Tag ‘Karen Boers’
Karen Boers is co-founder and Managing Director of Startups.be, which brings hundreds of startups together with incubators, accelerators, investors and public actors in a local startup ecosystem. She also runs the European Startup Network, which aims to help create a truly pan-European bottom-up startup ecosystem. In this blog post, Karen talks about the challenges she has encountered, how she manages to achieve a good work-life balance, and her plans for the future.
As the co-founder and CEO of both the Belgian startup network Startups.be and the European Startup Network, I have always been passionate about creating opportunities for other people – especially entrepreneurs – to thrive. Connecting the dots, helping to create the right environment and bringing people and organisations together in meaningful relationships, that’s what I love to do.
It’s been challenging these last few years, as I never considered myself to be a (social) entrepreneur in the first place. Learning to close a deal, to master financial flows, pitch my project, make myself vulnerable and conquer the never-ending cash flow challenges are just a couple of the skills I have had to develop along the way.
It’s been great, though, to go after my dreams and show our kids that you can reach for the stars and nobody should tell you it’s impossible. My boyfriend and I have five of them jointly, so we really care about what the future holds for them. Being an entrepreneur allows me to work really hard, while still being available for them – picking them up at the school gate and helping them with their homework, their small fears and challenges. It’s helped me to show them that a healthy work-life balance can also mean being passionate about what you do, that work can be fun at least part of the time and that you can blend it together in a way that makes sense to you and your family.
Taking on the challenge of better connecting and streamlining the startup ecosystem across Europe comes with new challenges – and more time away from the family. But I really hope we can build an environment in which digital skills, a creative and entrepreneurial mind-set and the opportunities to put your talents to good use are within the reach of every individual, wherever they come from.
If I had to do it all over again, I would probably not change that much. I might be a little less naive to start out with, a little less cautious about empty promises and a little more aware of the time lapse between an agreement and actual money in your bank account. But, all-in-all, every single mistake I’ve made has brought me one step closer to where I stand today – and that’s exactly where I’m happy to be.
Those mistakes did teach me that it can be a very lonely ride as an entrepreneur, though. That’s why we are inviting role models from different industries to share their stories and lessons learned at our annual “Failing Forward” conference, proving that we all learn by falling down and stepping up again – and a helping hand can make a world of difference. Since, in the end, failing is not contagious, but success is…
Once you’re bitten by the bug, there is no way back. As I am very frustrated by the inability of our traditional educational system – notwithstanding the tremendous efforts some teachers and school staff are putting in – I guess that will be my next battlefield. Starting with the launch of a coding school for the underprivileged in Brussels city centre in early 2017, I am hoping to tear down yet another barrier to opportunities for all.
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Lisa Schreier has been Head of Research & International Strategy at the German Startup Association since April 2014, where she is responsible for the German and European Startup Monitor. She is also co-founder & CEO of the European Startup Network, which she set up jointly with Karen Boers from Startups.be. Before working with startups, she worked in consulting with the department for Inter-Parliamentary Conferences of the Bundestag in Germany, the commercial department of the International Chamber of Commerce in New York, and the American Consulate in Munich.
The first study on the European Startup ecosystem, the European Startup Monitor (2016), reported that, on average, 14.7% of startups in Europe were founded by female entrepreneurs. This means that over 85% of startups in Europe are founded by men. Although, some countries like Sweden (33.3%) and France (26.7%) paint a more positive picture, this number means that there is an urgent need to promote gender equality in entrepreneurship.
There is no clear explanation why founding a business is predominantly a male domain. One finding is that there has not been enough academic research on this topic, in addition to various soft factors, such as cultural influences, which make it difficult to resolve this mainly societal puzzle. When attempting to find answers to the “why”, three main areas should be taken into consideration: family, financing and sanity.
Firstly, when looking at the major startup hub – Germany, the German Startup Monitor (2015) found that 80.9% of startup founders – both male and female – completed tertiary education. It also found that the average female founder is 31.1 years old when founding her first business. Looking at demographic statistics, women with tertiary education on average give birth at 31 years of age. Since the average age of founding a business correlates with the average age of giving birth, this raises a question as to whether women are tending to choose family over entrepreneurship.
Secondly, studies have shown that attracting investors is more difficult for female founders since only 10% of startups that raised Series A rounds had female founders. Unfortunately, there are not yet any comparable studies on gender and venture capital in Europe. But the trend is alarming: 85% of all venture capital–funded businesses have no women on their executive teams. What’s more, only 2.7% of venture capital-funded companies have a female CEO. Looking at the venture capital firms themselves, female partners make up only 6% – therefore 94% of decision-makers at venture capital funds are male.
