Women Entrepreneurs Give Honest Insights

Solenne Niedercorn Desouches, Elise Patelet, Marina Andrieu, Marie-Adélaïde Leclercq-Olhagaray, Ksenia Moskalenko, Barbara Brecko, Emilie Ambiaux (Photo © Stephanie Jabardo / Silicon Luxembourg)

Five women shared insights from their entrepreneurial successes and failures at the annual Women In Digital Empowerment founders’ panel. 

From funding to choosing the right co-founders and C-suite and the pandemic, each speaker had a unique take, offering insights to inspire the next generation of women founders. Here are a few take-aways from each of the speakers.

Ksenia Moskalenko, CEO Mission Space

The most recent arrival to Luxembourg, Ksenia graduated from university in the US 18 months ago. She planned to become a business analyst until a classmate invited her to join his space startup. Starting the firm during the pandemic was, she said, a good thing, as pitching over Zoom gave her a more gradual introduction to this milieu. Having recently returned from the Web Summit where Mission Space was a finalist in the pitching contest, she said: “If I had been asked to do that two years ago, I would have said no […] That process on Zoom was good for us.”

The experience is paying off. The firm closed a €500k preseed round from business angels in Luxembourg and Switzerland. It is seeking to raise €1.5m in seed funding, for which it expects to close in the first quarter of 2023. “Often they want to speak with the whole team. For us it hasn’t been a challenge having a startup that was co-founded by a woman.”

Emilie Ambiaux, founder Les Talentueuses

Emilie entertained the idea of becoming an entrepreneur when she lost her job. She recalled that it took months to formulate a business idea: to support self-employed women develop business models and online marketing strategy. The pandemic was a driver for her business as it catalysed more people to start their own businesses or become self-employed. She recalled: “The challenge was that so many people decided to go for it at the same time. It has an impact on the market. Advertising prices went up and people got tired of social media. At the same time, it created opportunities and forced people to reinvent themselves to reach new clients.”

Solenne Niedercorn-Desouches, self-employed fintech and VC advisor

With a background in finance, Solenne decided to launch her first startup after having her fourth child. The medical appointment tool was later liquidated but she never lost the taste for entrepreneurship. “I realised that I lacked the skills needed to run a startup. So I got a job working for one which made me realise what it takes to build a startup. It’s even more difficult than starting a simple company.” Today, Solenne is self-employed and works closely with entrepreneurs. 

Solenne highlighted the challenge of finding good co-founders, having recently put a project on hold after co-founders expressed doubts. “You have to be very pragmatic about finding a co-founder. You approach it as if you were recruiting an employee.”

Barbara Brecko, founder Ginkgo Solution Facilities and Walletz

Barbara’s entrepreneurial path began with opening beauty shop Ginkgo Solution Facilities, a project which she says was challenging having never worked with beauticians before. “ You have contact with completely different people and you learn from them,” she said. 

The shops were obliged to close during the lock down, leading to the Kaaf Lokal initiative, a solidarity voucher scheme that provided liquidity for struggling businesses. Barbara’s latest venture, Walletz, was borne out of Kaaf Lokal. A mobile, cash back app that encourages local shopping. The idea emerged from a voucher project supporting local business during lockdown. Barbara is currently personally financing the Walletz project. “I didn’t want to depend on others. But this application needs to move and have innovation, for which you need IT and they ask a lot of money. Next year, we will need to find some financial partners,” she said. 

Elise Patelet, lawyer at law firm Harvey

Elise grew up with entrepreneurial parents and so knows all about the sacrifices founders have to make. She noted during the pandemic the importance of having a clear contractual relationship with all stakeholders. “When business is slow, you still have to pay for services. Maybe you need to make short-term amendments to survive this particular  time.”

When it comes to funding, Elise stressed the importance of fixing terms in a shareholder agreement to avoid having investors take control of the startup. “For a woman, I think it’s the most difficult thing to be in front of an investor who is not the same gender. If you’re a mother, you also have to take care of your business and your family.”

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