In start-up country, female founders are still a minority. And in fairness to Birdhouse, that’s also true. Our last cohort had about 20% female founded start-ups. Nevertheless, our country, and we, have a string of strong female entrepreneurs. We spoke to four of them, about their business, their entrepreneurial path and what they see as obstacles to female entrepreneurship anno 2019.
One such female entrepreneur is Herlinde De Buck, co-founder of Contractify, a start-up around contract management. The value the startup provides? “Companies today put a lot of work into negotiating contracts.” tells Herlinde. “But once they’ve been concluded, nobody follows up on the contracts. They are not stored correctly and companies no longer check all the conditions. The average SME loses a lot of value this way.”
Herlinde realizes that female entrepreneurs like her are in the minority. “That’s a reflection of business in general,” she states. “In the start-up world, I don’t think that’s any different than in the rest of the private sector.”
She sees the basis for this in daily life. “As a woman, you still get assigned more tasks in the household,” she says. “Many women entrepreneurs drop out more easily because of this. We also provide less incentive for women to be entrepreneurs, although this is changing. Women simply have more expectations in their families, which slows down the choice to undertake.”
“We also do not encourage women to be entrepreneurs as much, although that is tipping over.”
Dare to jump
Isabel Lambert, co-founder of Washcot, also sees that combining entrepreneurship and a family is difficult. Washcot is a Birdhouse alumni offering a diaper service. Washcot washes and rents washable diapers with weekly collection and delivery to individuals and daycare centers.
“Every day, 1.5 million baby nappies are used and thrown away in Belgium,” says Isabel. “Who offer our customers a service where we deliver new washable diapers weekly, and pick up the dirty ones to clean. Carefree, healthy and ecological diapering is what we stand for. Always clean nappies, no waste and ideal for potty training.”
Washcot has already made a steep climb. They have already concluded a partnership with JBC, and today they supply 20 nurseries and 350 families.
“Combining work and family is obviously not always obvious,” Isabel comments on her entrepreneurial path. “And that may scare women more often than men. That never stopped me. I am fully committed to my family and to my business. If you want to start something you shouldn’t let it depend on such factors. You have to dare to jump, there are always ways to combine both.”
“Combining work and family is not always obvious, of course, and that may deter women more often than men. It has never stopped me.”
From negative to positive cycle
The 25-year old Marie Van den Broeck should be less concerned with the work-family combination. But she already saw how women face barriers to entrepreneurship, especially on the technology side.
Marie is the founder of My Add On, with which she designed a cover for the handles of stools. That small innovation has a big impact. “The inspiration actually came from my grandmother,” Marie explains. “She never complains, but when she had to walk with crutches she suddenly did. You often get sore hands and you drop the crutches too easily. All that works against the recovery process, but we solve it with our design.”
Unizo already elected Marie as student-entrepreneur of the year in 2017 . She also has a clear vision on why women are less entrepreneurial. “For me, it works in a negative or positive circle,” Marie explains. “
We still do not encourage women and girls enough to take up technical professions or to be entrepreneurs. Their environment often protects them. For example, they are not allowed to use tools or are only given dolls as toys. This means that there are fewer women in technical professions. Then you get a situation that confirms the stereotype of non-technical women.”
According to Marie, the basis lies in upbringing and education. By the way, Marie broke that pattern in her personal path. “I made a pretty abrupt switch in my high school from Latin Math to an engineering major. Just because I found technology interesting.” she explains.
“We still don’t encourage women and girls enough to enter technical professions or entrepreneurship.”
And according to her, this is also the basis for turning the negative circle into a positive one. “Maybe give your daughters mixed toys, so not only dolls but also an electronics kit. That breaks that negative cycle,” she advises.
The last female entrepreneur we spoke to is Heleen Van Oost, founder of Dare To Date, a start-up that organises face-to-face dating events. “I founded Dare To Date because I felt that people were talking to each other far too little in dating situations,” says Heleen. “I thought it was unfortunate that people didn’t get to talk to each other anymore, but meanwhile were on Tinder all the time from their seats.”
This frustration led to Dare To Date, a company that organises speed dates in Belgium. And that concept has been successful. She already works from eight cities and organizes eight to ten events per week. She is also looking at international expansion and wants to set foot in the Netherlands and France.
“I think women are more afraid to take that leap into entrepreneurship,” Heleen says of female entrepreneurship. “For centuries we’ve had the norm that women had to stay safely within the family, and that idea doesn’t just go away. The fact that I have a network that supports me in this was very important to me. I have great friends, a partner and coaches who support me in what I do, and that has really helped me.”
“I have great girlfriends, a partner and coaches who support me in what I do, and that network has really helped me.”
Make the jump
But regardless of all their individual situations, all four entrepreneurs feel that women should just take the plunge more often.
“I hope that silently more women entrepreneurs will come,” says Herlinde from Contractify. “Don’t let that stop you if you have ambition and passion, whether you are male or female. There are always solutions to handing things over. Don’t think: I’m a woman among so many men. Just go for it.”
“If you believe in something, just do it,” agrees Isabel from Washcot. “Don’t let it depend on things like children or a partner. Because you can practically always find an alternative to that. You have to be realistic, of course. But if you have a dream, you have to go for it.”
“I think there is a lot of potential for female entrepreneurship. Both within the more technical areas, and within the softer, rather feminine areas such as dating and beauty. There is still a lot of room for women entrepreneurs. And if there is a woman who can’t wait to get started, she can always contact me for advice,” laughs Heleen from Dare To Date.