INTERVIEW FOR THE WOMEN WEEK
Current Roles: 2017 to date: Director of Administration and Finance; University of Luxembourg, member of the University’s entrepreneurship steering committee; member of the SnT advisory board; as of 2019: board member of ISL;
Hails from: 2014-2017: Director of Operations, Luxembourg Centre of Systems Biomedicine; 2009 – 2014 Director, PwC Luxembourg; 1999 to 2008: European Marketing Manager, Baxter Worldtrade, Brussels; 1996 to 1999: PhD Thesis in Vet Med at University of Gent, Belgium
Education: 2004: PhD in Veterinary Medicine, University of Gent, Belgium; 1996: Degree in Veterinary Medicine, University of Milan, Italy
First Job: I moved from a research job (my PhD thesis in Vet Medicine, which was ongoing when I moved), to a marketing job in the pharma industry, at Baxter Worldtrade. This resulted in a steep learning curve, on top of me gaining the trust of my supervisors at Baxter. The challenge was enormous, and I won the bet. I do not regret my move, even though finishing my PhD while working full time at Baxter required endless efforts and a huge determination.
Work Attire: I try to be young and fashionable, and at the same time elegant. I adapt to the different contexts in which I move, to ease my interaction with people.
Hobbies: volunteering for non-for-profit organisations (not as much as I would like, though… Serve the City of Luxembourg; Toutes à l’école); reading; traveling; sailing and windsurfing.
Most admired woman entrepreneur or investor, and why: Tina Kieffer, founder of the foundation “Toutes à l’école”. This foundation aims at schooling girls living in the poorest settings of Cambodia, by putting them in outstanding education programs. Tina is a visionary woman, but at the same time an extremely pragmatic, active and low profile human being. She is capable of inspiring a wide number of individuals, by steering them towards a same, understandable, and clear objective. She operates by simply taking the challenge, and showing the path to people.
2. About woman entrepreneur.
- University of Luxembourg plays an active role in the Luxembourg startup environment. Can you tell us more about this role and about the collaboration with LBAN?
The fact of being a player in the start-up ecosystem is a great achievement for the University. Our main role is to shape the talents we have in a way that, if they want, they can embrace entrepreneurship and make a job out of it. Our mission is to increase the critical mass of viable ideas for potential ventures, which can reach the market at a later stage. Obviously, by nature, at the Hive (the university incubator) we operate at a very early stage, when people are still in the process of framing their projects, defining their target markets, and assessing the viability of their products. Pranjul Shah and Sivakumar Bactavatchalou, the incubator and entrepreneurship program managers, put all their efforts and dedication to prepare at best our new breed of entrepreneurs for the start of their real journey. The aim is to get our ventures ready to join one of the incubators of the Luxembourg ecosystem. These incubators are generally populated by more experienced entrepreneurs and managers. Therefore, sharing space and ideas with these kind of professionals can provide our talents with an extremely fertile learning ground.
The LBAN is for the University a partner of capital importance. All LBAN members we met have demonstrated interest and curiosity towards the University, and they have encouraged us to develop our entrepreneurship and mentoring programs. I am also impressed by the motivation which drives LBAN investors to be acquainted to the University environment. I am not sure all ecosystems have the same chance. We have had attention, time, and advice for us as managers of the program, and for our ventures and venture projects. Without the LBAN, we would not be where we are.
- Which projects do you think are the most inspiring for young women entrepreneurs in UNI?
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Ilana Devillers, the CEO of Food4all, and I immediately realised I had in front of me an extremely determined, bright and motivated young woman, with a wide open mind, and an unbelievable drive. No wonder she managed to have such a great deal of attention over the last months, and to inspire all the ones she met along her journey.
Food4all is part of the University Venture Mentoring Program, and we are extremely proud to have to deal with such a talent as Ilana. She serves as example to the whole start-up ecosystem: she has talent, she is brave, she is focused, and she never gives up!
- As a woman do you have a different approach to evaluate deals and project to support?
I don’t know to which extent what I do, and the way I do it, can be related to my gender. When assessing a project, I very early try to look at whether it is driven by a real need or societal challenge, what is the impact of such a project on the ecosystem, which would be the targets for adoption, and which are the skills we need, besides the ones related to the technical matter. I am personally fascinated by business-oriented, brave and focused people whose most evident characteristic is, despite what one would expect, to be low profile and large-hearted. These profiles are rather rare, and I am lucky enough to have a few on my radar, inspiring me every day and working with me on a few important projects.
- What are the specific woman concerns and barriers to women entrepreneurs/BA?
The answer to this question would deserve a whole article itself… Entrepreneurship is closer to a vocation than to a job. This means that having a private life while being an entrepreneur is by far more challenging than while having a regular job. Little support is available for individuals taking such a risk of staying without revenues for a while, as it is typical for start-uppers, whilst having to deal with a young family. This situation turns entrepreneurship into a ‘mission impossible’ for many women. Not to think about the fundraising journey. Many studies have been published about bias, which still exist about women and fundraising: gathering the trust of investors still remains an indisputable challenge for women. The only way to dismantle this attitude is to inspire with success stories our women entrepreneurs and our investors, and to raise awareness about the fact that these barriers can be broken.
- Would you agree with the statement: the more woman business angels there are the more women entrepreneurs there will be?
I do agree. The number of women who took the entrepreneurship path, reached success and got to the point of wanting to give back and play the role of investors is still negligible. Therefore, women investors are role models, and are inspiring examples. I strongly believe women entrepreneurs need to be encouraged, and one powerful way to ‘pull them out of their hole’ is to give them the chance to interact with others who lived the same dilemmas, and to learn from them.
3. Tips & Advice for aspiring woman business angels
- Which are the most important qualities of a good woman business angel or entrepreneur?
Probably resilience. Understanding the issues and tackling them one by one, and recovering from the failure of gathering interest and support whilst keeping on going without fear. And then, flexibility. This quality is essential for integrating advice and feedback… For a woman being flexible means also having the ability to simultaneously manage different tasks in a wide spectrum of different settings… often women are caught between family and work-related duties, and such a characteristic is a must in such a context.
- Do you have any other pieces of advice to women entrepreneurs? Find a supporting partner!
Thank you very much for such insights! It was a pleasure speaking with you. I hope our members will also enjoy this interview. Sonia Franck