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Corporate investors hold the key to fostering inclusive entrepreneurship

Alarming headlines about women leaving the workforce during the pandemic abound. A quick Google on the topic will yield results including “How COVID-19 Sent Women’s Workforce Progress Backward”, “Women’s COVID-Fueled Exodus from the Workplace Hurts Us All”, “Why COVID-19 Could Force Millions of Women to Quit Work – and How to Support Them” from American Progress, Time and the Forum, respectively.

A side story which is not being so widely reported is how the pandemic reverse the meager gains women entrepreneurs have made in recent years.

In the US, it’s already happening. Pitchbook reports that in Q3 2020, quarterly venture capital funding for women founders dropped to a three-year low, even though overall venture capital activity was on a par with previous years. Between Q2 and Q3 last year, investment in women founders dropped 48%.

These losses make already dismal numbers worse. Women founder teams received only 4.3% of all venture capital deals in Q1 2020 – a drop from 7.1% in Q1 2019.

So far, investment levels in Europe are holding low but steady at 1.8% of venture capital going to all-women founder teams and 12.8% going to mixed-gender teams up until the end of October. But the threat of slippage in Europe – and globally – looms.

While COVID-specific dynamics have exacerbated the venture capital investment picture, women’s low representation on investment teams was already fueling the chronic opportunity gap. In 2019, just 3.4%of assets under management were held by women-founded VC firms, and only 3.8%were held by diverse-owned firms.

Rethinking and resetting the status quo on underrepresented entrepreneurs

The Forum’s Great Reset challenges us to rethink our economic, social and technological systems for a better world – to steer the market toward fairer outcomes, ensure that investments advance shared equality and sustainability, and harness the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support the public good.

In such a context, corporations can activate their venturing funds, as well as accelerator, incubation and procurement programs to drive the changes required for the Great Reset, fostering inclusive entrepreneurship by:

  • Increasing the percentage of women and underrepresented groups on their investment teams
  • Increasing the percentage of investment (financial and non-financial) that goes to women and underrepresented entrepreneurs
  • Activating additional business levers to fuel scaling of businesses led by diverse teams

Focussing on women has multiple benefits

Investing in women pays huge dividends for everyone. In COVID-19 and Gender Equality: Countering the Regressive Effects, McKinsey estimated that acting now to advance gender equality could add $13 trillion to global GDP in 2030.

It also returns greater yields than less targeted investments. Over a five-year period, for every dollar venture capital invested, women-led or women co-founded startups generated 78 cents of revenue while male-led startups only generated 31 cents (Why Women-Owned Startups Are a Better Bet). What’s more, on average, companies with more diverse leadership teams report almost 20% higher revenue from innovation. (How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation).

We should therefore view investment in women entrepreneurs as a powerful catalyst for economic recovery.

Addressing the gap for women is only one step toward generating more equitable outcomes for all. We expect that most levers that help women can also contribute to wider diversity efforts. Further studies investigating variations in impact between underrepresented groups would be welcomed.

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Getting Energized to Level the Playing Field

A conversation with Amanda Niklaus, PPA Transaction Manager in the renewable industry.

The Road Less Traveled

What initially drew you to the energy industry?

During my Master’s studies, there was a mining boom in Australia. A lot of money was put into energy research, particularly for oil and gas. The Head of my university department suggested that I pursue mathematical economics in energy and work with some prestigious supervisors from the industry which I did. After graduation, I worked as an economist for the government and then in investment banking where we were looking at M&A opportunities. At the time, I found working within this very male-dominated industry a bit unsettling, and left for the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) where I worked on providing training for investors and traders and we looked at battery viability for participating in different markets. A lot happened and changed over the time I worked there and that is one of the elements I like about the power market sector: it’s very dynamic, constantly evolving.

When I came back to Switzerland, I read about Pexapark. They were very new at that time and had a lot of potential. I thought it would be exciting to work with a focus in renewables and to help developing a business. I was right — it’s so far been an incredible experience to be part of and contribute to Pexapark’s development and growth.

What’s the most satisfying part of your role at Pexapark?

