– by S.Cannegieter
Karmijn Kapitaal is an investment fund founded in 2010 by three women, whose admiration and perseverance in entrepreneurship lead them to invest in gender-neutral Dutch SMEs.
Building and growing companies are Désirée’s forte, and this is a peek into getting to know ⅓ of the growing forces behind Karmijn Kapitaal.
What was your journey leading up to being the founder of Karmijn Kapitaal?
After +15 years of private equity and entrepreneurship experience, I thought it was time for a new leaf. I started my career at ABN AMRO, worked independently, became an entrepreneur, and then sold my (interior design) company successfully in 2007, and now I am ⅓ of Karmijn Kapitaal since 2010. I met Cillian and Hadewych during our tenure in banking. I joined forces to do it differently, not the status quo differently but differently in all aspects of the business. From leadership skills, people, perspective, priorities to diversity, in who we are, personality, and what we bring to the table differently. We all have a shared goal and vision. We believed we could, so we did, and with the help of a mentor together., I am a true believer in having a mentor in your life. I admire FEMpreneurhulp, the initiative of FEM-START, and the reason we partnered with the mentoring program. I believe in having different mentors in your life. You evolve in thinking and hearing different perspectives and experiences as the phrase goes in Dutch Durf te vragen!
What is Karmijn Kapitaal’s core value for SMEs’ investment? Our industry is a very high risk, short term, high returns, value ganache, money-driven with sparingly gender diversity, and equality in the industry. Our two-way goals are to make the world more gender diverse and a sustainable one and make an excellent return for our investors at the same time. We want to invest private equity as it should be. We want to change and balance and bring about actual gender diversity change versus just saying it and leading by example. Investors trust us with millions of their funds to make a ROI for them, and we, in turn, critically look at SMEs that we can invest capital in to make them scale-up and grow faster but sustainable.
We make a difference in the way we invest capital. We look at the company’s person, the sustainability of their service and product, and how that will mitigate and aid sustainability and gender balance in the future and the world.
How did you hear about FEM-START and FEMpreneurhulp? What was your first thought and impression? I saw a post from Marian on LinkedIn and sent her a message. Dare to ask, back to my motto. We at Karmijn Kapitaal believe in diversity. We believe our investors, who trust us with their money, do not want us to be activists. They want us to make sage investments for returns on investments. However, as women founders and entrepreneurs ourselves, we have a keen interest in making it easier for female entrepreneurs to get funding/investment for their (start-up/scale-up) company. Because we strongly believe in helping each other elevate professionally, and we women need help. Hence, with that notion, every potential investment in a female-founded company, we want to actively act as a catalyst if we can and are keen to help as it’s always in the back of our minds, albeit we are a gender-neutral firm. We are creating a more positive narrative versus the negative in the world. Therefore, these two initiatives’ existence and cause spoke to us in all these aspects.
Do you believe there is the slow progress of women in private equity? YES, it is moving forward, quiet, and steady. Like in every industry, we have to keep moving forward and not go two steps back. But always be one step forward and not stagnate.
What are the challenges you see women entrepreneurs encounter more compared to men?
The biggest pitfall is wanting to do everything by yourself. If you don’t have the skillset for something, ask for help, hire someone better at it, and where it comes easier. This way, you can focus on what you are good at instead of creating a prototype yourself. You have the idea, get someone to create the prototype. It is also partly due to the network, men tend to have a broader network than women, and your network makes it so much easier, honestly, just as with anything you do. Ask yourself the first and challenging question. ‘What do I want with my business? Do I want to grow and scale up my business or become an entrepreneur? When you know that answer, everything will come naturally, or it won’t. It’s a personal decision everyone has to make. Nobody is good at everything. Ask for help, and focus on what you are good at.
How do (start-up/scale-up) entrepreneurs combat this current crisis of not being able to network face-to-face, attend events, and get face value?
We have a lot ‘more’ time (minus the zoom online calls) than traveling, so see it as an opportunity. The majority of the world is operating from their home base, so this is also an opportunity to strategize and start sending emails to people you admire and would like to know better! A busy person would now be more approachable for a 15minute pick your brain call/virtual coffee than meeting in person. It involves fewer logistics, but it can also mean they are snowed in with emails, concise, explicit with focus, and your why and how.
What are exciting businesses that Karmijn Kapitaal are open to explore and invest in? We believe that everything can be interesting. We have an unobstructed view of all industries and business concepts. Our added value is not in the entrepreneurial area of business. Our expertise lies in the blueprint of a start-up and existing company.
Female entrepreneurs tend to be more socially-conscious and gravitate towards solving real-world problems than their male counterparts. It is not appealing to investors as it can bring less profit. What has your experience as a founder of an investment fund been like?
I am not sure if we would agree with the statement. We feel that we can’t generalize women and men. Everybody is different. We know, and research has often shown that good gender-balanced companies create more value, including profit. We focus on proving that point.
How can we attract more investors to tech companies seeking to create social impact and solve real-world problems?
Tech is becoming more and more mainstream. That does and will attract more mainstream investors too, including social impact-oriented ones. The sector could help itself by presenting itself less ‘technical.’
It has been suggested that men and highly patriarchal build the tech industry. Women “wedge” themselves into these spaces to fulfill the diversity quota. How can we bring about a radical, systemic change? How can women “run tech” and not “work at tech patriarchy”?
I am not very familiar with the tech sector. In general, though, I believe that everybody is ‘afraid’ of what one doesn’t know or understand. I think that part of the answer would require to train men to understand how unconscious bias works and how diversity could add value. Visionary male CEOs, investors, and the like need to stand up and are required to install programs for inclusion training in their companies.
Gender diversity is a core value of Karmijn Kapitaal. In what ways does bringing men on board with the issues faced by women help bring about change?
We see and know that most entrepreneurs see precisely the same, that the combination of diverse leadership styles (‘male’ and ‘female’ if you want) or skills pays off in companies. For example, the combination of people taking risks and other people who want to manage them, result-oriented people (sales, sales, sales!), and managers that are people-oriented, long term and short term, etc.
What inspires you most to continue to achieve what you want?
My admiration for people that can create to envision an idea and pull through. The sparkle in their eye, their eagerness about their passion, product, service, or start-up. Their entrepreneurial spirit. Every meeting with a potential startup or entrepreneur, I am enthralled by their motivation and dedication. It is very inspiring, and that fuels me in my core as a critical, creative thinker.
Last takeaway for women (tech)preneurs, entrepreneurs, and the community?
Continue to speak up and take the lead, look for help, and dare to ask questions!