On October 13-14th in Berlin’s Arena Club, the “deGUT” trade fair gave startups and entrepreneurs a wealth of inspiration, information, and tips for self-employment and running one’s own business. Offering exhibition space, advisor forums, and workshops, deGUT is Germany’s largest trade fair for this innovation sector, providing advice on financing and funding, law and taxes, sales and marketing. It’s a great chance to network and meet mentors.
I visited to see about opportunities for female founders and businesswomen. Here’s what I learned. Hopefully it helps to know and please share. In the wake of woeful treatment of women exposed in recent news, this is a bright spot of female empowerment, which we can all do well to focus on.
I was lucky to catch an interview with Edition F co-founders, Susann Hoffmann and Nora-Vanessa Wohlert. Their online platform closes the loop between a classical women’s magazine and typically male-focused business titles. Half a million online visitors per month is a testament to the public’s interest in them. Founded in 2014 by two smart women, Edition F serves as an ambassador for deGUT, exemplifying a great idea and execution that requires courage, energy, and passion.
Through an engaging live interview with moderator Christina Cassala, below are insights on what successful entrepreneurship means to the Edition F female founder duo.
Independence at All Costs
Hoffmann and Wohlert encouraged a path of independence wherever possible. They warned the audience of about 40, predominantly female attendees, to be wary of venture capital who may bring an alternate agenda than yours. For them, private investors who believed in their idea was the right choice. They wanted to decide for themselves whom to meet with, whom to sell to, and what kind of culture they wanted to create. In short, Edition F co-founder’s said perhaps they would not have been so creative had they had access to easier funding.
Network with Confidence
Despite doors that opened for Hoffman and Wohlert by other women they know, they did not find investment solutions there. Rather, they had to build their own network, including Simon Schäfer, CEO of Factory Berlin, and contacts at Pinterest. They stressed what is important is to look from within your network and then get introduced more widely. So build a great network and do not hold back from asking for what you need. Be bold.
Was it always their plan to work together? The co-founders said they shared a rebellious nature, and recommend the following: For co-founding partners, seek out a similar style, mentality, or the way you ‘tick”. This alignment is crucial for open communication and finding a shared pathway. In looking for co-founders, it matters what you are founding. But both your personal and business style need to either match or compliment each other’s. As your company grows, the psychological fit within teams must function well, for example events vs. marketing.
Herstory in the making
It seems, the ‘history’ of Edition F’s founder’s was atypical – most of their workforce was female and mid-thirties. They began with a lot of “Festangestellt”, or proper employees (not freelancers)as well. Starting from a coworking space and respective backgrounds in theater science and publicity, they created a business plan. Hoffmann and Wohlert recommend having an affinity for Excel even if it means learning it on the job.
As for balancing work and family, one the the co-founder’s recounted how having a young child actually brought the two founders into better alignment. This happened because they needed even clearer communication and understanding. Through trust, planning, and flexibility, they achieve an environment which is both supportive and driven.
Edition F moves ever more towards a digital platform over print in order to maintain a global perspective and create community. They say enabling online commentary will be exponentially more social than reading alone. Ultimately, Wohlert and Hoffman encourage drawing upon a firm belief in your idea and trust that you will find the financing.
FEMALE FUTURE FORCE
Edition F has also created a remarkable movement called FEMALE FUTURE FORCE. It’s an academy built through successful crowdfunding which is already supported by 5000 active members. Through webinars and organized panels, the curriculum weaves together knowledge of the many stellar personalities and experts that their magazine has featured. The program is dedicated to providing women with a strong digital basis to support their ideas and professional development, as well as creating a vital community. Offering year-round digital coaching, access to interviews, podcasts, videos, worksheets, and questionnaires, the Edition F team promises personal and professional growth to members and commits 10 percent of the proceeds to disadvantaged women.
You can learn more and support it here!
VdU: A Vocal Women’s Association That Changes Policy
While checking out the various booths as deGUT, I met up with Leonie Schmiel. She works at VdU, which was started in 1954 by Kate Ählmann, a pioneering German businesswoman from the steel industry. Ählmann joined forces with 30 other entrepreneurial women to represent their cause, which eventually became the VdU.
As Schmiel explained to me, VdU or the Verband deutscher Unternehmerinnen, is now 1 organization with 2 roles: 1) It is a powerful network of female entrepreneurs where regional area members receive practical support in business operations, such as seeking a lawyer or a strategic connection. 2) VdU’s head office is a national association serving as the voice of others – an NGO to work with politicians – and affect policy change on issues that are important to their networks (see part 1).
In 2012, Angela Merkel said this about the VdU: “I believe that you, as entrepreneurs, are also role models, because women ask themselves: How do they do it, how do they bring everything together? Today’s schoolgirls need such examples with experiences; they need courage to take the step into independence.” - German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel
VdU publishes a magazine, appropriately named “ Unternehmerin”, meaning businesswoman, whose latest issue focuses on the topics of health and innovations around German health policy. It was refreshing to see VdU’s magazine cover addressing women in business as a counterpart to the ‘startingup’ magazine across the aisle, tailored to a traditional male market.
W20 and WEConnect
A big part of VdU’s work this year was organizing the Woman20 Summit, or W20, in alignment with the G20 Summit which took place here in Germany.
The W20’s mission is “to promote women’s economic empowerment as an integral part of the G20 process. In a broad dialogue using digital tools, expert meetings and roundtables as well as the W20 Summit, W20 joins the global experiences of women’s civil society organizations and women’s entrepreneur associations to implement strong recommendations within the G20 negotiations.”
VdU is active as a certification partner with WEConnect, which originated in the US and supports diversity for big, international projects. The fundamental principle is that diversity promotes innovation.
You can get to know more of what VdU stands for by watching this video.
Apart from the inspiring talk by Edition F and the encouraging presence of VdU, the deGUT trade fair also featured booths which announced valuable opportunities for women who want to be their own boss. Take Gründerinnenzentrale for example. They offer free monthly meetings, mentoring and networking for women who want to be independently employed or start their own business. They also offer connections to microfinance institutions to support women’s business endeavors.
Speaking of support, I would be remiss not to mention that IBB, Investitionsbank Berlin, was one of the main organizers of this impressive fair. One of their investment managers for the creative industries, Advita Mudkani, moderated a panel on startups and incubators.
Through her questions to Flying Elephant and VW ideation hub representatives, the panel shared insights around team dedication, total commitment during incubation periods, and starting with as simple a product model as you can.
The deGUT trade fair provided an excellent opportunity to think ahead about what tools every founder needs, meet people providing those keys, and particularly explore what opportunities are available to women.
As Natalia Brzezinsky, CEO at Brilliant Minds who champions transparency, gender equality, sustainability, and the values working women, says of the the new economy in her fascinating Spotify podcast, “Everybody’s going to have to be an entrepreneur, everybody is going to have to reach outside of their own confines, and have no limits, not have a box, and think far ahead.”
The deGUT offers such a chance. Did you attend too? Did you have any compelling encounters? Feel free to let me know in the comments.