Women account for 51% of Europe’s total population, but just 15% of startup founders, making them the continent’s largest untapped entrepreneurial and leadership resource. With the aim of empowering women within the Esade Alumni community, the Esade Alumni DACH Chapters organised a panel session featuring alumnae from Switzerland, Germany and Austria, who shared their experiences, best practices and tips to help boost the potential of women with an entrepreneurial spirit.
To explain the gap between men and women in entrepreneurship, social roles and stereotypes are a good place to start. More diverse ecosystems have been shown to generate better products and services, provide access to new experiences, and significantly improve a company’s workplace environment and productivity. Moreover, entrepreneurship can offer women considerable flexibility, enabling them to strike a balance between work and their personal and family life, something they particularly value. Esade Alumni wanted to find out what motivates women to become entrepreneurs, how they do it, what they prioritise and how they find resources.
Their vision of entrepreneurship
Luiza Dobre (MMM ’09) is founder and CEO of Komed Health AG, , a Zurich-based startup dedicated to saving lives through simplified, secure and connected clinical communication. Luiza has extensive experience in leading and developing businesses and was nominated for the Swiss Innovator of the Year Award in 2018. Before launching her current project, she asked herself what was important to her, what her values were and what she wanted her life to be like: “For me, it is important to do things that have meaning and impact. I wanted to start a business and create. After that, you start seeing opportunities everywhere, solutions to all sorts of problems.”
Luiza believes that success requires lots of resilience and a refusal to give up: “Passion, persistence and patience are the ingredients you need to keep going. In addition, entrepreneurs have to realise that they cannot do everything by themselves. They have to learn to prioritise the things that will have the greatest impact on their objectives.”
As for gender differences, Luiza believes that women should work alongside men: “You have to be where business happens, where deals are made. To do that, you often have to tune out all the background noise and focus on what you want to achieve.”
Monique Leonhardt (MS &CEMS 15), co-founder of XbyX – Women in Balance has worked at several B2C startups, including Juniqe, Hellofood (Rocket Internet) and Passion.io. She met her co-founder in 2019 and together they created XbyX – Women in Balance, an educational e-commerce company that helps women with nutrition, menopause and healthy aging.
Monique believes it is essential to set goals – for the company and for oneself – in order to ensure that the pace is right. “In my case, we have the initial investment of my co-founder, so we don’t need any other investors, but the investment possibilities available through investor networks or venture capital are also very valid for women,” she explained. “It just depends on the characteristics of the business.”
Monique decided to look for a co-founder because she did not want to start a business on her own. She consulted with many people before settling on the right person who would complement her in the project. “That’s why I think it’s very important to build a network and meet lots of people. You can learn from many sources: a conversation, a meeting, a podcast, a book… Rather than creating more women’s clubs, I think we need to build good contact networks.”
Zorina Dimitrova (MBA ’11) is the founder and CEO of two online platforms for consultation and training with personal development experts. Grownlearn.org focuses on providing training to medium-to-large businesses by finding the right coach for a company’s human resource development goals. Healnlearn.org provides online courses and consultations for individuals, focusing on wellness, mindset, personal growth, spirituality and health.
“When the time came, I decided to create the platform. I wanted to be free from the directives of an investor. Also, I was a mother, so I wanted to be able to work flexibly. From experience, I can say that motherhood is an opportunity to start a business. It is a perfect time for it. But before you start a business, you have to take your whole life into consideration, since it’s not about not having a personal life.”
“Women can be very successful in the corporate world, venture capital – whatever we set our minds to. But I think what we are best at is exchange. One of women’s strengths is knowing how to collaborate with other people.”