I really enjoy working across markets and looking at different issues, that clients are encountering or questions they are trying to answer. While our business is very specialised, I feel like a request is never ever the same. It’s always new, there is so much to learn constantly!

What’s your secret sauce that you bring to work with you each day?

A ‘can do’ attitude and resilience.

Making Strides in Renewables

What thoughts are going through your head (if any) and what are you experiencing when you find yourself to be the only woman in the room?

That’s often the case to be honest. With clients, I do not let that disturb me, I cannot. Otherwise I am going nowhere. It is of course harder to ignore for someone who works in this environment every day. There are many studies about the ‘Onlys’ — referring to the only woman in a team. A notable one is from McKinsey, showing that women in this situation often receive judgement or doubt about their own area of expertise. They feel under a constant pressure to provide a proof of competence compared to their male colleagues. The sad part is that you don’t know if it was intentional, or it is just a dynamic of the competitive environment. That is not always clear. What is clear to me — there is a way to improve the situation. A more gender- balanced team is very important and I’d like to think I try my best to influence in that direction.

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Changing Our Perspective on Women Entrepreneurs

Slowly, but surely, glass ceilings around the world are beginning to crack and break. Although it is a slow progress, it is progress. We are not only finally seeing a change in the perception of women in business, but more specifically we are seeing a rise of women entrepreneurs. CEOs, Founders, Managers, and event organizers have begun to shine the spotlight on the underrepresented, which includes women entrepreneurs.

Ensuring all innovators, from all backgrounds are empowered to start-up with SAP, SAP.iO No Boundaries, the first comprehensive inclusive entrepreneurship initiative in the business software industry was created. Since 2019, 50% of the startups we’ve worked with have a female/underrepresented founder or CXO.

The SAP.iO Foundry Paris has supported 38 startups since late 2018. Of these companies, many have women in management positions. We recently had the opportunity to interview some of these female leaders and learn more about their unique experiences, operating in a world that is largely run by men. These entrepreneurs occupy a rare place today, they are part of only 16% of employees in the tech sector and only 8% of tech entrepreneurs.

We asked how they choose their career, their profession? What are their strengths? We found out that what they all have in common is that they dared to explore what they love. Out of desire, curiosity, need or conviction they chose a field in technology. They listened to their inner voice and considered what it is that they really enjoyed. Charlotte Fanneau, Director of Operations at Heuritech said, “I did not choose the job of Director of Operations, but the mission of putting cutting-edge technology at the service of the fashion industry.” All shared the desire to step out of their comfort zone, to learn “on the job”, to explore areas that were unfamiliar or that could not be learned in school. “To become Marketing Manager in a field that I did not know, I found similarities with sports training. I was curious, I trained on my own. I tested, I documented myself to create my own knowledge,” said Manon Pellet Marketing Manager at Hiboo.

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Celebrating Innovators Transforming Industries

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating innovators in our global community that are transforming industries. We believe that diversity yields better innovation and are proud that 50% of the startups we work with have a female or underrepresented founder/CXO. To kick off the week, we caught up with Alexa Gorman, SVP of SAP.iO to learn about her journey in tech.

Alexa Gorman - BLN

What started you off on your road to tech?

I was always interested in tech and after completing my studies in business administration in France and Germany, I developed a keen interest in the possibilities that software offered to the business world. I started my career at SAP at a very exciting time for the tech industry, as it was just at the height of the Internet boom and the tech industry started changing the business landscape forever. It was the place to be and the place for me to make an impact! I haven’t regretted that decision once.

Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?

The greatest inspirations of my life are both of my parents. They started with little resources but a large desire to discover the world. They went early in their careers abroad, to England, Paris and the Caribbean (where I grew up), at a time when this wasn’t as normal or easy as it is today. It was a risky move and they had to work extra hard to succeed. It taught me early in my life to stay curious, be open minded to new things, to believe in myself and never stop learning!

What does your work involve and what would your typical day look like?

One of the great things about my work at SAP.iO is that rarely two days are the same, so there is fortunately no typical day. A big part of my role includes working with a great team around the globe to continuously improve the way SAP scouts for startups (internally and externally), accelerate the partnership journey with the startups to ultimately deliver more value to our key stakeholders, SAP’s customers.

