If there is anyone who is an old hand at entrepreneurship, it is Lien De Pau. She founded several companies, including the network organization for entrepreneurs Zeker Van Haar Zaak, wrote a book about her way of working and living, ‘Get Real’, and has her own business school, called TRAVAK. Now Birdhouse and Lien are joining forces and launching the Birdhouse x TRAVAK Business School program together. What does that route entail and why is Lien the right person? We asked her and our founder Jan-Willem Callebaut ourselves!
The TRAVAK Business School has been around for a while now and is now in its fifth regular edition . The collaboration with Birdhouse will be the sixth time that Lien has opened the doors of her entrepreneurial school. TRAVAK was born out of a personal frustration.
“My story begins like that of many small entrepreneurs,” Lien explains. “I started out as a freelancer, but quickly came to the conclusion that it’s a fun way to make a living, but not at all sustainable in the long run. Because your business is completely connected to and around you.”
However, Lien already knew that life as a freelancer is not always rosy. “I had seen it as a teenager with my own mother, who was also a freelancer. How tough that kind of entrepreneurship is: a lot of stress, a lot of uncertainty. I always said I wasn’t going to do that to myself. But when I became self-employed, that’s exactly what happened. Fortunately, I got out of there myself. Letting entrepreneurs take that next, bigger step as well, to take their passion and skills to the next level: that’s my mission.”
“I spent four years experimenting to come up with a revenue formula that works.”
“So I started looking for alternative revenue models for small business owners,” she outlines. “I spent four years experimenting, to finally arrive at a formula that works. Basically, it comes down to pouring your knowledge and passion into a product, and then bringing that to market in a scalable, and preferably automated, way. This is the formula that the TRAVAK Business School is all about.”
Lien poured this formula into a structured training. “The course lasts ten weeks and is divided into six modules. In the first three it’s mainly about a product, creating an offer, in the next three we’re going to market that product in a scalable and automated way.”
“For the training, I work with a lot of experts, each of whom has their specialty within the TRAVAK Business School. What I also found very important, is that the experts themselves are also small entrepreneurs, people in the same situation as the participants of the business school. So they are close to the problems that our participants experience.”
Strategic thinking can be learned
Lien is convinced that the TRAVAK Business School is the ideal preliminary stage for our accelerator: “The Birdhouse accelerator programme is a logical continuation of the TRAVAK Business School. When I hear who drops out of Birdhouse’s selections, it’s often the founders who lack that bit of strategy and systematic entrepreneurship. There is a need for a preliminary stage. The Business School takes that first step towards developing the necessary maturity of the company.”
This is also confirmed by our founder Jan-Willem: “About half of the start-ups that apply for the Birdhouse programme have at least one female founder. But they are more likely to drop out during the pitch phase, which means that only one in five start-ups has a female founder. We think that’s a shame, because ultimately we want to strive for a balanced mix. That’s why we’re creating this partnership.”
“Once you start thinking strategically, you often see tremendous growth in your business.”
But why do female founders often drop out during the pitch phase? From his own experience Jan-Willem learns that male founders often think bigger – and thus more scalable – “and a scalable project is crucial for us. This way you can get the most out of our accelerator. Because our program has a limited number of places, we have to be strict in our choice”, says Jan-Willem.
Lien confirms that scalable and strategic thinking is not ingrained in everyone. Fortunately, you can learn it: “Entrepreneurs who come to me, often started from an idea that they like, that they are good at or feel passionate about. And that is a very good motivation to start a business. But what I see is that they often have not thought strategically about their business. How they want to position themselves, for example.”
“Fortunately, you can learn to do that, and so we see tremendous growth there once they start to think strategically. Also the financial story of a case, there is often work to be done. With many women, I also often see a lack of financial knowledge, which then results in poor, non-market pricing. Be careful, I see a lot of men struggling with that too. But just like thinking strategically, you can also learn how to set a good price.” And that’s exactly where Jan-Willem sees the match with Birdhouse: “Start-ups that are already a few steps further along in that process, can participate in our accelerator in a much more focused way and thus achieve nice growth during our program.”
With her business school Lien focuses primarily on female entrepreneurs. And there are reasons for this: “Women often feel more comfortable, especially at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey, in a purely female group. Because there are still issues that women entrepreneurs have to deal with. Like the fact that women more often get negative feedback from their environment when they want to take the plunge into entrepreneurship: would you do it with your good job, how will you combine it with the children,… Our society creates a huge risk aversion there anyway.”
“That’s what I want to offer an answer to with TRAVAK. That does not mean that we only cover female topics, on the contrary. But we do provide the space to talk about those kinds of things. Because ultimately, how you market something, for example, is information that is equally relevant to both a male and female entrepreneur.”
Want to discover the unique trajectory of Birdhouse x TRAVAK Business School? Here you can find out everything about the program!