Luxembourg is home to many successful female founders who innovate, raise funds and make it to the covers of business magazines. What is the secret behind their success? How did they find the challenge compared to their male counterparts? We took our questions to the founders and mentors at the University of Luxembourg Incubator and discovered the five most common issues faced by female founders.
1. Fundraising, a crossroads
Some female entrepreneurs find that the fundraising game is still harder for them than for male founders.
“Being a young woman entrepreneur is a challenge by itself every day,” – says Ilana Devillers, founder of F4A (Food4All). “Even though the conditions are getting better over years, there’s still, unfortunately, a gap that needs to be filled when it comes to business. The situation isn’t comparable to what our mothers, grandmothers and grand-grand-mothers lived, because thanks to them the gap is thinner than before. Nonetheless, I still have the impression that I need to make more efforts than an equal male entrepreneur when it comes to fundraising as an example. It is proven that female entrepreneurs raise less than men for the same kind of project, and I unfortunately confirm that this is still the case. Of course, I am talking about pure experience and I hope that it will soon not be the case anymore.”.
Daniela Cedola, Director of PwC’s Accelerator shares this impression: “Female founders get less funding than male founders. In my experience, women are less vocal than men in expressing how great they are and how much they have achieved. It does not mean that they are less competent or have generated less impact than men but it seems that they do not do the promotion of their achievements as well as men.”
2. More pressure
The need to lead your team to success even in times of crisis is associated with a lot of stress and some female founders encounter stronger pressure in this respect. “I believe it’s important for female leaders to recognize that despite all of the pressure on us to succeed, we just need to be true to ourselves, take one step at a time, value our support system, be persistent, celebrate small wins, and not to give up,” says Tahereh Pazouki, founder of LetzMath.
“When women are founders of successful startups, they tend to get more attention,” – agrees Daniela. “Successful female founders are usually very impressive high achievers. The bar is still higher for women so those that make it are excellent professionals having overcome more barriers than many males. We need to promote this level of achievement, talk a lot more about that and show how great women are.”.
Running your own business requires the ability not only to prioritise the tasks but also to find the right work-life balance which can be extra challenging for many female founders. “Women naturally multitask while playing their role as wife and a mother but having to do that in a company is the same,” says Ashwini Oke, founder of Asets-Lux. “I wake up every morning and think to myself, ‘How far can I push the company forward in the next 24 hours?’ Do what you love, and success will follow. Passion is the fuel behind a successful career and never let anyone dictate your terms, especially in what you believe in and your innovation. Just keep your vision for the product laser-sharp!”
3. Lack of role models
With majority of the entrepreneurs worldwide still being male, it is more difficult for young female entrepreneurs to relate to their success. “Female founders do not benefit from enough critical mass of role models and inspiring females as entrepreneurs,” elaborates Daniela. “Pregnancy is a woman’s job and this creates some temporary obstacles to setting up and running a demanding startup. Most of the childcare also often falls in the hands of women, this can cause many challenges for females to start a venture.”
However, there are some women who find inspiration in their new role as a mother and use it to their advantage. “Motherhood often influences the way women (though not all of course) relate to their career and sometimes sparks a desire to build something of their own, emboldening their entrepreneurship,” says Christa Cantieni Cunin, Managing Director of Samida. “I have seen many women finding in this transition an incredible source of energy and drive to help them rise to the challenges.”.
Some female founders were lucky enough to have the role models in their life and credit them in their own success. “My mother, my first woman leader inspiration,” adds Tahereh. “She taught computer programming, managed a family of 5 members, guided and inspired three kids successfully – a balancing act at its best! I grew up inspired by my first woman leader’s determination and perseverance.”.
4. Outdated stereotypes
The most common opinion though is associated with the fact that there should be no discussion about the “female founders”.
“If you focus on inclusion that means that you don’t see the point,” says Jackye Elombo, a founder of her own law practice. “I’d like to protect my kids and to teach them that there is no such thing as difference but the “difference” exists and it’s just the fact. We have to embrace it because life would be boring if we were all the same. If you face someone who focuses on difference, just ignore them and move forward. What needs to change is mentality, stop talking about inclusion and diversity. Positive or negative inclusion and diversity just mean you see a difference. Stop seeing the difference and we’ll all be fine! This is what I try to teach my kids: ‘You don’t want to consider me equal? Don’t, I don’t care, I know I am. You don’t want to include me? It won’t prevent me from breathing. You don’t want to embrace diversity? Your loss.’ We are in 2021. Diversity, Inclusion and Equality should belong to normality by now and then things may change”.
5. Uninvited opinions
One of the core skills an entrepreneur should have is the ability to choose which advice to take on board. There are, however, times and cases where opinions are shared without being requested.
“Leading a startup is very similar to raising a child,” says Gira Szakmár, CEO and Founder of EduGamiTec. “Lots of worries, the highs and lows follow one another. Everyone has an opinion on how you should do it. You get a ton of advice along the way and there are plenty of judgments. Sometimes you feel so down that you are unable to stand up and move on. And many don’t. But as long as you feel that the world will be a better place if you reach your goal, you will get up again and again and move on. We, women, are all entrepreneurs. We take care of the family’s affairs, set goals, take care of the household, finances, and family members. In a startup, we take care of the company, the goals, the finances, the employees. It’s a journey and we learn something new every day. Every day we are more than we were the day before. We find excitement in areas we never thought might interest us. We will change the world not only if we build a million-euro business. With every conversation, with our every action, we shape our environment. So let’s shape it to better!”
This article is brought to you by the University of Luxembourg Incubator and reflects only the opinion of the author.