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16th of April 2:00 pm CET

womenture
21 November 2023·14 min read

Adam Červenka

Womenture project, DEX Innovation Centre

Womenture Shines Spotlight on Inspiring Women's Stories Across Europe

We believe in women, in their fresh ideas, dedication, or desire to make a world a better place to live. So we have been wondering, why are women significantly less among the founders of start-ups in Europe? Are they not willing to take the risks? Or are they worried about failure? Or is something else behind?

We work with a few top accelerators across Europe, so we found out, we are not the only ones who believe in women and want to see them among innovative entrepreneurs. By time, we came to the idea - what if we do the pre-acceleration program, fully dedicated to ladies? Where can they feel safe to ask, develop and gain the ground for future expansion? This idea resonated among our partner accelerators - DEX Innovation Centre from Czech Republic, the Hungarian Design Terminal, the German SpinLab and the Estonian Tehnopo. So we jointly develop THE WOMENTURE - the pre-acceleration program dedicated purely to female founders. And we are happy the European commission shares our desire and provides us with start-up funding through the Horizon Europe financial tool. 

We use the co-creation in DEX Innovation Centre, when we develop new products or projects. We ask the target groups in a well defined process and do our best to meet their needs with our products. We did so too in the development of the Womenture pre-acceleration program. We talked with tens of female founders across Europe and met really inspiring ones. We selected 4 of them and brought you their thoughts. You might not know them, yet, but their visions could be changing the world once. Let me introduce them to you.

- add Adam Cervenka the Womenture lead from Czech Republic.

Pavlína Louženská

She co-founded TrendBrews, an AI powered tool for trend forecasting. She's a Lead Mentor in Google for Startups for Europe and Africa and various other accelerators. She co-founded #HolkyzMarketingu, an educational platform that has trained 15 000 people in 2023. She is a Startup Advisor and VC Scout focused on early-stage companies. She's a keynote speaker and a Google Certified Trainer for Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship. Alumni of Aspen Institute Young Leaders Program, YTILI and CGYPP fellowships. She regularly sends a newsletter on society and technology pavlinaspeaks.substack.com to 7000+ subscribers.

What are the key challenges women face in building their own businesses and what steps can they take to overcome them?

Facts for the start: In the European Union, women make up 52% of the total population yet represent only 34.4% of the self-employed and 30% of startup entrepreneurs. Yet they received only 1.1% of all VC funding. Only 15% of VC general partners in Europe are women. 

In the entrepreneurial landscape, women often grapple with gender biases, limited access to funding, and balancing business with personal commitments. To surmount these hurdles we need to change the game: bring more diversity into VC and finance, provide women access to more sponsors and business partners (and not only mentors), and introduce policy changes that help everyone manage the work-life equilibrium. We need to start before their entrepreneurial journey even starts: according to OECD women remain about two-thirds as likely as men to be involved in business creation. 

We also always need to discuss diversity in the room with key stakeholders, both men and women and have them all understand the benefit of having more female entrepreneurs. It will take 131 years to close the current gender gap if we don't strive for more. All of us. Not only women. 

What would you advise to your fellow women who have an idea and wish to start a business now? What would you recommend and what should she be prepared for? 

Don't wait and go for it. The worst that can happen is that you will have an experience and that one you'll never regret. Once you decide for it, there are many structures that will help you: from accelerator programs, and tutoring to entrepreneurship networks. The worst mistake is dreaming of something until it's too late to start. 

It will be difficult. There is no sugarcoating it. There is no coincidence that founders are twice as likely to suffer from depression. Startups take a toll on everyone who decides to take that journey. We often need a sprinter's speed in a marathon race. But if you have a great co-founder, solve a real consumer problem, and hit that product-market fit, you'll soon find out it was worth it. Either for the lesson learned or for the high of changing the world for the better. 

What inspires and motivates you most in the field you work in, and how does it influence your decision-making and innovation?

I am a founder, mentor, writer and trend forecaster. Seeing the future gives me the ability to invest time and energy into things that will matter. As a Mentor, I meet people who teach me to look at problems from different perspectives. As a Writer, I am able to organize my thoughts and communicate better. As a Founder I know that the power is in my hands to change things that bother me.

