The fourth edition of the Women Founders event organized by the WIDE association should not be missed, to say the least ! Over the years, the association’s activities have raised awareness and enabled many young girls and women to awaken their entrepreneurial potential.
by: Charles-Louis Machuron
photo: Anna Katina
featured: Women entrepreneurs
Listen to article (Part I)
Giving back to the community
“I was in the audience for some of the past events. I got a lot of energy and inspiration out of the events and hope this edition has inspired other founders as well,” says Gaëlle Haag, co-founder and CEO of StarTalers. Two years ago, she participated in the Rails Girls hackathon, one of the many annual events organized by WIDE. She now runs her own company, recently announced a €520K funding round (see our article “StarTalers raised €520K for its financial advisory service“) and takes the time to give back to the community. By a show of hands, around forty women who came to the conference spontaneously raised their hands when asked “Who in the room has a business plan?” “I really hope that some of the aspiring entrepreneurs have decided to take a step forward after listening to the different stories shared, and WIDE’s start-up program is a good way to start,” continues Ms Haag.
“What impressed me the most was discovering how these female entrepreneurs were using new digital platforms to bring about social change.”
The organizers were able to bring together a large panel of women entrepreneurs, all of whom wanted to contribute by supporting women in their entrepreneurial careers. Among them is Shiva Dustdar, Head of Division at the European Investment Bank and a WIDE supporter from its outset. From New York to Luxembourg, she has a distinguished career in the financial sector and enjoys reinventing businesses. “It was a truly inspiring evening and I’ve been honored to be part of it. What impressed me the most was discovering how these female entrepreneurs were using new digital platforms to bring about social change, promote sustainable business models and create the jobs of the future. This has convinced me that we need to also use similar digital platforms and FinTech solutions to unlock more financing for such female led ventures.” The prevailing impression is that the arrival of all these women entrepreneurs could boost an ecosystem that is still over-represented by men at all levels.
Bénédicte Keith, former bank’s and fintech’s CFO, went on to add, “The fact that real entrepreneurs were on the stage was a plus. It helps future entrepreneurs to connect better and activates a mirror effect. As it was the first time I was invited as a guest speaker, I went out of my comfort zone and relayed the message I expected to. I was lucky to discuss with women belonging to the same circle and community. The event shows we can uplift one other and that entrepreneurship can arise in a caring ambience.”
Listen to article (Part II)
Painting an accurate picture of entrepreneurship
The many events organized around entrepreneurship often address the subject of what it is like to create a company. “Too often, you get a glamourous, polished version of a founder’s story, which can make it feel like its easy and effortless. While I genuinely feel it is one of the best decisions I have taken, it does require tremendous effort and sacrifice. To quote Oussama Ammar, Co-founder and Partner at The Family “Anybody can become an entrepreneur, it does not mean it’s for everybody”,” confirms Gaëlle Haag. The main agenda of this evening for the two hundred participants was to listen to the real stories of entrepreneurs, the successes and failures they may have encountered and the place of women in entrepreneurship in general.
“It is fundamental to erase educational differences between boys and girls in order to achieve equality between men and women.”
Women made the headlines in 2019 for various reasons (Me Too movement, demonstrations to denounce violence against women, etc). Education is also a key factor in the emancipation of women in society and their increasing representation in decision-making positions. Although girls are more educated and qualified than boys, there are fewer of them in the labour market. Reasons for this are mainly around family reasons and the inhibitions of undertaking a business. This is the challenge the Ministry of Equal Opportunities faces.
After completing an MBA at INSEAD Business School, Ms Keith discovered that, despite her skills and education, the positions offered to her did not meet her expectations. She decided to put her skills at the service of others by offering a shared CFO activity. “I was lucky during my journey to be supported by fantastic women belonging to great structures. For those who have the will to become an entrepreneur, support exists. While I was doing my MBA or my certification with Sup de Co La Rochelle, I could testify that women were present and performing extremely well. The equality was evident in the classroom. When faced with reality in tech/digital or higher management levels, the percentage of women drop drastically. It has improved with years, but there still a long way to go. It is fundamental to erase educational differences between boys and girls in order to achieve equality between men and women. Having spent some time in New York, this is how I try to raise my daughter. I let her choose what she likes to do irrespective of her gender.”
Listen to article (Part III)
Some pieces of advice
As every path is unique, speakers shared pieces of advice to wannabe entrepreneurs. Female solidarity is very strong and was evident that evening. Three of them have agreed to share this with you. Here are their testimonies:
“My first advice is stop dreaming and start planning. Get real about what it will take to launch your venture. There are many resources available online and through incubators on how to get started with your business. What is not discussed as much is how you can prepare yourself for the upcoming years of running a business. How much capital should I put aside to be able to live without a predictable income? What lifestyle changes will it require and how do I set myself and my family up to go through these changes with the least turbulences? How do I build my support network, a helping hand or even just a space to be vulnerable without being judged or feaking people out.”
—Gaëlle Haag, Founder of StarTalers
“Before starting a business, we must first demystify entrepreneurship. The watchword: find out!”
“My second advice is « fail until you make it ». You have the impression that you don’t know enough to start your own venture? Guess what, every single entrepreneur I have spoken to has been in the same boat. The reality is that you will probably never completely feel at ease with every skill or task required for the job – because it changes all the time. The key is to just do it, learn on the job, stay humble and ask for help when you need it, but don’t let these fears stop you from achieving what you truly want.”
—Gaëlle Haag, Founder of StarTalers
“The decision to create my own company took quite a long time. It is strongly related to my personality. My advice for women that want to take the plunge and believe in yourself, find your community and surround yourself with helpful and caring people and at last, confront your Unique Selling Proposition to the market. My idea is to start with yourself and be confident to be more independent and exposed. It is important to consider own situation in order to apprehend risks. Then, you can enlarge your circle by incorporating people who are willing to help you either by adding motivation or by giving you advice. Finally, it is always a good idea to test exposure to the market in order to validate an idea. I believe that success is a question of balance and only you can find your adequate dose and limits.”
—Bénédicte Keith, experienced CFO
“Before starting a business, we must first demystify entrepreneurship. The watchword: find out! It may seem like an insurmountable challenge, but when you do your homework, you realize it is accessible. Several aids are available in Luxembourg, including the One-Stop Shop of the House of Entrepreneurship, where you can find all the information needed to create your company. There is also business mentoring available at the Chamber of Commerce, where you can be accompanied by a mentor for 6 to 18 months. Not to mention the many networking associations specifically catered to women: The Network, FFCEL and of course WIDE. So trust yourself and DARE! You will not be disappointed!”
—Mélanie Gagnon, Founder & CEO of MGSI
— Women in Digital (@wide_lu) December 5, 2019
The last thing women shared at this conference was their difficulty in building a network because « drinking beer » in the evenings is not their habit. However, several networks have been created around bringing them together through thematic events. A few of these include:, WIDE, FFCEL, The Network, LILLA, Les Pionnières. In the meantime, all those who wish to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure can join the startup programme initiated by the WIDE and test their ideas within the framework of events conducted throughout the year (see our article “WIDE explores Tel Aviv tech ecosystem“).
Entrepreneurs will always be there but what is integral to a society is maintaining the sprit that awakens their passion and supports them.