– 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!
By Azaina Shaikh and Paola Hasbun
Kimberly Ofori is a wonder-woman who defies convention and goes after what she wants. Started as an insurance advisor at a tender age of 16, Kimberly is a consultant at ScaleUp Company, Business Mentor at Founder Institute, and now, a FEMpreneurHulp mentor who is helping female entrepreneurs navigate the challenges of COVID-19 using the lessons she’s learned along her extraordinary journey. We spoke with Kimberly to talk about her story, business endeavors, and FEMpreneurHulp.
What inspired you to volunteer as a mentor in FEMpreneurhulp?
In my journey, I have seen that some of the unsuccessful endeavors happened because I did not have access to the right information, resources and people. I do not wish that upon anyone. I believe that if your business is going to fail it should be because there was no product market fit or the market was not ready. It should not happen because you did not know how to do something. My motivation to do this is the women who have found the sweet spot of having a good product and found a market vision, but are not able to come out of a situation because of a certain circumstance, maybe the pandemic or they were in trouble a long time ago. I find it immensely rewarding to help those women grow their business or keep their business, especially in times of crisis.
What are the main struggles you see in female entrepreneurs face during COVID’19?
A lot of entrepreneurs struggle with deciding whether to pivot or not. There are several stages in entrepreneurship that will make you doubt whether to continue or not, but the pandemic has really exposed all the imperfections within your business that you should’ve fixed a long time ago. In this climate, a lot of entrepreneurs are debating whether to invest again in something new, or pivot in a different direction. I think this has to do with stepping out and being bold in your decisions. If you are an entrepreneur, you are intrinsically motivated by risk-taking. At times, these entrepreneurs need to hear that their idea is valid and they just need that external validation from a mentor. There is a lot of volatility in the market right now. Businesses are moving online. It is a conscious decision that you have to make- and it can be very scary.
You mention in your blog that women often struggle with positioning themselves, or tend to undervalue themselves. How do you suggest women can boost their confidence?
It is hard- I still struggle with it every day. It is something that is deeply rooted in our society, that women are expected to be humble and not voice our opinion- it is seen as being aggressive. It starts with yourself. Every time I feel like that I ask myself if I am going to get what I want the way I am approaching it, if the answer is no, then I have to do a mindset shift. I am going to do what is necessary to get there. Sometimes that means disagreeing with the rest of the team.
What do you do to keep balance and mental health in these times of crisis?
Every day I prioritize. I schedule every hour in my calendar, meticulously. I know what I am doing every hour and why I am doing it that way. I hardly deviate from my schedule, I have a very demanding private life as well, so I can not afford to “go with the flow”. Preparation and planning ahead helps me keep sane. Give yourself some room to breathe. As women, we think we must be present for everybody, every time; you can not pour from an empty cup. To rest and refuel is a must.
It is amazing all the wonderful things you have achieved in your career. Do you want to share something about yourself that not too many people know?
Thank you very much! Naturally, I am an introvert. When people see me, they are surprised to find out that I am shy. That is because I really trained myself to get out of my shell, but before, I was struggling with a lot of things. I think a lot of people don’t see how much effort was put into getting where I am right now in my career.
I was born and raised in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, to my Surinamese mother and Ghanian father. When I was 16, my mother had lost her job during the crisis. I quit school and worked for an insurance Company because I felt it was my responsibility to help my family financially. I was the youngest insurance advisor at the firm: in the interview I convinced them to hire me in spite of my age, I had removed my age from the resume. It was the first bold step that I took. That experience opened my eyes to the numerous possibilities that come with stepping out of one’s comfort zone and simply asking for what you want.
People have that one defining moment in their lives, which shapes them into the person they are. What was that moment for you?
Years ago, I gave up everything I had in the Netherlands to move to Dubai for a job as a business manager at a Global Company. On the first day, my manager informed me that they were not opening the Dubai branch anymore and handed me an envelope with one month’s salary and wished me good luck.
I made the decision to stay back and make it work. After a long six months of job hunting, it occurred to me that the reason why I am unable to find a job is that as an introvert- it is hard for me to ask for help. Nobody knew I was struggling; I was keeping up appearances. That moment really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and start reaching out to people on different platforms, until I found a job at a prominent talent management company.
During my time at this company, I was fortunate to work with great companies like Shell and Emirates Airlines as a consultant on their HR planning and strategic mapping. That was probably one of the best experiences in my career, including the six months of searching, which really built and shaped the things I do now, in terms of perseverance and not giving up. In addition, working at high profile positions despite not meeting the job description, really helped me understand that what I am capable of is more important and the skills I have to offer are equally as valuable as the credentials stated in job descriptions.
You say that you are an entrepreneur at heart, having founded a number of brands and companies. What inspired you to venture into these businesses after working in the corporate world?
After working in Dubai, I moved to Spain, and I could not get a job because I am not proficient in Spanish. Instead, I started three online platforms: one was a job recruitment portal that did not do so well, a fashion platform called Doll House, and Fab Lane where I sold hair extensions. Both Fab Lane and Doll House grew into successful businesses. During that period, I was constantly teaching myself everything: how to set up and grow an online business, and building a community. After reaching a certain level of revenue, I sold them.
After a while I became very interested in learning about the business climate in Ghana. There were many businesses and start-ups being set up, but there was a lack of the right platform to grow these businesses, and that is how Aprenuer came into being. Unable to sleep one night, I decided to teach myself how to code a little bit on CodeAcademy. Using that knowledge, I started building the Apreneur website, it was a cross between Linkedin and Facebook. I envisioned it to be a space for African founders to connect with each other. It would provide them with opportunities to learn from each other and collaborate. I remember when the website went live, it crashed because there were 6000 applications and that was too much traffic for the web host, which I had poorly built myself. That is how the journey began.
What is your motivation for starting a new project?
I am still trying to figure it out myself! I feel like I have been through certain things in life that have pushed me to see what is out there, what is possible. I have seen my mother come out of certain struggles, which removed the limitation of things from my mind. I aspire to be as strong as her. My mother went back to school because she had us when she was a teenager and got married at 18. She got her bachelor’s degree at 48. That was such an inspiration for me. She went out there and chased her dreams, which is what every woman should do.
Thank you very much for this wonderful interview, Kimberly!
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!
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!