Women entrepreneurs share experiences at TEDxAmsterdamWomen Startup Award 2016

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Marca van der Broek, part of the organizing team of TEDxAmsterdamWomen, opening the event.

On October 1st, 2016, nine women entrepreneurs pitched their startup ideas at Google Nederland’s headquarters in Amsterdam. A jury of experts listened to them, gave them feedback, and chose three winners who will have the opportunity to pitch at TEDx Amsterdam Women 2016 on October 28th.

At Brightlands Innovation Factory, we fully encourage women entrepreneurship and were curious to hear about the pitchers’ experiences. We interviewed some of them and asked them about their main challenges as female entrepreneurs.

Marca van der Broek, part of the organizing team of TEDxAmsterdamWomen, opened the event with the following quote:

“Women tend to be a bit shyer in business. That’s why we’re here.”

Who was present?

The nine pitchers who took the stage had seven minutes each to convince the jury. The pitchers were:

· Meta Herman de Groot presented Pro Kid Divorce, a startup which aims to make divorce more human and personal, with an emphasis on parenting.

· Eline Leijten was present as the founder and CEO of Plugify, an online platform enabling anyone to book musicians for various types of events.

· Patricia Monthe pitched MEDx ehealthcenter.bv, an online platform aiming to facilitate access to healthcare in developing countries.

· Nadja Muller introduced Sonovr, a promise to revolutionize positive psychology with virtual reality.

· Joyce Lemmens presented Trashique (Closing the Loop) a jewelry brand with a social purpose: jewelry made from e-waste.

· Renske de Bruine presented Mount Software, a solution for shared decision making between doctors and their patients.

· Felice Van Der Sandt pitched ROSE + NINE, a luxury brand promoting slow fashion and customization through custom made leather bags.

· Anouk Visser spoke about Birds.ai, a computer vision software for automatic object detection in aerial imagery.

The jury assessing the nine pitchers was formed of four members: 1 — Melissa Raczak, Partner in Business Consulting at Deloitte; 2 — Laurens Groenendijk, co-founder of Treatwell; 3 — Janneke Niessen, Co-Founder and CIO of Improve Digital; and 4 — Anne van der Zwaag, Director of Object Rotterdam.

On the right, the four members of the jury.

Who won and… what did they win?

Winners of the contest were: Eline Leijten with Plugify, Anouk Visser with Birds.ai, and Renske de Bruine with Mount Software. The prize entailed being selected to speak at the TEDx Amsterdam Women 2016 event on October 28th. Next to this, pitchers also won a professional public speaking training to prepare themselves for the upcoming TEDx talk, as well as a year-round free office space in the center of Amsterdam.

Barbara Rogoski, who has been coaching over 130 TED and TEDx speakers in the past years, will train the nine women entrepreneurs. I asked her if throughout her experience in training people to speak in public, she had observed particular challenges females tend to face more often than men. Barbara commented:

“As a speaker coach, I often have to teach women to believe in their story. There is something called the ‘impostor syndrome’: Women often think they are not good enough, they think they are a fake, they feel they don’t belong there.”

Barbara teaches women to believe they “own the room”. In her experience, this changes everything: body language, delivery, voice… Men, Barbara says, have less of a confidence problem. Instead, she explains, their main problem tends to be lack of preparation.

“Just watch Donald Trump and you’ll see what I mean.” [laughs]

What can the pitchers tell us about their journeys as female entrepreneurs?

Eline Leijten, founder and CEO of Plugify is very happy to meet other women at TEDxAmsterdamWomen:

“I love this gathering of a great group of women driven by ambition who have the power to speak up and actually tell their stories.”

Eline says it is important for women to be aware they generally operate in a male-dominated environment and they have thus to be careful not to confirm female stereotypes such as volunteering to bring coffee for everyone to a meeting.

The cookie monster welcoming people as they exit the elevator to enter Google Nederland’s headquarters.

Anouk from Birds.ai is the only female in her company and often the only female during work-related events. And while this is not a problem for her, she would like to see more female entrepreneurs taking the stage, because “us women, we’re kicking ass”. In her free time, Anouk teaches other women how to code and other technical skills.

Patricia Monthe from MEDx eHealthCenter explains the biggest challenge for her in her journey as a female entrepreneur has been being able to verbalize and then advocate for her dreams. She hired a coach at the beginning of her journey who used to say:

“Look at your idea! It’s big, you want to change the world, keep going!”

At the beginning, Patricia says, she did not dare to think big: she hesitated to ask for funding, was not sure how much was too much, and was afraid of coming across as arrogant. However, with time, she says, she has learned how to believe in her idea and aggressively pursue her dream.

To close the afternoon of inspiring journeys, Janneke Niessen, member of the jury, stepped on stage to urge the women present to “think bigger”, to “fake it till you make it” and insisted on how important it is for female entrepreneurs to own the stage when they pitch their ideas, because:

“Women tend to avoid stepping into the spotlight; and once they’re there, they tend to apologize”.

The TEDxAmsterdamWomen Startup Award was an inspiring and enlightening event. But it remains debatable the extent to which many of the challenges ascribed to women are in fact also characteristic of males.

What do you think?

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