How to empower female founders

How to empower female founders

The Co-Founder & CEO of Vienna-based Female Founders explains how to build a female-empowered startup ecosystem

Diversity and female entrepreneurship are important success factors for startup ecosystems. There is more and more awareness, as the role of women startup founders gets more attention in local ecosystems as well as international tech conferences. Our report on Women Entrepreneurs in Europe reveals that Vienna, Austria, is one of the most succesful places for female entrepreneurs.

Lisa-Marie Fassl is co-founder of Female Founders, a pan-European community comprising an accelerator and funding activities, which is based in Vienna. She has contributed to the city´s attractive female-focused ecosystem profile. Lisa-Marie shares her experience in this interview.

Why is Vienna an attractive startup ecosystem for female entrepreneurs?

Lisa-Marie Fassl: Vienna is ranking as one of the most liveable cities in the world in the past couple of years. It has a high standard of living when compared to other European and even international cities. For women, the city is very safe and designed with women in mind. In terms of funding and capital, we have easy access to public funding, and grants for very early-stage companies, making it attractive to start a company here.

Much of the funding is focused on women-led and innovative early-stage businesses. And Vienna Business Agency is granting more funds if projects are led by women and the female perspective is considered.

We want to turn Vienna into a hub for female entrepreneurship

Vienna, compared to London, Berlin, or Amsterdam, is a small city with a medium-sized startup ecosystem. It does not have a very prominent or specialized profile. We want to take this as an opportunity to turn Vienna into a hub for female entrepreneurship and build a strong profile as a city focused on female entrepreneurship. Local women in leadership positions are in support of the increasing female participation.

What are some of the knock-on effects of higher female participation in the startup ecosystem?

Lisa-Marie Fassl: Generally, people jump into supporting female entrepreneurship for marketing reasons and not necessarily the economic upsides. Although this is the case, increased marketing helps raise awareness and highlight the economic benefits.

People start to take female participation more seriously

Eventually, people start to think of it and include more women and diversity, turning the trend around trend in the long run by taking action.

People who started to build the startup ecosystem were by and large men. Now, they are in their mid-30’s and some are starting to have kids, some girls. I think it is a positive effect on the system because people start to think about the female perspective and take female participation in the ecosystem more seriously. This helps to build a more inclusive ecosystem now and in the future.

Seeing increasing numbers of female entrepreneurs and founders, more women are starting to enter the investment industry. Typically, these women want to invest in companies with women in the founder team. People who write cheques tend to give them to people who they see themselves in.

While the growth is slow and steady, it is definitely growing, which is very important to recognize.

What are the key learnings for other startup ecosystems to become more inclusive?

Lisa-Marie Fassl: Organizations should focus on promoting and talking about female entrepreneurship, founders, and the female perspective.

It is key to raising awareness in the startup ecosystems and bringing these issues to light.

With COVID, people make more use of digital networking opportunities

At Female Founders, for example, we have an approach based on action and responsibility, rather than only a strategic and theoretical conversation. This is required to implement such initiatives and has helped build Female Founders. Prior to COVID times, running physical events was key for us and helped us grow. With COVID, digital networking is getting better and stronger and people can use these networking opportunities.

Diversity improves businesses and increases revenues. This, then requires more deal flow and funnel towards female entrepreneurs. Investors are looking for women-led businesses, hence closing the gap in match-making will improve diversity. Lastly, increasing the connectivity of local startup ecosystems to other cities helps foster and bring more innovation.

The interview was conducted in October 2020 as part of the research for the report “Women Entrepreneurs in Europe“.

Photography: Marcella Ruiz-Cruz/Female Founders