What has been your best experience/ greatest success in your career?

The most fun I’ve had during my career was helping build SAP.iO. It is like working in a startup within a large corporation. We have a passionate team and a lot of freedom to continuously improve and experiment how to drive value for our customers, startups, and SAP. It’s incredible to see and learn from startup innovations and bring value and impact to our customers as well as back to SAP. Over the past 4 years we have grown from 2 locations to 9 across the world and been able to build something that is recognized as unique in our industry with multiple awards.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be bolder and always question the limits you think are there. I’ve learned over time that most limitations only exist in our heads and once we overcome those ANYTHING is possible!

What do you hope to achieve and what is your vision for the future?

My vision for the future is a world in which diversity is no longer a topic but lived broadly – especially in the tech industry where we still have a long way to go.

Out now: Femventures – a podcast on adventurous women in tech

Femventures is a podcast by SAP.iO that brings you stories of women who are currently shaping the future of the tech industry. You will hear from women at SAP who are the heads of innovation departments, founded their own business or are running start-up accelerators inside the company. Hosts Lisa and Leonie put a spotlight on their experiences in a male-dominated field, and invite you to listen to them as they talk about overcoming challenges, taking risks and embracing failure. This show is an opportunity for people looking for actionable advice and inspiring female role models working in tech. Find us on openSAP, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Our first guest is Vanessa Liu, who dreamt of becoming an astronaut but became a tech entrepreneur instead. Tune in to get her insights on investing in female founders and the importance of role models (like her 79-year-old mom counting Cardi B among her clients).

Listen Now

Inspiring FinTech Females 2020: the Top 50 Women Transforming Financial Technology

NYC FinTech Women, an organization created to connect, empower and promote women to advance their careers in financial technology (FinTech), continues to celebrate and recognize women who are driving innovation, leading through difficult times and inspiring the community. In its second year, the Inspiring FinTech Females award recognizes 50 leaders who epitomize the organization’s mission to strengthen the ecosystem across five categories: Founders, Leaders, Money Movers, Network Builders and Product Builders.

“Women are often the ones fighting for equality and this list not only highlights the incredible talents but also celebrates the change agents working within the industry for us all to someday realize equality,” said Edwina Johnson, COO of Alloy & NYC FinTech Women Steering Committee Member. “These are not empty words or hollow pledges for change, these are the people making change happen and innovating the finance industry from a technology point of view and demographic point of view.”

“So many women are doing impactful work behind the scenes, it is time for a list like ours to celebrate them and bring them to the forefront,” added Larissa Carrera, Associate Director of LeFrak Investment Holdings & NYC FinTech Marketing Committee.

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The Eyes Have It: The Future Of Human-Machine Relations

Has this ever happened to you? Shopping for fresh vegetables at your local market when you notice that special someone across the aisle? And when your eyes lock, you know there is that kind of Mona Lisa smile directed at you behind the mask. You can’t help but feel the sparks fly and that something amazing is about to happen – just from a single look.

That’s what one company is planning to make happen in the workplace of the future. But with a twist! This kind of eye contact is all about making the daily work of employees more convenient, ergonomically-friendly, and even fun by controlling applications based on user intention – via eye tracking.

The future of human-machine interaction

Munich-based enterprise software company 4tiitoo is a leader in eye track interaction. Their mission – to make work more productive, healthy, and attractive to workers.

4tiitoo’s Natural User Interaction to all Applications software platform, or NUIA, revolutionizes the way people interact with devices by using machine learning to model eye control/tracking to predict user intention.

This kind of hands-free eye control provides increased efficiency and a better user experience for people (like me) glued to their workplace computer by reducing mouse-click interactions.

An escape from the perpetual mouse trap

This may be hard to believe, but the humble, ever-steadfast computer mouse is now over 50 years old. And let’s be honest. It has not evolved enough to address the enormously complex and rapidly evolving human-machine computing environments.

Think about it. 4tiitoo posits that an average user like you or I will make thousands of mouse clicks, maybe even tens of thousands, in a given work week and cover several kilometers a day of mouse movement.

With 20-30% a day spent on mouse interactions, user productivity is not what it could be. Plus, that little mouse is still not the healthiest of interfaces to use in terms of repetitive motion stress.