The third, and perhaps most surprising reason that is often discussed relates to the characteristics of founders. When starting and promoting a business under high-risk conditions, where there is massive uncertainty, founders cannot justify their decision with rational facts that have been carefully analysed. Successful founders are characterised by their decisiveness, resilience, and confidence. Not enough female founders are being put forward as role models for entrepreneurship, so these leadership traits are predominantly identified as masculine. Many females may decide not to found a business due to the high risk and uncertainty associated with this type of investment.
The upside is that, within current developments, there has been a change in perception of mixed founding teams. Research has proven that having a woman on the founding team has positive effects. First of all, when venture-backed, women-led tech startups bring in 12% more revenue than male-owned tech companies and achieve a 35% higher return on investment. Mixed teams have further proven to be the most efficient, since team members generally tend to be more focused on problem solving when gender is not an influential factor on the team.
So what do we have to change? We have to establish an education system that teaches about entrepreneurship and digital skills at an early age, as well as encouraging all genders to believe in themselves. All genders should be encouraged to be courageous enough to follow an idea without constantly worrying about failure. Embracing the possibility of failure should not only be taught in school but must be embedded in European culture. If society starts to accept out of the box thinking in both males and females while providing a network of mentors instead of critics, we may be surprised to see where the European Startup ecosystem may go in the future.
On September 7th, 2016, the European Startup Network (ESN) was officially launched in Brussels. With a total of 16 democratically organized, non-profit, and independent startup associations from Europe join forces into the ESN, the ESN constitutes the European umbrella organisation representing startups. The ESN’s main goal is to harmonize and empower the European startup ecosystems with respect to the entrepreneurial culture, market access, and the legal environment. Karen Boers and Lisa Schreier are the current directors of the ESN in Brussels and Berlin.
To achieve its goals, the ESN develops an action plan with three main pillars. The first is scientific research about the European startup ecosystem to create transparency and offer fact-based policy advice at the European level. To this end, the ESN is the editor of the European Startup Monitor (ESM), an annual study on startups and founder-friendly framework conditions in Europe. Secondly, the ESN supports the internationalisation of startups and facilitates international go-to-market through the development of a soft landing program to ease startups into foreign markets. Finally, the ESN helps to build and strengthen national startup ecosystems.
Nils-Erik Jansson, chairman of the ESN, states: “Startups are already truly international with respect to their staff and the markets they operate in. The foundation of ESN is the logical next step to reflect this global nature, also in the fields of advocacy and interest representation of startups. The ESN is the first permanent coalition of national startup associations and represents more than 25,000 startups across all sectors and stages of development at the European level. It is very important to take this step and to bundle our resources on a supranational level, as many laws that are elaborated and passed in Brussels have direct impact on all European startups without their voice being included in the debate so far. “
The ESN’s establishment was furthermore supported by the two founding partners MyMicroInvest and Deutsche Messe AG.
Jakobi, Head of CeBIT Business Development at the Deutsche Messe AG, comments: “The Deutsche Messe AG is pleased to support the European startup ecosystem as one of the founding partners of the ESN. With the „SCALE 11“, Europe’s leading platform for digital startups, we offer a perfect platform for European digital founders to connect with established companies from all industries and regions during the CeBIT. This further makes way for the internationalization of the startups’ distribution channels. Startups cannot only build valuable networks from exchanges at the various country-specific joint stands, but also from international delegations visiting the CeBIT.”
MyMicroInvest chairman José Zurstrassen adds: “Allowing European startups to scale quickly across the fragmented markets is essential for their survival in a truly global marketplace. Through this partnership with ESN, we will be able to provide more easy and qualitative access to funding across Europe, which is a very important element in the scaling process.”
To become a member of the ESN, national startup associations must comply with three criteria. First, the applicants must represent a large number of their country’s startups proven by a high number of members or the association’s involvement in a national startup manifesto with respective traction. Second, ESN members must be independent which can be proved by transparent and diversified sources of financing. Applicants must be membership-based with democratic structures. Third, the applicants must be non-profit and may not pursue any economic goals. Should a national startup association have interest in being a member of the ESN but does not yet meet all the criteria, its membership might remain pending if the applicant has shown commitment on fulfilling the set criteria. The ESN supports pending members in achieving the criteria.
Current country representatives in the ESN
Beta-i Association (Portugal)
Startup Delta (The Netherlands)
* The Swiss Startup Association, Startup Estonia and Startup Norway are closely collaborating with the ESN but not full members at present.
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