In this blog post, Claire Duhamel, Community Manager at Impact Hub Berlin, shares her thoughts on entrepreneurship as a tool for female empowerment.
I still have mixed feelings about the International Women’s Day that happens every 8th March.
A part of me wishes that we wouldn’t need this day anymore, and that all of us could simply act with respect towards each other everyday, everywhere.
The other part of me is glad that this day exists (and not just because it’s been a public holiday in Berlin since 2019!) – because there should always be an opportunity to raise our voices, to find solutions to inequality, and to co-create a more gender-balanced world.
As part of the biggest global network for social innovation, at Impact Hub Berlin we inspire, connect and enable our local community of changemakers to develop solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 5: Gender Equality, and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, in particular, have long been two crucial parts of our mission.
Entrepreneurship is an incredible empowerment tool
My belief in the above statement is what led me from a masters in Gender Studies in Paris back in 2017, to an internship with the French NGO, Led By Her, that supports vulnerable women to rebuild their lives through entrepreneurial projects. This experience taught me everything I needed to know about the capacity for entrepreneurship to change people’s narratives.
I saw the huge potential in entrepreneurship to empower people – especially women, who still lack the same opportunities as men the world over. Through involvement with the Led By Her incubation programme, I witnessed strong individuals growing, taking their projects and their lives in their hands, and gaining the self-confidence to find their purpose and place in the world.
As a founder myself (of Periodensystem – a social enterprise supporting vulnerable women to access menstrual products) I also take a big interest in the work of other female founders in the Impact Hub Berlin community.
A portrait of an Impact Hub entrepreneur
Nina Schmulius joined Impact Hub in 2020, and among the many hats she wears – as a single mother of an 18-year-old daughter, an avid reader, a cat lover, and since turning 40, a born-again roller skater – she’s also an entrepreneur.
In January this year, she founded 7479c, a startup that aims to tackle climate change by empowering people and businesses to make ethical decisions, and by promoting a circular economy. The idea is to share easily accessible information about the components in any given device, to encourage the reduction and re-use of materials.
We need more female entrepreneurs
According to the Female Founders Monitor, in 2019, only 15% of startup founders in Germany were women. In our conversation, Nina allocated some of the blame to a persistent lack of visibility for female founders as role models.
She also pointed to gender bias in financing. For women-led teams, there’s a big gap between desire and reality when it comes to investment by business angels and Venture Capital funds. Rapid growth and larger capital funding are still the exception for female founders: only 5% of female-led startups surveyed had received above 1 million EUR in funding, compared to 28% of male-led ventures. Teams of women also often have less developed networks in some highly business-relevant areas.
These concerns were echoed by my colleague, Clara Niedt, Impact Hub Berlin’s Programme Lead for F-LANE: the Vodafone Institute Accelerator for Female Empowerment. For her, a key value of the programme, which supported its fifth cohort last year, has been giving its participants a voice and media attention, as well as relevant networks and exchanges with peers.
In Nina’s opinion, although awareness of gender biases has risen, this hasn’t always extended to everyday issues. Shortly after she started 7479c, her Chief Technical Officer became pregnant, and in the end withdrew from the project, recognising that there still isn’t the infrastructure or acceptance to allow women to combine motherhood and business.
Where female founders go from here
When asked what advice she’d give to other women in the Impact Hub Berlin community looking to start their own business, Nina declined to be didactic: “Women are too often told they’re ‘too much this’ and ‘should be more that’.” Instead, she offered some to male founders: “make space, share power and enable others. And stay human – always!”
Here are Claire’s top tips for female founders:
- Fight for what you believe in and reduce inequalities wherever you can
- Apply to programmes like F-LANE, where you can defend your idea at a Demo Day to win supporters
- Be inspired by women with the courage to make dreams come true, like Madam CJ Walker, the first black female millionaire in the US (check out the TV show Self Made – you won’t regret it!)
- Stay strong and resilient, like the incredible women supported by Led By Her
- And of course, live every day as though it’s International Women’s Day!