The role of women in re-launching the economy and innovation decision making
Forum & policy stakeholder roundtable
Live in Budapest & online on 22 November 2021
On 22 November 2021, Women/Business/Angels organised a hybrid event on the role of women in the economy and innovation decision making. The forum was organised in Budapest live, as well as streamed via Zoom to participants across Europe, from Norway to Georgia.
Eszter Szabó, president of WBA opened the event, welcoming both online and offline participants, and introducing WBA’s mission to support women in entrepreneurship and innovation investments. She warned about the hardships startups face when – regardless the innovativeness of their ideas – financing is almost impossible to find at their early stage of developments. That is where business angel investors have to step in and with funds, network and mentoring they can add to the success of those innovations. Women currently underperform in these fields, though utilizing their potential can seriously increase economic developments of the region.
Marianna Neupauerová, deputy director of the International Visegrad Fund gave her opening speech, starting with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, saying “a woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.” She emphasized the IVF’s approach to support female entrepreneurs and business actors. As the Visegrad countries are now losing their advantages in international competition with low labour costs, they must be more innovative to avoid the middle-income trap. Furthermore, she highlighted that it is not only important from the point of economics but also regarding sustainability: women empowered with the knowledge and skills to run and finance their own enterprises are more resilient in times of social and economic turmoil, like the pandemic.
The topic of the first panel discussion was the steps and measures we shall take in order to increase the share of women in innovative enterprises – as founders and funders.
Eszter Szabó, president of WBA pointed out the need for more role models and building long-lasting cooperations within the countries and across.
Beatrix Bedő, who is an angel, trainer, lead incubator and co-founder of Impact Hub at Budapest, pointed out the need to include a more diverse set of actors, that is not only the business angel community we shall work with but other financial actors as well. Beatrix also stressed the need to move beyond the capital regions and invite women from smaller cities and rural areas to cooperate, innovate and invest.
Irén Márta, director of the Business Development Council for Sustainable Development in Hungary agreed on the need to acknowledge female leaders and excellent achievers, and not only in the first executive line but also those who are in second, third positions in organisations but have the motivations and skills to step ahead.
The second panel of discussion focused on best practices from several countries. First, Rita Anson from WIN Network, Norway shared her insights regarding working and investing with women into female-led businesses. In her experience, women have the funds but not the incentive and courage to invest on their own, so we have to embolden, train and support them in doing so. In WIN Network’s program women started to invest even during their training once they were presented with a good opportunity and felt safe and inspired. It is crucial to have role models that pave the way and a community that helps to build self-confidence.
Emilia Mamajova, co-founder of Espira Investments from the Czech Republic, told us that in their practice, all female entrepreneurs – regardless of whether they end up also being funded or not – receive ample care, feedback on their business plans, team and networking support in order to promote more women in the field. Emilia also pointed out the need to invest together – as smaller female investors may not dare to go out on their own, but are happy to learn from investing together in a group. Investment syndicates are a great starting point for beginners to learn.
Aleksandar Bijelic from SeVen, Serbia told us a special case about an innovative service, invented by women that opened up a whole new ecosystem segment – for other women as well. But at the start, they needed advice, mentoring in team building and promotion, network support and a lot of encouragement in order to dare to launch their idea. Now they act as local role models for others to look up to. There is also significant governmental support in Serbia for female entrepreneurs and a will to increase women in STEM education and jobs.
In the next step, Theresa Hitchings, ABB Eastern Europe Executive and WBA’s Advisory Board member, summarised the key findings of the forum and stressed the need for women supporting women especially in areas, industries and segments of the economy still considered to be “a man’s world”. Having built a career in the aviation industry, Theresa had first-hand experiences in this journey.
Closing words for the event came from Janina Lamøy, Innovation Norway. Janina called for a better inclusion of women into innovation decision making, citing a case where a successful innovation was able to emerge only because female investors understood the customers’ problem and the ingenuity of the offered solution. But Janina further re-phrased the forum’s discussions not as simply supporting women in the world of men but as the need to build diverse ecosystems, diverse workplaces and diverse enterprises. We need diversity not only in gender but in various terms in order to be able to address the diverse challenges our societies face. We need to build inclusive societies, a society for all.
As the forum ended, Eszter Szabó, president of WBA thanked all speakers for their ideas and insights, and all participants, online and offline – for their interest and time and for the donors for supporting our efforts to encourage women in their innovative enterprises. The forum was organised with the financial assistance of the International Visegrad Fund and the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation. The event presented two parallel running projects in the domain of female entrepreneurship and business angeldom.
Watch the Zoom recording of the event below, or click here:
Women/Business/Angels is a beneficiary partners in the WINGATE project, funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation. This consortium works across Norway, Serbia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova, supporting and training women entrepreneurs and women business angels.
Women/Business/Angels Association is the consortium leader of a project, co-funded by the International Visegrad Fund, with participating partners from the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Georgia and Moldova besides Hungary. We aim to support the development of business angeldom and innovation ecosystem building in these countries and within that, the role that women play in making investment decisions in innovative startups.
Business/Women/Angels Association aims to grow the number of angel investors in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and works with its coalition partners. The Association invites a wider audience, both women and men, to gain experience, learn about new opportunities and new ways to make the region’s economy stronger while having a return on investment for each. The Association was recognised as a European Best Practice by Candace Johnson, President of EBAN in 2017. The Association is non-profit, non-partisan. Members pay a yearly membership fee.