Larissa Best, President of LBAN (Luxembourg Business Angel Network) and Director of the Equilibre association, and Emmanuelle Ragot, Wildgen IP/TMT/Data Partner and Head of Wildgen 4 Innovation, answer a few questions about their commitment to the startup environment and gender equality, here in Luxembourg.
(Featured Image: Larissa Best, President of LBAN and Emmanuelle Ragot, Partner at Wildgen / Image Credit © Silicon Luxembourg / Marion Dessard)
You both play an active role in the Luxembourg startup environment. Can you tell us more about your respective projects and their complementarity?
L.B. Indeed, I wear several hats, one of which is president of LBAN, Luxembourg Business Angel Network, and the other one is director at Equilibre, a Luxembourg think tank on gender complementarity. There is some overlap between the two initiatives when it comes to female entrepreneurship, women co-founders at startups and access to finance, but of course both not for profits have their different priorities and lives. It is quite enriching to have both views: one more operational at Equilibre, one more strategic at LBAN.
E.R. I am like a musical director, because I’m (1) heading our IP/TMT/Data and related litigation practice with my team for international/local clients; (2) heading our legal hub for startup business W4 innovation with a dedicated team on corporate, tax, employment, IP/TMT/Data, commercial and (3) regulatory matters focusing on strengthening the ecosystems of startups and contributing to building up our startup nation; (4) speaking on various occasions on legal topics in tech for international specialized tech lawyers at conferences in the USA, Netherlands and this year in Sweden; (5) mentoring via several channels in Luxembourg; and (6) contributing to Wildgen 4 Women with my partners to encourage women in their development.
The platform gives the possibility to the fuel retailer, whether it is the single service station in the neighborhood or the well-known fuel brand, to increase his revenue per client via marketing actions and greater insight about drivers’ habits.
“A startup nation may not only rely on political/economical decisions, which is the government’s responsibility. All actors need to understand the meaning and changes of the culture and, most importantly, need to work together.”
We hear a lot about Luxembourg as a ‘Startup Nation’. What are the best initiatives and areas for improvement from the Luxembourg government to achieve the goal?
L.B. Yes, Luxembourg has done quite a lot of nation branding on the concept of the startup nation. A startup nation will have to be comprised of many different actors working together towards the same goal: elevating the local eco-system to new heights and possibilities. This is not at all the government’s responsibility, in my opinion, but should come from the private sector supported by government. As the programs are building up, more investment-ready companies are churned out and access to finance becomes more important. That is where LBAN comes in. Our mission is to enhance the availability of seed funding in Luxembourg.
E.R. A startup nation may not only rely on political/economical decisions, which is the government’s responsibility. All actors need to understand the meaning and changes of the culture and, most importantly, need to work together. Luxembourg has an environment of working together naturally, which is often promoted as the reason for its reactivity. Since our initiative W4I, we have come across many programs that have emerged and are still building up from both the public/private sectors. Direct and indirect funding are more visible and therefore easier.
Which projects, initiatives or success stories do you think are the most inspiring for young entrepreneurs in Luxembourg?
E.R. We are proud of several stories in various sectors like Kussbus and Kwalyo (CarPay-Diem). For recent fund raising, we can mention Zeilt for the visibility of Luxembourg in creative industries and SESAMm and Talkwalker for their global growth.
“My Pledge is an initiative aimed at conference organizers who wish to find more female speakers to increase the quality of their debates.”
Further to your involvement with emerging businesses, you are also committed to gender equality in Luxembourg through the ‘Equilibre’ think tank and the ‘Wildgen 4 Women’ (W4W) initiative. What are the missions of these platforms?
L.B. Equilibre is a platform for corporations and individuals who are interested in engaging and finding information on gender complementarity at work. Equilibre conducts research, provides public speaking on the topic of inclusion management at work and manages the initiative of My Pledge. My Pledge is an initiative aimed at conference organizers who wish to find more female speakers to increase the quality of their debates. We maintain a database of over 260 speakers who we then put in touch with the conference organizers, depending on subject and availability.
E.R. The Wildgen 4 Women initiative was launched in October 2017. At the core of this idea is the desire for expanded access to learning, leveraging and leadership opportunities, because W4W is essentially based on these three key points (learning, leveraging and, then, leading). We want to encourage all women to invest in their education and to gain confidence, skills and success in order to reach senior positions.
By implementing this initiative in cooperation with some partners (ADEM, Fondsfrauen and the Asian University for Women), we are going to assist women whenever and wherever the need arises (networking, training sessions, …)!
Is there a real need, here in Luxembourg, to empower women and strengthen their position i.e. also as business angels?
L.B. Empowering anyone is a need, isn’t it? Women are still heavily underrepresented in management and politics and this needs to change for a healthy society to grow. Of course, that includes business angels too but is certainly not the only sector we are looking at.
E.R. We think that empowering anyone is crucial and always a need and have launched W4W from this perspective i.e. to offer legal training etc.
“Major issues faced by women are very similar in all developed countries. We are mainly talking about flexible working hours, using technology advances to work from home, moving away from the 40-hour week and presence system to a system of achievement and productivity and finally the equal responsibility of building a family.”
What are the major issues faced by women in their professional life, and how did you address them?
L.B. Major issues faced by women are very similar in all developed countries. We are mainly talking about flexible working hours, using technology advances to work from home, moving away from the 40-hour week and presence system to a system of achievement and productivity and finally the equal responsibility of building a family.
I guess I am a big advocate for these changes because in my company, we always encouraged the above for everyone, women and men. We used technology to work from home and people were able to work less than 40 hours if they wished (most of them did). It is more management but people are so much more productive because they are happier. Equal responsibility for raising kids has always been normal in our household so I am just preaching what I know works and has been implemented from day one in my life.
E.R. At Wildgen, out of 12 partners we are five women and out of six equity partners, we are still three women. Therefore, at the top level of our firm we are on a perfectly equal number. Our working environment offers equal chances of career and responsibility, and work life balance is clearly in our values.
“Diversity leads to better innovation. Boosting women in IT refers to boosting our confidence, and it is all about daring as we need to ensure that women are not holding themselves back.”
We know diversity leads to better innovation. How could we boost the number of female talents in the technology and innovation industries?
L.B. Diversity leads to many things, including more innovation. When you highlight problems from many different viewpoints, solutions are more easily found. I believe that we need to start in high school by showcasing that in technology, talent is so rare that you have a much better negotiation position to obtain flexible working hours, sabbaticals and working from home. By highlighting this and the potential to make good money, women should naturally flock to these industries. Also, we need to recruit more female professors at the university teaching these subjects to make sure we have enough people young girls can talk to and identify with. Maybe even have a girl technology and innovation recruitment day at the uni or specially minorities’ subsidies when you enroll in courses where the majority are either men or women. For women, that could be tech, and for men that could be marketing or childcare, for example.
E.R. Indeed, diversity leads to better innovation. Boosting women in IT refers to boosting our confidence, and it is all about daring as we need to ensure that women are not holding themselves back. Developing on the side of technical skills, general leadership skills, good relationships, loyalty, empathy and mentoring skills gives the confidence to be innovative and disruptive! Men are definitively also strong allies nurturing alliance with peers and providing us with the needed insight to build up successful inclusive collaboration.