Mária Balogh-Mázi

She originally worked as a software developer and IT project manager. She introduced several credit scoring systems and stock market software solutions across Europe. Both she and her husband had successful exits before they co-founded their angel investment company, STRT Holding (formerly known as Baconsult) in 2015. Over the past 8 years, they have made more than 50 investments. In addition to her investment activities, Maria founded the HR portal called DreamJo.bs. This platform allows employers and job seekers to connect based on a unique methodology. In 2019 Maria was awarded the Best Female Entrepreneur in Hungary. She is also the mother of a 7-year-old daughter.

What is your opinion on the current state of gender equality in business in Hungary and what steps can be taken to promote equal opportunities?

Gender equality in business in Hungary, like in many places, has made significant progress over the years, but there is still work to be done. Due to old habits, women still don't believe in themselves enough. If they see positive examples, if they receive assistance on how to get started, then I believe that more and more will dare to step out of their comfort zones and prove themselves.

What inspiration or which role model motivated you to become an entrepreneur in Hungary and what would you like to share with other women who are considering entrepreneurship?

For me, the primary motivation and inspiration is my husband, who is also an entrepreneur (Sorry for not choosing a female role model, but in this regard, there is no difference between women and men for me). I originally come from a software development background, which is a rather male-dominated field (although there has been progress in recent years) so I've been accustomed to women being treated differently from a young age. However, this has never been an obstacle for me. I've always tried to make the most of the situation under the given circumstances. Because in the end, it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman; what matters is what you can bring to the table.

A million-dollar question, what is your recommendation for work-life balance (especially in the early stages of entrepreneurship)?

There is no such thing as work-life balance. There is life, and work is part of it. An entrepreneur is constantly creating, planning, and solving problems. How could I switch off work and stop my mind exactly at 5 in the afternoon? My husband and I work together, so when we meet in the evening and discuss the day's events, it is also work-related. And that's fine for me. On the other hand, if I can go for a massage at 10 in the morning, I do it without hesitation (and think about a new idea for my business during the massage :)

Triin Hertmann

She is an active angel investor and founder of Grünfin – an investment platform making green investments simple for individuals, SMEs and employers. With over 20 years of experience in the international finance and technology world, Triin has played key roles in building companies like Skype and (Transfer)Wise from early stages to worldwide unicorns. She was awarded as Investor of the Year at Estonian Startup Awards 2023.

Can you share your insights into why there are relatively fewer female founders in the startup world compared to their male counterparts? What barriers and challenges do they face when trying to establish and scale their businesses?

I am happy to see that within the younger generation, the gap is smaller every year and many amazing new female founders start their businesses. However amongst the later stages, companies that are 5+ years old, the gap is wider. I am optimistic about this going in the right direction and I do believe that in some ways women need role models, success stories and other women encouraging them. This all will drive more willingness to try and take the risks. 

Coming from a very technologically advanced and gender-neutral country – Estonia - I have probably faced less “invisible obstacles” than some other countries may have felt. But I do feel that women entrepreneurs must work more and prove their skills harder than men. Also they have to adapt their behaviour and play by men’s rules to get the desired results.

One of the prominent issues in the startup scene is the gender gap in funding. Female founders often struggle to secure investment compared to their male counterparts. Could you shed light on the reasons behind this funding disparity? What strategies or initiatives do you believe are essential to bridge this gap?

Last year in Europe only 1% of total funding went to female-founded startups which is a crazy small proportion, and it has even declined from pre-pandemic time. There is a significant gender disparity in the investment world - women are underrepresented as either venture capital fund partners or angel investors. 

Even if it's proven that women-founded startups are in the long run great bet and bring more return for a buck, it's still not viewed as a solid business reason by some investors. Also - as an early-stage angel investor I see that women-led teams are sometimes raising on lower valuations despite having better established companies and more mature business and team. 

