Anna Molnár is a business coach for female entrepreneurs, with an immense passion for languages and literature, a special analytic eye for complex situations and a huge drive to get the best out of people and their companies. I help ambitious businesswomen to make themselves and their companies blossom by creating a solid and healthy business strategy, so they work smarter instead of harder. I also help them create real impact, high income and time with loved ones.
What is your story and what led you to join the entrepreneurial world?
When I turned 40, I felt a turning point in my life. I had it all: a nice job, a nice partner, a nice house, etc., but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I felt the need to create something valuable with all my talents, experience, expertise and passion. I realized that I wanted to create my own company, so that I could help other women to live their best life. This is how Blossom Empowering Events was born.
What have you learned in your entrepreneurial career?
My entrepreneurial career has taught me so much about myself, my hopes and my fears. It has also taught me that we all need support, no matter on what level we are. It’s essential to surround yourself with a support system, where it’s safe to ask questions and be vulnerable. This way you can really overcome the hurdles on your way, instead of just ignoring them and making them worse.
What is one thing you still really want to do in your entrepreneurial career?
I would love to help Japanese female entrepreneurs to thrive. I love Japan and the Japanese culture. It would make me enormously proud if I could help Japanese women to be more independent, while respecting their traditions.
Looking back, what is one thing you would do different?
Asking for help a lot sooner. Every week that goes by unresolved is a week too much.
What would you advise women starting their journeys in the entrepreneurial space?
Surround yourself with people who believe in your capacities. Make a serious plan for your business and be flexible while executing it. Get into action, ask questions, fail, learn and get going again. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride! Be professional, but don’t be too serious. Enjoy the creativity and the freedom that comes with being an entrepreneur and inspire others to do the same!
What is the reason you joined FEMpreneurhulp?
I needed some support myself, and as a thank you I wanted to give back. There is always something you can do for someone else.
What are common challenges women face in the startup world and how can we tackle them according to you?
Common challenges are perfectionism, procrastination, wanting to please everyone, impostor syndrome, difficulty to talk about money and asking for the sale, being too humble, wanting to do and be everything for everyone, being overworked… to just name a few. Awareness is the first step to tackle them all. Understand what your most common pitfall is and work on overcoming it.
Anything else you would like to share?
If you have difficulty to keep focus, if your plans don’t tend to work, if you are out of ideas of what to do next, if you have too many ideas and don’t know where to start, if you always start but hardly ever finish, if you are always busy and don’t see the difference between weekdays and weekends anymore, if you could use some support to take some tough decisions … reach out to me. Together we can map out your situation, find your personal & professional goals and create a resilient plan. I’ll guide you through your commitment, so that you can enjoy both your private and professional life with impact and without feeling guilty.
By Azaina Shaikh and Paola Hasbun
We spoke with Ebere Akadiri, a social entrepreneur and visionary leader, whose zeal for gender inclusivity and leadership development amongst women is inspirational. With over 20 years of business experience, Ebere is a successful business and leadership development strategist, business mentor, author, and keynote speaker. She founded Rise and Lead Women, Rise and Lead Summit and, recently, co-founded FEM-START Africa in her home country, Nigeria.
You moved to The Netherlands a couple of years ago. Before moving here, you had a successful business in Nigeria. How was your experience relocating to The Netherlands?
I moved from Nigeria to The Netherlands in 2013 with my family. Before relocating here, I had a well-established restaurant business in Nigeria with two branches and seven sales outlets. In addition, we had a large catering operation with several companies and were working on opening a bakery- it was a growing business. When my husband found out that he was being transferred to The Netherlands, I refused initially because the move meant letting go of the business and the community I had worked very hard to build over the years. When it comes to being a woman and a mother, your priorities tend to be different. And my priorities are my children, my husband, and my family; I always consider them first. Hence, later I changed my mind and we moved to The Netherlands.
You founded Ataro Foods and Spices in 2015. What motivated you to start a new business in a new country?
When I moved here, I just wanted to be an expat wife, which I saw a lot of women doing. After trying it for a few months, I came to the realization that it was not for me; I had started to lose myself, and I was constantly thinking about ways of going back to my old self, which meant brainstorming about new business ideas.
After a while, I started to look into launching a business here in The Netherlands, which obviously was not easy; it came with its own set of challenges. Somehow I knew I had to start. The tiny voice in my head kept saying, “teach what you know.” And I chose to start teaching how to cook West African food to children at schools, and to their mothers. The cooking lessons gradually grew in popularity and I was able to introduce them outside the schools, which helped me attract the local Dutch audience, and I began giving cooking workshops for almost 100 people. This is how I built the brand “Ataro Foods and Spices”. Later, we found a physical location in The Hague where I led cooking workshops, and ever so often took restaurant orders. Eventually, we sold the shop and I moved Ataro Foods and Spices online, where we sell spice mixes and offer cooking videos on demand.