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Venture capital funding bias: Why VC business-as-usual must change

Business as usual. For some, this is a welcome relief. On the contrary, for many underrepresented founders, when VCs utter that phrase, it’s not always welcome news. Venture capital funding bias is a very real, and very big problem in tech.

Quite candidly, as a first-generation immigrant and woman working with startups for over a decade, it’s very hard to overlook the fact that in 2020 women and people of color continue to be in the large minority when it comes to receiving VC (venture capital) funding and support.

This must change.

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Henkel hosts ideation hackathon for female entrepreneurs

Henkel’s open innovation and collaboration platform, Henkel dx Ventures, will host its second Xathon, a female ideation hackathon. This year’s main partner is “Global Digital Women”. The hackathon aims to empower female tech talents to develop and shape their entrepreneurial mindset and ideas. It will take place on November 20-22, 2020. The application period is now open and closes on October 30. Interested participants can apply at www.henkel.com/digital-business/xathon-2020.

With the Xathon, Henkel wants to advocate female entrepreneurship, promote innovative ideas and drive gender diversity in the start-up and tech scene. In total, 60 female talents will get the chance to participate in this year’s event. Further partners of the Xathon 2020 are accelerateHer, SAP’s early stage venture arm SAP.iO and MVP Factory.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Xathon is going to take place as a virtual event.

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SAP.iO No Boundaries Partners with Les Déterminés to Support Entrepreneurship in Working-Class Neighborhoods and Rural Areas

SAP France announces that its SAP.iO Foundry Paris accelerator is supporting the 12th promotion of the association Les Déterminés, whose mission is to develop entrepreneurship in working-class neighborhoods and rural areas. As part of this partnership, SAP.iO Foundry Paris is committed to making its premises and the expertise of its employees available to support the 20 entrepreneurs in its new promotion, selected from more than 470 candidates. 

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Investing in Female Founders — Lessons from Behavioral Finance, Gender Research and Real Life Experiences

A story of a conversation between an academic researcher, VC investor, CVC investor and an entrepreneur

2019 brought more female-founded unicorns than ever before, and more new female partners at VC firms. Despite this progress, VC remains one of the most gender-skewed industries in the US. Last year, approx. 87.8% of the VC funding was raised by all male founder teams. We also see an emerging evidence that the disruption caused by COVID-19 is bound to disproportionately affect women. As reported by Pitchbook, Q1 2020 already showed a decline in share of deals with startups founded by women.

Wait… but why?

I am a nerd. I studied Finance & Accounting, I studied Psychology, and then I got an MBA. I have always been fascinated by behavioral economics and academic research proving that we are irrational in a systematic way when making decisions under uncertainty. If you haven’t read yet — Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a good place to start. Yes, he is that psychologist who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Now, why it matters in VC. Mixed gender or women-led startups are not performing worse than male-led — actually it’s quite the opposite. So isn’t it rational to invest in them? From behavioral economics, we know that decisions under uncertainty are influenced by the actual framing and context. Biases and heuristics come into play when it comes to VC investing — it is no different than thinking about weighing potential gains and losses under uncertainty. So what can we actually do to help scale investments in female founders if we can’t change how we’re all wired? Let’s look at it from three different perspectives represented by (#1) a researcher, (#2) two investors, and (#3) an entrepreneur.

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“Have a good understanding of your strengths.” with Penny Bauder & Vanessa Liu

Vanessa Liu is the VP of SAP.iO, a global organization responsible for building an ecosystem of startups around SAP. In her role, she is overseeing SAP.iO’s North American Foundries in New York and San Francisco, including programs devoted to women and diverse-led B2B enterprise tech companies.

Vanessa was most recently the Chief Operating Officer at Trigger Media Group, a $22MM digital media incubator. In her role, she co-founded, incubated and oversaw business operations and strategic initiatives of Trigger’s portfolio companies: InsideHook (the essential digital lifestyle guide for adventurous and discerning men) and Fevo (SaaS technology bringing friends and networks together for group experiences at live events). Vanessa currently serves as a board observer of Fevo and is an advisor or investor in start-ups including Bounce Exchange, Grata Data, GroundSignal, Knotel and Narrativ. She mentors female founders through Declare’s Lead Program.

