By Stephanie Hagen, Director, Urban Mobilty Company
Click here to watch a recording of Women in Mobility: Closing the Female Founder Gap
According to a recent study conducted by Columbia University, Female-led ventures are 63 percent less likely than male-led ventures to obtain VC funding. Starting a company is already a challenge, but when faced with an uneven playing field, how can female entreprenuers not only succeed in pursuing their ideas but also thrive in the often heavily male-dominated startup ecoystem?
This was the main topic explored during the Virtual Urban Mobility Workshop, Women in Mobility: Closing the Female Founder Gap. The Virtual Workshop was held in partership with the Women in Mobility London hub and the conversation was led by one of the hub’s Co-founders and Business Analyst at Appyway, Annie Reddaway. Joining Annie to speak about their own experiences as female founders and to provide sage advice to all potential entrepreneuers, were Sanneke Mulderink, Co-founder and Partner at the Netherlands-based Tranzer, a Mobility as a Service app that allows for seamless journey planning, ticket purchase and validation; and Linnéa Kornehed, Co-founder and CMO at Einride, a Swedish company specializing in electric and self-driving vehicles. Here are some of our key take aways from the engaging and frank discussion.
Entrepreneurship can set you free (but maybe learn the basics first)
Entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, particularly those who enjoy the structure and the monthly paycheck which a corporate environment provides. For those looking to make the leap from working in corporate to starting their own business, things will likely not be easy, especially in the beginning. “There is less money”, as Sanneke bluntly stated, but she was quick to add that for her, the sudden freedom that came with working for herself was a major motivator to continue down the entrepreneurship path. Having creative control and being able to stamp everything you do with “your own signature and not the signature of your company” is a satisfaction that cannot necessarily be replicated in the corporate world.
Of course, even for the most entreprenuerlly-spirted person, there are certain lessons to be gleaned from working in a more typical “nine to five” role. Linnéa, who started working with startups while still in university, said one of the most important pieces of advice she received was to “get a real job”. That is, to work in a more traditional corporate setting where she learned that it can take time to build something of value, as opposed to in the startup world where new ideas can come and go at lightening speed. She now better understands the important balance between trying new things and understanding that the positive results may not come immediately.
Sexism is real, however individual experiences vary
When asked specifically about how their experiences as being female in male-dominated sectors, both women agreed that while they had experienced some sexism, it was important not to dwell too much on it and move forward. Sanneke admitted that she feels like she ultimately needs to work harder to be taken seriously by others than do her male counterparts, but has personally never seen herself as different or disadvantaged due to her gender.
In Linnéa’s experience, it often comes down to the individual. She has experienced some unpleasant exchanges with male investors who clearly did not hold her to the same esteem of her co-founders, while other investors have been incredibly encouraging and great to work with. She also pointed out that since she made the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2020, she has not really been subjected to any sexist behaivor. This leaves us wondering whether in order to be truly respected in buinsess, women need to be granted “legitimancy” from a “higher” and often male voice? It’s a vexing question which we at the Urban Mobility Company will be exploring through future content.
When asked via a poll if any female entreprenuers in the audience have experienced difficulty securing funding, the responses reflected our panellists setiments as they were mostly split between “Not really” at 38% and “Very much so” also at 38%.
Startup success boils down to the two “T’s”: Teams and Time
During every stage of the startup lifecycle, funding plays a crucial role. Both Sanneke and Linnéa have run through the fundraising gauntlet many times and had key advice for our audience. Sanneke emphasised that building the right team and surrounding yourself with people who were competetant and had complementary skills to your own is what ultimately builds confidence in the investor. This is one area she said that being a women has perhaps given her a leg up, as the desire to collaborate may come to her more naturally than it does for many men in the industry.
Linnéa emphasized that when considering a fundraising cycle, it is important to be clear about your timeframe and avoid wasting time with investors that may not ultimately invest. This means getting a solid ‘no’ from some investors early on in the process, instead of meeting with them multiple times because they might invest in you, only to learn it’s not happening. Both she and Sanneke also trumpted the old adage “listen to your gut” and if you think an investor is meeting with you simply to gain market information (or “free consultancy” as Annie helpfully put it), then you are probably right.
Education is crucial to closing the Female Founder Gap
The audience asked a number of interesting questions throughout the workshop, including “What’s the one thing we can do bring about change faster?”, in reference to the Female Founder Gap. Linnéa highlighted the importance of education, and training women to take more risks. She also referenced a study she recently saw which stated that men are often recruited for their potential while women need to show what they have aleady achieved. She believes that society as a whole needs to learn how to see the potential in women and encourage them to become entrepreneurs. Sanneke also added that women should not be subjected to the binary of either being a complete success or a total failure. People need to understand and accept that it is OK for women to fail, and this does not mean they should stop trying.
When asked via a poll “What, in your opinion, would be the most effective ways to close the female funding gap?”, our audience was in agreement with Sanneke and Linnéa as the majority (24%) responded “More education & networking programs for female founders.” 21% of the audience thought having “More diverse, female fund managers” was key while another 19% believed that “Incentives for funding female-led businesses” would be a potentially effective initiative.
“Just do it”
Finally Sanneke and Linnéa were asked by another audience member how they maintain their resilience to achieve their goals and their advice was quite simple: “just do it.” Linnéa explained that at the beginning of her career, she found herself in many personally uncomfortable postions, such as speaking on panels or pitching to investors. Instead of avoiding these situations, she saw them as opportunities for training and although the experience was not always “pretty”, she came out the other side stronger and with more experience. Sanneke revealed her brillant strategy to build confidence for pitching to investors: start singing. Figuring singing in public is way more nervewracking than speaking in public, she took singing lessons and they paid off .“Everytime I give a presentation, I think this is less terrible than singing”she explained “now I’m like, it’s showtime, let’s go!”
As the discussion wrapped up, the women dispensed their final words of wisdom which should be taken to heart by all aspiring entrepreneurs, regardless of gender: listen to yourself, trust yourself, own your own decisions and just go for it!
Click here to watch a recording of Women in Mobility: Closing the Female Founders Gap
Is your company interested in co-hosting a Virtual Urban Mobility Workshop with the Urban Mobility Company? Click here for more details! Additionally, don’t forget to check out Autonomy Digital, the world’s largest gathering of mobility professionals.