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Zooming into four FI Germany startup experts who share their insights on four essential aspects of entrepreneurship.

There is no shortage of strategies and tactics for startups to achieve their objectives. While many of these methods are effective, those grounded in soft skills often get overlooked. We tend to dismiss them as secondary, abstract, or slow to produce results.

However, women naturally navigate challenges less aggressively and forcefully, which can be mistaken for weakness. Such perception can’t be further from the truth. At Founder Institute, we frequently see inspiring examples of women who excel in networking, community building, fostering company culture, balancing multiple roles, and creating sustainable businesses.

In honor of a month dedicated to celebrating women, we're highlighting four women from our FI Germany chapter who bring unique qualities to their businesses.

Women don’t need to fit the societal norm of constant achievement, competition, aggression, and self-sacrifice for economic growth. They shouldn't have to forsake their cultural values, mindfulness, emotional expression, or their desire to connect and be heard. These traits are strengths, making them unique and valuable.

Taking a moment to realign is useful because women’s entrepreneurship is inherently collaborative, purposeful, and resourceful. 

Meet four women from FI’s global network who shine brightly in four key areas for startup success:

1. Networking and Connections

Women stand out in expanding their social circle and helping others capture new opportunities. Connection expert and FI Berlin graduate Dr. Priscilla Schelp, understood this at a young age when she met the right person at the right time.

In her interview for Mergerous, she shared her personal experience that triggered her to start her company networkx, a platform connecting innovators, changemakers, and visionaries with the most exclusive clubs in the world. 

'’Many of these exclusive clubs are not transparent on their criteria. So, people not from wealthy or powerful social backgrounds will not apply because they don't know what's expected from them. Women will not apply because they don't know what's expected from them.’’

Priscilla, who is also the author of ‘’Connect with Yourself to Connect with Others’’, discovered the importance of connectedness for wellbeing. It entails not only developing networking skills through overcoming social awkwardness but also deepening the relationship with yourself and processing your own emotions instead of ignoring them.

Understandably, the most meaningful advantage of enrolling at Founder Institute, she pointed out, was the network and the one-to-one time with seasoned experts who can help you.

2. Empowering Culture

Often, company culture takes a backseat in the hustle of entrepreneurship. In a startup's early days, founders emphasize it, but as teams get stuck in routines, maintaining a positive mindset, inclusiveness, and community building can slip down the priority list.

Another FI alumni, Veroniek Vermeulen, made a leap from the corporate to the startup world to support women in their workplace. Driven by a personal commitment to this cause, she embarked on a journey to establish Silatha, a company dedicated to providing specialized expertise, workshops, and training on addressing biases and sensitive topics related to women's health.

'’The Women in the Workplace 2023 report showed that female senior leaders were 60% more inclined to offer emotional support to their teams, 24% more likely to ensure manageable workloads, and 26% more likely to assist team members in navigating work/life challenges.’’

Over time, Veroniek's venture evolved to focus on guiding organizations in fostering more inclusive cultures and cultivating psychologically safe workplaces for everyone.

A commitment to education and mentorship lies at the core of Veroniek's endeavors. She recently harnessed meditation as a central practice in her life, and mindfulness continues to play a pivotal role in expanding her startup.

Veroniek finds that feedback is the number one benefit of undergoing a startup accelerator such as Founder Institute. She described how being listened to and hearing the opinions of others daily, significantly strengthened her business concepts. These constant dialogues refined her ideas and set the stage for ongoing learning and enhancing company culture.

3. Balancing Multiple Roles

Research shows that women place value on multiple aspects of life, which enables them to multitask and wear many hats adeptly. Their openness to new experiences and flexibility position them as strong entrepreneurs. Moreover, the intersection of entrepreneurship and advanced interpersonal skills can make them exceptional startup mentors.

Such is the case with Claudia Bacco, one of Founder Institute Berlin's most experienced mentors. Besides spreading her wealth of knowledge to aspiring founders, Claudia actively listens and learns from them. In her engaging conversation for the entrepreneurship media Mergerous, she explained how whenever she speaks to a founder, she hears something new that she hasn’t thought of before.

Claudia transitioned into mentoring after gaining solid experience in the corporate world at various positions in Juniper Networks, Vanu Inc., AGT International, Frequentis, and Nokia. Today, she runs her agency Grand Prix Marketing Consultants while also working in the NFT and aviation industries and mentoring at several other organizations:

"I've done everything but be a VC. I've been at a startup; I've been at a Fortune 100 company. I've lived in different places and worked in different geographies, so I feel really lucky to have had all those different opportunities. And I think mentorship lets me continue to have new opportunities,"

From her early-stage startup mentor perspective, she pointed out that Founder Institute stands out as a match for beginners because it’s inclusive and not limited to a specific niche.

4. Sustainability

Women’s motivations to start a business differ from men’s. Findings from a study on Women Sustainable Entrepreneurship revealed that women tend to create businesses based on their knowledge, experience, added value, quality of services offered, and environmental impact. Men, on the other hand, prioritize the benefits that can be obtained. 

We asked FI Berlin graduate and sustainability entrepreneur Christina Linke what provoked her to build her startup Clean Ocean Coatings, a company that makes innovative coating solution for the shipping industry. Her journey began when she began to pursue her dream of diving. That’s when she was shocked by the degradation and pollution in the ocean: ‘’The ocean is our life support system. Protecting the ocean is simply the most important thing we need to do’’, she elaborated.

Later, she overcame all the obstacles in growing her business and proved everybody who claimed she couldn’t do the impossible wrong.

Christina is not sure whether being a woman made her career in sustainability easier or more difficult. Still, she recalled research that states investors focus more on the risks when assessing female founders, besides the fact that 19% of female founders receive 2% of funds. She also confirmed that she would love to see a female investor on her startup cap table.

Christina offered an optimistic view on comparing environmental to economic goals: '’The more coating we sell, the more environmental and social impact we have, because our product replaces toxic coating, which is also beneficial for the working conditions of the dockyard workers. Both objectives align very well.’’

In conclusion, what has historically been perceived as a disadvantage for women can in fact be reframed as their unique privileges. This mindset shift creates space for both women and men to grow and leverage each others’ strengths. Clearly, in the startup world, there’s a need of women who lead by utilizing their talents in networking, community building, versatility, and sustainability.

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The Founder Institute is the world’s most proven network to turn ideas into fundable startups, and startups into global businesses. Since 2009, our highly-structured accelerator programs have helped entrepreneurs raised over $1.75BN in funding across over 200 cities worldwide.

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