It is a fact that the entrepreneurial world is still predominantly male, but fortunately more and more women are standing up and claiming their place. This includes Lore Janssens (Oh Yaz), Lieselotte Roose (Kluster) and Muriel Maebe (Gigspot), who are currently working at full speed at our accelerator to grow explosively with their start-up. What hurdles have they overcome in their careers to stand where they are today? What challenges do they face now? And how do they view the gender ratios in their sector?

Lore Janssens (Oh Yaz)

With her clothing brand Oh Yaz, founder Lore Janssens focuses on feel good for women. That goes for her t-shirts, but also for the new underwear line she will launch soon. Lore: “Three out of four women suffer from a vaginal infection at least once in their lives. But we all keep quiet about it, nobody can know. I think that’s nonsense. It’s common, so embrace it. Wear comfortable clothes and don’t make it heavier than it is.”

Lore is in close contact with her target group. This is also how the idea for the underwear grew. “It’s really hard to find ecological underwear that’s beautiful, breathes well, but doesn’t hang out among the pajamas and socks in the store. There was just really no experience around it. When I checked with my community, I noticed that this is also very strong in their minds.”

At Birdhouse, the Antwerp native wants to put a number of things in order in order to realise her ambitions. Main point of attention: focus. “I think it’s been too much of a one-woman show so far. The advantage is that I can work flexibly. But that is also the disadvantage, because it is a lot of firefighting. In addition, we are going to split the t-shirts and underwear into two separate brands.”

Single founder

As a single founder, Lore has no need for a co-pilot for the time being: “Fortunately I have a very good sounding board and through Birdhouse I can now contact many people to check things. I did have someone sitting in the company for a while, but I noticed that we were starting to deviate from the concept. I did not want that, because our strength lies in the concept. I could use some extra input in the area of finance, for example, so perhaps a co-founder could be interesting in the long term.”

Before Lore founded Oh Yaz in 2017, she worked as a headhunter at a large corporate, her first job. That period proved to be her push towards entrepreneurship. “The problem I had there was the anonymity. I felt like a number bringing money to the table, but no one cared how I did it. While I need to be able to make a valuable contribution of my own. I want to see the bigger picture.”

It turned out to be a period full of doubts: “I’m really not the only one who doesn’t like his or her first job. But you can’t quit, because that’s not good for your CV, is it? And will your parents be ok with it? Those are expectations that may be real, but often you project them onto yourself and make them bigger. That just lives very hard. Among women even more than among men, I think.”

“At my first job, it was contractual that you had to come in heels,” she says.

Lore continued: “In my career, I did run into certain roadblocks that are fed by your upbringing, the society and the mentality that prevails. At my first job, for example, it was contractually agreed that you had to wear heels. You had to use your femininity to close deals. Or, when a Christmas party has to be organised, it is often the women who step up to the plate to do it.”

According to Lore, there is also a lot to gain in the entrepreneurial field: “Of course, that world is predominantly male. But if you look at the female entrepreneurs, they are less likely to ask for capital or investments. And if they do, they usually ask for much smaller amounts. That is a mentality that you have inherited as a woman, a pattern that you have built up. That’s annoying, but I do think that as a person and as a woman you have to take responsibility to break that.”

Breaking through one’s own beliefs and patterns is an important part of entrepreneurship for Lore. “At Birdhouse, I’m well-challenged by the coaches on that front and there’s a lot of emphasis on mindset. If you’re not fully convinced of your product, you can’t sell yourself. Doing extra research doesn’t help. You have to get past that mental obstacle!

Lieselotte Roose (Kluster)

Lieselotte is marketing & sales manager at Kluster , the platform that encourages the sharing economy and where left-handed people can find right-handed people for all kinds of jobs in and around the house. In 2020 she joined the co-founding team, consisting of Jochen De Bie and her brother Sam Roose. In her role, she has the responsibility to engage as many people as possible and keep them happy within the Kluster community.

Kluster’s ambitions at Birdhouse Accelerator are great. Lieselotte: “We are working towards a new capital round and want to accelerate our growth. We will do this in phases, starting with a big bang in Antwerp. At the moment our handymen are still a bit scattered. That is why we are going to conduct a targeted campaign, delineated by region, to bring together as many people as possible, so that more matches can be found on our platform. After all, making more people happy is what we do it for!”