I have experienced in my career a mindset with male teams: “Let's give them money so they can prove themselves” and with women: “Let them prove themselves before we give money”. That can often cause the startup to make it or break it. Also, it has been researched that investors tend to ask more growth-oriented and positive questions from men and more risk-related and negative scenarios-based questions from women while pitching for funding. 

I believe that putting these facts, research and data on the table and shed light on investor biases is the first step that can be done by everyone in the field. Having more women in decision-making roles in VCs and making the investment processes as objective as possible also makes positive change happen.

Please give some advice for future women entrepreneurs: What is your personal experience with business/working failures and how are you managing them?

It took me 20 years in the startup world to gather the courage to found my own company, but I can still say that nothing really prepares for this experience. So why not jump in earlier and figure it out and learn while you are on it. It is going to be the crazy/beautiful time you’ll always remember and thank yourself for the experience. 

I would avoid defining yourself only through your company and build up identity and meaning outside work too. Either in the form of education, family, hobbies, creation, or whatnot. Then you’ll feel great also after the exit.

Eden Levin

She was born in Jerusalem, Israel and moved to Leipzig, Germany 6 years ago with her husband. Eden knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur from the age of 22, came up with many ideas along the way, until one got stuck and developed. Eden has a b.Sc in Chemistry and teaching diploma from the Jerusalem university. Now she owns a relocation agency, organizes a female entrepreneurs community in Leipzig and sings in a swing metal band "Shoo Bee Doom". 

How do you perceive the business culture and business ecosystem in Germany in relation to female entrepreneurs?

First of all, I see a really big potential. There are a lot of women who are in this state of wanting to change, being unhappy in their current job or finding the opportunity to change after giving birth for example. The problem that I find in the culture in Germany is an overall lack of confidence, alongside a culture of minimizing risk and going with the norm of `studying, finding a job, creating a family, retiring. Seems to me that people, and especially women are just now starting to question the norm. Taking in account also the way the society and the government is treating anyone who considers a self employed path, as risk takers that can't really be trusted financially, it is really clear why many are afraid to take this path. 

Those who do take the risk and become self employed are then sticking mostly to being freelancers or solopreneurs. I would have loved to see more women running big companies here in Germany, or at least having the intention to.

The role of a mentor plays a key role in the development of entrepreneurs. What kind of mentoring has been the most valuable for you personally so far and what skills would you like to gain in the future from experienced entrepreneurs in Germany?

To me, learning about financial plans, getting some ideas about marketing and building actionable steps with my mentors was really a game changer. Sometimes you just need that outside person to look at your project and let you know from their perspective about the situation. Some of my greater moments with mentors were - You are doing great, keep going. I would love to get more of a "next level" kind of mentorship where I will be able to scale up the business to its fullest potential. 

What is the most exciting thing regarding having a startup/being an entrepreneur? 

For it was always to be able to do things - my way. I was always the one in a workplace to push for a change, to do things better and more efficiently and it wasn't always accepted well or at all. Now, I don't need to prove to a boss that I am capable of doing my job or to give explanations about my decisions. It gives me the freedom to be who I am, to show my full set of skills and to give the explanations for my decisions to myself alone.  

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Womenture Pre-Accelerator is a seven-week online programme designed for aspiring female entrepreneurs within the European Union. Empowering women through the acquisition of vital skills in team building, business modeling, MVP development, market validation, investments, and funding, and how to make the perfect pitch through different workshops and formats. 

Notably, the impactful contributions of four esteemed innovation agencies—Hungarian Design Terminal, German SpinLab, Estonian Tehnopol, and Czech DEX Innovation Center—underscore a collective dedication to reshaping the landscape for female entrepreneurs across the continent. As we witness the convergence of diverse talents and resources, the Womenture program emerges not just as a training ground but as a catalyst for positive change, actively shaping the future for women in entrepreneurship throughout Europe. 

Did you find yourself in? Are you a founder or wanna be a founder? Great, we’ve just opened the next batch, so feel free to join us. Visit our official website and register to join our Pre-Accelerator - https://womenture.eu/p/dexic.The top applicants will get an exclusive opportunity to participate in the Joint Innovation Summit in Tallinn, where you can establish potential collaborations.

 



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