30 is a trending number for women.

In late 2019, the Dutch government passed a quota that requires at least 30 percent of corporate supervisory boards be comprised of women. Furthermore, while 30 percent of applicants for the Startup Funding Event pitch events were women, mostly men had been selected to pitch. Plus, all their winners had been men.

That is, until Startup Funding Event hosted their Women in Tech and Innovation pitch event.

About Startup Funding Event

Yasmin Wilnis and her team at Lightning Video Editors had a vision to help up-and-coming innovators connect with investors and other like-minded entrepreneurs. After connecting and brainstorming with other companies, they created Startup Funding Event!

As of December 2019, they have hosted multiple events in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Helsinki. Winners of their pitch events include Felyx, Skoon, Captain AI, and OTFLOW. But none of those founders are women.

Women in Tech and Innovation

To bring some balance to their line-up of winners, Startup Funding Event organized its first pitch event for just female founders. Before the pitches, Yasmin hosted a panel of three women who spoke about their paths to success and how they envision a future with more women in the workforce.

Women in the field

In addition to her responsibilities as head of global partnerships at Phillips, Nathalie Lam orchestrates internal events to promote conversations about diversity and inclusion. “If you want more innovative solutions, you need to have a diverse group of people,” Lam says. The discussions she organizes create a comfortable space for employees to discuss issues of inclusion in the workplace.

Eline Vrijland-van Beest is an investor with Blue Sparrows MedTech fund. But before she joined the team, she sold her graduate project to Phillips. And at the time, her professor wouldn’t let her work on the project. When she asked, she recalled “he literally stated ‘Girl, why don’t you go outside and play a little more?’” But down the line she connected with the right people so she could continue her work.

Sheila Gemin is not only the client executive at Atos, but she is also president of the Professional Women’s Network (PWN). She aims to “accelerate gender balance leadership,” not just in the Netherlands, but globally. And it’s not just balance of genders – they also seek to have different nationalities as well.

Five women pitch their ideas at Startup Funding Event in Rotterdam, Netherlands

Striking Balance

As the women introduced themselves, the audience submitted questions for the panelists via the app slido. The first question (quite stereotypically) was about motherhood and how the women strike a balance between working and parenting.

They all agreed that it wasn’t easy, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Lam recalled taking on a freelance project right after having a baby. While forming her own company, Vrijland-van Beest fought with her investors to take Wednesdays off for her children. Gemin made an agreement with her husband that they “would do everything together,” because that’s what parenthood means.

The follow-up question addressed the fact women are asked about parenthood more often than men. It seems that everyone is searching for the optimal work-life balance, which may be something only women have ever really faced until recently. “There is a need – for men and women – to find that solution,” Lam says. And until we find that solution, we may still struggle to achieve gender equality in the workplace.

Funding Women

But before achieving gender equality, we need to support women who can achieve those executive roles. The conversation shifted towards initiatives that encourage a stronger female presence in innovation. One of those initiatives is #fundright, which establishes diversity goals for venture capital companies, such as investing 35% of their portfolios in female founders. Vrijland-van Beest mentioned that one of her funds has signed on to the commitment – once another influential man in venture capital convinced the other men she works with.

Their reservation is that they won’t be able to “invest in the best technologies” if they agree to sign the #fundright declaration. “And what if there are no females?” she recalled them asking. And it’s a fair concern – what if the pool of candidates doesn’t have an equal distribution of male and female founders?

But that’s also the purpose of the initiative: to encourage women to innovate and help investors overcome biases. “I see it also as a reflection of society,” Lam says. Women tend to be risk-adverse, but when they innovate, they do the research and back up their proposals. Now they just need venture capital companies to support them.

Startup Funding Event hosted an evening for Women in Tech and Innovation to pitch their ideas in Rotterdam, Netherlands

The Founders

After the panel discussion, five women pitched their ideas on a wide range of startups. The concepts included a social networking platform for entrepreneurs, an underwear business with economic sustainability in mind, a discreet and easy-to-use STI testing company, and a time-management app.

The winner, however, was Inmotion VR, which uses virtual reality technology for physical therapy and well-being treatments. Founder Kiki Coppelmans formed the idea out of her frustration with the state of health care. She wants to spend less time on administrative work and more time helping her patients recover. The technology allows therapists to treat more patients remotely, but still offer personalized programs.

Are You the Next Female Founder?

Startup Funding Event is just one of many steps towards seeing more women in innovation. But our efforts to see more female founders can’t stop there. We need to encourage each other’s ideas and support each other when we can. But ultimately, we must take it upon ourselves to be the change.

Gemin said it perfectly: “Just be bold. Just go out there and take some risk.”

Are you interested in attending a pitch event? Do you have questions about how to attend the next Startup Funding Event? Let us know in the comments!

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Sterling Schuyler
sterling@iwng.nl
Sterling Schuyler moved to Rotterdam in June 2018 from Bavaria, Germany, but she is originally from the United States. As a result, she has restarted her career three times, and currently works as a freelance marketing consultant. Whether you want to know more about her professional development, have questions about her own struggles, or just want to grab a coffee, she’ll be happy to hear from you.

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