‘The image of the successful entrepreneur has to be demystified’

18 Aug 2020

Nina Wöss. Image: Female Founders

Female Founders’ Nina Wöss discusses her work with female-led ventures, the importance of diverse role models, and the common mistakes that first-time founders make.

Nina Wöss has been active in the European start-up community since 2012, when she joined pan-European seed-stage VC fund Speedinvest. In 2016, she co-founded Female Founders, a Vienna-based organisation that aims to foster entrepreneurial leadership.

Female Founders currently runs different programmes, including a start-up accelerator for female-led ventures from all over Europe and a female leadership initiative. Wöss is also a board member at the Austrian Venture Capital and Private Equity Organisation.

‘We spend a lot of time putting role models on stage to show how diverse success can look like’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am a co-founder and COO at Female Founders, a pan-European ecosystem for female entrepreneurial minds. This means I am responsible for the daily operations of the company and making sure that everything runs smoothly.

Comprising a team of eight, we are right now focused on further developing our offers and broadening our international reach. Currently, we are running two programmes, a start-up and a leadership accelerator that both take place online and where women are invited to participate from all over Europe. In my role, I am focusing on all start-up and technology-related topics.

In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

In our start-up accelerator, we work with female-led ventures with an existing minimum viable product or prototype that are seeking support for their next fundraising round. We are covering a very broad range of verticals, such as healthtech, fintech and insurtech, femtech, deep tech, marketplaces and platforms, mobility and logistics, govtech and greentech.

Right now – based on the implications of the current pandemic – it is more obvious than ever how many interesting opportunities healthtech brings and how urgently new technologies and business models need to be made available to patients and healthcare professionals. Luckily, we see a lot of female-led teams working on new and promising solutions for that space at the moment.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

What is particularly important to me, also based on the learnings we have made at Female Founders, is that the image of the ‘successful’ entrepreneur has to be demystified. You do not have to be this one type of person, maybe even a genius, to build a successful company.

That is why we spend a lot of time putting role models on stage to show how diverse success can look like. Based on that, I think that entrepreneurs can be made and are not born. There are certain traits that many founders share but, from my point of view and experience, many of them can be learned and trained.

What are the qualities of a good founder?
  • Empathy
  • Resilience and flexibility
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Communication skills
What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

As already mentioned, I think that diversity is key and I do not really believe in blueprints that everybody should follow. Entrepreneurship brings along new challenges on a daily basis, which means that constantly fostering an open mindset is for sure something that founders should strive to do.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

For the vision we are pursuing at Female Founders, all tools that help us to connect and stay in touch with our community are essential. That ranges from Zoom to Mailchimp to social media.

How do you assemble a good team?

Research demonstrates that teams with diverse backgrounds and different skillsets are performing much better. In reality, diversity is often hard, causes friction and requires extra effort from everyone involved as it means that you naturally don’t have the same thoughts and approaches, which is more likely in a homogeneous team.

Being open and honest about that and taking measures to make sure that everybody feels comfortable, heard and seen is one of the key requirements to leverage the potential of a diverse team and enables all team members to contribute to a joint goal.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Hard work and persistence, with a pinch of luck. As the saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and I am a very firm believer in that.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Recurring mistakes we see when working with early-stage and often first-time founders are getting lost in details or getting distracted by starting too many projects, applying and participating at programmes that do not add value or trying to please too many stakeholders.

Nowadays, founders are often overwhelmed with offers and feedback or input. Learning to focus and to prioritise is key as time is the most valuable resource they have.

What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?

Finding a mentor is definitely something that can make a difference for a founder’s personal growth and development. From my point of view, it’s all about expectation management. Sometimes I have the impression that people expect miracles from a mentoring relationship and I doubt that even the best and most experienced mentors can live up to that.

My recommendation is to define the areas you want to work on, set the goals you want to achieve, and choose your mentor based on that. His or her skills and experience should fit your current needs. And, of course, it all depends on the personal fit and developing a trusting relationship that allows both parties to give critical feedback and ask the right questions.

What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Ask for help! Entrepreneurship, especially being a founder, can be incredibly lonely. I have seen many founders who were struggling with that.

Getting a coach early on, but also connecting to other founders who might be in a similar situation and can act as sparring partners, can be very powerful. Make sure to have a set of people you can be very open and candid with and whom you trust.

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