’s first start-up accelerator) and TEDxAmsterdamWomen. Her passion to connect people led her to co-found Common Threads, an initiative about slow-fashion and teaching skills to improve the longevity of clothes and she founded a book club for Lithuanians in The Netherlands called Amsterdamo knygų klubas.
It is always nice to hear directly from people about themselves. Would you please share some of the things that you have done and are proud of?
I am very proud of all the things I have done; the common thread of what I have been doing, consciously or subconsciously, has been bringing like-minded people together, enabling them to share and connect with each other. Building upon each other’s knowledge, and collaborating has been my motivation across all the projects I have worked on. That is why I have done event management; I view it as a strong knowledge exchange, which is valuable to me.
I am very proud of TEDxAmsterdamWomen, the event itself, and the team! In team meetings, we were about 30-40 women in one room working together. In particular, I am pleased of the dynamic we created; we found ways to support each other and found ways to work together.
Moreover, I am very proud of my book club for Lithuanians living in The Netherlands. Being of one culture and expatriate, I see great value in bringing us together. We talk about books, of course – it is the one thing that binds us – but it also gives us the chance to talk about our personal lives, support each other, and to network. In the same way, I see a lot of potential in FEM-START, as it has a similar community aspect. It will empower female entrepreneurs, and provide them with a global network. Additionally, it will enable them to get to know people with the same energy, which I find very important.
What challenges did you face while being the Operational Director of TEDxAmsterdamWomen?
The biggest personal challenge that I had to overcome was trusting that I could do it. For me the challenge was seeing the reality that I can, that I am able. This is something a lot of people, especially women, can relate to. We tend to downplay how skillful we are and how we can face challenges. That was the biggest lesson. I learned I could recover from setbacks and learn from them. It made me understand that I can really do it.
You have a background in film and television production. Throughout your career, you have undertaken several successful projects as an event/project manager. How do you see your educational background influencing your current role as an event manager?
Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree in Film and Television production. Organizing teams and groups has been at the crux of what I did in my bachelor’s degree and what I do now. I like to focus on working together and doing something meaningful. While I studying film and television production, I was always in a role of helping the team move forward. It’s just that, eventually, I wanted more ‘people connection’ in addition to making digital products, so events seemed like a great next step. So to me, whatever is the project, online or offline, an event, a movie, an initiative or anything else, the skills I bring are very similar across the board.
And how would you describe your leadership style?
Leadership is something I am getting to know in myself. It’s only recently that I started to think of myself as a leader, and it even feels strange to say it now, so I have a long road ahead of me before I can describe my style. What I strongly believe in is a clear vision, authenticity and curiosity. That is what I am holding onto as I dive into the experience of leadership.
Who has inspired you to be where you are?
I am finding this quite difficult to answer because I find many pieces of inspiration everywhere, it’s not single-focused. Let’s see, what inspired me to be where I am and continues to inspire me today: my own vision of my future self; my family, boyfriend and close friends who support me and help me; my community of peers who are going through similar journeys; powerful authentic public figures (recently Anna Wintour and RuPaul); my multiple mentors, and especially Marian Spier, who has taught me a lot about making things happen for myself. I believe that one becomes what one surrounds themselves with, and all these people for me have been an inspiration and reminder to just go for it.
Let’s change our focus to Lithuania, the country’s female entrepreneurial ecosystem, and start-up landscape. How would you describe it?
Generally, the start-up ecosystem in Lithuania has been rapidly and quite intentionally growing. There is a good deal of government support and resources for people looking to start their business. Lithuania is doing very well compared to the other Baltic States, and it is rated globally as the top 20 countries to do business in. The environment is very suitable for businesses.
There are many female entrepreneurs who have great ideas and who are eager to learn. With FEM-START, I am hoping to dive into the entrepreneurial world and see what they really need. There are many initiatives supporting female entrepreneurs in Lithuania, but I think FEM-START will bring a global invitation and network that might not be present at the moment.
It seems the Lithuanian government is playing a role in creating a favorable environment for new businesses and start-ups. Could you give an example?
One such initiative is an extensive website called “startuplithuania.com”. It is a one-stop-shop for start-ups. It facilitates a national start-up ecosystem, and attracts foreign people to come and start their business.
Globally, female entrepreneurs have difficulty in accessing capital and visibility. What challenges do female entrepreneurs face in Lithuania?
From my observations, in addition to the challenges you mention, entrepreneurs who are mothers find it challenging to balance running a business and being a mother. Another aspect that resonates with women, not just in Lithuania, is how to be mentally and physically healthy and not burnout while running a business.
What sectors or industries are most attractive to women seeking to start a business in Lithuania?
Like anywhere, the tech industry is growing. There is a program called Women Go Tech, which is a mentorship program for women seeking a career in the technology sector. Marketing and media are also, popular; I would say there is diversity in the different sectors.
What are your plans for FEM-START Lithuania in 2020?
A lot of it depends on COVID-19 and how it will play out. The plan for me is to go on this journey, whether it is online or in Lithuania, meet these women and find out what they need, and what they struggle with. My vision for FEM-START in 2020 is to have a better in-depth understanding of the start-up ecosystem and the needs of the female entrepreneurs to give them access to the mentorship and global community that FEM-START can provide!
Thank you very much for joining us today!
Photo: Maurice Mikkers