What challenges did you face as a female entrepreneur when you first launched Ataro Foods and Spices? How did you overcome them?
Despite the inevitable operational challenges of starting a new business, cultural differences added to the challenges I faced. I could not speak Dutch at that time, which meant I could only market to the expatriates, which is a rather small community. I wanted to reach a much larger market.
I also dealt with my challenges by partnering up with Dutch companies, which included Dutch public relations agents. With their help, I was able to spread my message in a way that was appealing to the Dutch audience. Also, they were able to get me interviews on the Dutch newspapers. With time, I had gained an understanding of the buying behavior of the local people. When starting a business, it is imperative to study the buying habits, interests, and values of the people you want to market to, in order to properly position your product in a way that is attractive to them. Lastly, I learned Dutch, because I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the culture here for the growth of my business.
In the first Rise and Lead Summit, you mentioned the support and encouragement that your mentor provided you with when you were getting started. In what ways does a mentor help one in reaching their goals?
Having a mentor is important. I always say to people: one does not have just one mentor, but a tribe of mentors- different people you can reach out to for different things. When we choose only one person as a mentor, there are other aspects of our lives that will miss out on being mentored. Moreover, it is important to listen to yourself; do not constantly seek appraisal or validation. When in doubt, seek counsel and verify your ideas with your mentor. Mentorship is not about teaching people; it is about sharing their experiences. As a mentee, ask people who can guide you with the wisdom of their experiences.
Let us change our focus to leadership. Rise and Lead Women actively works towards more gender diversity and reducing the gender leadership gap. How can bringing men on board help achieve this vision of inclusivity?
We want men to join the conversation; to understand the essence of inclusion. We want men to understand that everyone – men and women – has different talents that we want to express. If someone withholds you from expressing your talents, it does not serve you and the world. In workplaces, our male counterparts need to recognize that we, women, have talents and skills that can help the overall success of the company. The idea is to bring men closer by inviting them to women-meetings and summits, and educating them to help getting rid of stereotypes they may have about women. This way they will start to look at women as partners, and women will start to look at them as allies. In the end, we will be able to work together towards a common goal.
Women tend to have a harder time reaching higher positions than men. According to you, what are the reasons for this?
Women face many challenges when climbing the leadership ladder. A common reason across the board is the lack of leadership development: the lack of preparedness when presented with a leadership position. We also know that lack of equal opportunity is another factor. A self-inflicted challenge is the inability of women to negotiate and ask for what we want. As we advocate for companies to give women equal opportunities, we, as women, must continue to show up and speak up for what is important to us. Lastly, we need more mentorship between women leaders and women aspiring to rise. Women who have traversed the trails and attained leadership positions can provide insights to those aspiring to reach those positions. They are better able to understand what lies ahead of them and how they can maintain that position on the long term. It is about developing a leadership mindset through mentorship.
You have co-founded FEM-START Africa in Nigeria this year in March. Could you share with us your experience?
Due to COVID-19, we had to cancel our Rise and Lead Summit Africa, which was scheduled to take place in March 2020. Around that time I had the opportunity to interview Marian Spier, the founder of FEM-START. Her passion and knowledge about entrepreneurship made me realize that we, at Rise and Lead, need to partner with people like Marian, who understand what it means to be an entrepreneur and people who are passionate about empowering women. Then, we agreed to take FEM-START, alongside Rise and Lead to Nigeria. I see the Rise and Lead members could benefit from what FEM-START has to offer.
Also, I believe that entrepreneurship helps the economy of every nation; it brings innovation that can transform. I am passionate about Africa and Nigeria, my country. Even though I do not live there I am constantly looking for ways to support people back home. With FEM-START Africa, I believe that people with ideas holding the potential of changing the trajectory of our nation will get the right opportunities to create an impact.
And what are your plans for FEM-START Africa in the coming years?
Nigerian businesses tend to stay within the country. With the help of FEM-START Africa, I would like to help businesses that are already doing well to internationally scale up. Secondly, people with good ideas do not have equal access to financial capital. FEM-START Africa would provide more support by connecting budding businesses with investors. The need for a quick digital transformation across the continent of Africa has become apparent due to COVID-19. As a result, SMEs in Nigeria have become more interested in adopting digital ways for growing their businesses locally and internationally. Through FEM-START Africa, I would like to invite and help entrepreneurs grow into this tech ecosystem.
Any final words that you would like to share?
This is not the time to rest and relax. This is the time to pivot and find out the part(s) of your business you can take online and transform. I encourage entrepreneurs everywhere to think of ways to continue to run your business. We need to continue moving forward and impacting our communities with our businesses and ideas.
Thank you very much for sharing your story and insights on leadership!
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