Lieselotte ended up at Kluster via KU Leuven and hypotheek.winkel. On her career path she never had the idea that her gender was of great influence: “I didn’t notice any setbacks or opposition. I don’t feel that I have been disadvantaged or favoured because I am a woman. Whether it has anything to do with my femininity, I don’t know, but my perspective on things is of great added value at Kluster. The three of us are much more balanced than Jochen and Sam were as a couple.”

“I’m used to standing my ground among men.”

“I don’t actually think about it that much, about the male-female relationship,” Lieselotte continues. “I grew up with two brothers and a sister. I was also in the scouts with many male friends. So I’m used to standing out among men. I don’t notice any difference and I don’t think there should be one. In the end, everyone has a different personality and I don’t think being a man or a woman plays a big role in that.”

Although Lieselotte sees more male entrepreneurs than female at Birdhouse, she doesn’t feel she has had fewer opportunities there either. “During the rounds of judging I noticed that there were always women present. That’s also important I think, because if there were only male judges, it can subconsciously play into the selection. It’s also harder for them to empathise with start-ups with a female target audience.”

“To make the link with Kluster: I can imagine that it becomes more difficult to keep your balance between your career and your family, when you have children. A nice example of a situation for which Kluster was founded. Because through Kluster you can outsource all kinds of things to make time for what you like doing best. I think that for women, and certainly for female entrepreneurs, this is a very current topic. Even though it applies just as much to men with families!

Muriel Maebe (Gigspot)

Gigspot, the online platform where musicians and their fan base come together for full experience e-concerts, is only a few months old. Co-founders Jonas Vermeulen and Muriel Maebe got the idea in full lockdown in 2020. After experiencing a few online events, they noticed how much they missed live music and concerts. This is how they started brainstorming and the idea for their brand new start-up was born.

What is the main goal at Birdhouse in the coming period? Muriel: “Our mission is to connect people with music, even if that’s not so obvious physically. We’ve already done some great concerts and comedy nights. But we are at a turning point. On the one hand we notice that people are tired of going digital. On the other hand, we have to analyse the needs of the artists again. For example, do they need a digital channel in addition to the live circuit? With the help of our mentors and other experts at Birdhouse, we want to investigate those issues and get them in focus.”

Muriel is enterprising by nature. Before Gigspot she worked for years as a freelancer in Asia. Why the choice? “For me, that’s freedom. If you tell me today where I’m going to be in two years, I’ll panic. I’m driven by the opportunities I see and I want to be able to seize them. Whether I will arrive at where my vision lies today, I do not know. That will probably pivot at some point. But if you believe in it, you can achieve beautiful things!”

As a single mother of two it is not easy to combine her entrepreneurship with the role of a mother. “I work long hours sometimes and then you ask yourself: am I doing it right as a mother and as an entrepreneur? Fortunately, I can count on grandma and grandpa and I get some help here and there. That gives the extra space that is needed.”

“As a mom, I’m much more purposeful about business because I don’t have time to waste.”

According to Muriel, being a mother makes more of a difference in her career than being a woman. “As a mum I’m much more purposeful in my business, because the time that isn’t spent usefully is time I can’t spend with my children. It’s also good to admit when things aren’t going well, both in your family and in your business, and then ask for help. I have a tendency to want to do everything perfectly. But being an entrepreneur is also about moving forward with something you can be 80% happy with and getting results. That’s a lesson I’ve learned.”

“It is perhaps less obvious to be an entrepreneur as a woman than as a man,” Muriel continues. “Yet when you put the figures of female and male entrepreneurs side by side. But I don’t think it’s the traditional gender roles that determine this anymore, because I have a number of girlfriends where it’s the other way around and the man works part-time. I often hear: it is the men who should bring more equality to the labour market. But on the other hand, I think it’s up to women to take that place and be full of saying, I want to do that too!”

Muriel continues to be an entrepreneur: “I learn so much more every day. I also pass this on to my children. They’re pretty independent for their age, and I don’t have to teach them how to negotiate. They already know very well what they can say or do to get that extra hour of TV. So I think it is an enrichment for yourself and everyone around you. Still, it remains a course full of ups and downs that I wouldn’t miss for the world!”

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