Previously, Vanessa was an Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company’s Media and Entertainment Practice, based in Amsterdam, London and New York. In this role, Vanessa was responsible for serving clients in a variety of media and high tech sectors including online advertising, magazine and newspaper publishing, television, video content production, and information services, particularly on issues of digital media strategy, emerging market strategy, growth and innovation. Vanessa graduated magna cum laude with an AB in psychology from Harvard University and cum laude with a JD from Harvard Law School. She was a Fulbright Scholar at Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands where she conducted independent research on the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice. She serves as Vice President, College Alumni Affairs, of the Harvard Alumni Association.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ihave always been inspired by innovation — from the age of 12 through my senior year in college, I actually wanted to be an astronaut and spent much of my adolescent life learning about science and innovation that way. In college, I switched gears and decided to go into law, doing research on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and going to law school. However, I realized very quickly that addressing atrocities years after the fact wasn’t satisfying. I wanted to be a part of the solution in terms of economic development and to prevent these atrocities from ever happening in the first place. So, I started working for McKinsey and went into management consulting. On my third project, I was staffed on a digital media project. I was tasked with helping my client launch a new free internet service provider for the Dutch market. We had 6 months to create a business plan and to launch the service. I was immediately hooked. While at McKinsey, I worked with media companies — newspaper and magazine publishers, broadcasters, information services companies — where I crafted their digital plans and launched new businesses for them.

After 8 years though, I realized I had outgrown my time at McKinsey. I didn’t want to give businesses back to clients to run; I wanted to continue running them myself. At a time when many would regard as least optimal to start a business — I had just moved back to NYC from London and delivered my second child — I teamed up with a business partner and we launched a venture startup studio, called Trigger Media. Over the course of 6 years, we co-founded two portfolio companies — InsideHook, a digital lifestyle publication for men 35–50; and Fevo, a platform that enables groups to purchase experiences together. As the co-founder and interim CEO of both companies at various moments, I realized firsthand how much more difficult it is for women and diverse entrepreneurs to get funding — not because they don’t have the ideas, but often because they don’t have access to the right networks. I joined SAP.iO because I wanted the opportunity to help other underrepresented founders gain the access they deserve to help propel their businesses forward.

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SAP.iO Hosts Investing x Women with Stanford Women’s Network of New York

On Thursday, February 27, Joanna Maryewska, Principal at SAP.iO Fund hosted an event with Stanford Women’s Network of New York launching an initiative “Investing x Women” at SAP.iO Foundry New York.

After an introduction to SAP.iO Foundries’ mission, the event kicked off with a discussion on diversity on startup boards and why it increasingly matters to founders. Joanna was joined by Alexa von Tobel (Founder and Managing Partner at Inspired Capital), Rebecca Kaden (Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures), Jemma Wolfe (Head of Launch with GS). As only ~2% of VC funding went to female-only founding teams and ~10% to mixed gender teams, the discussion involved discussing ways to approach challenges and common biases – at the industry, organizational and individual level. As research points out – the best way to drive change is by addressing the structural and process-based factors. Therefore the discussion focused on actions to increase the number of women in VC with the goal of bringing more role models, and harnessing the power of professional networks.

Investor panel was followed by a conversation led by Alison Wyatt (Co-Founder and CEO of Female Founder Collective – network built by Ali and Rebecca Minkoff). Three members of FFC joined the discussion on Women collaboration networks: True value beyond the buzz. The guests (Gina Hadley – The Second Shift, Jennifer Justice – The Justice Department, Tina Wells – Buzz Marketing Group) shared their advice on how to make the most out of the professional networks, and how FFC has been supporting them in their entrepreneurial endeavors.  

We also received flowers from Repeat Roses – a zero-waste company disrupting single-use-straight-to-landfill floral business. Its signature service transforms event flowers into bouquets that brighten hospitals, nursing homes, and shelters—then composts the blooms to keep waste out of landfills and ensure a closed loop solution. To date, they have donated over 53,000 arrangements on behalf of their corporate and wedding clients, and have diverted over 198,000 pounds of waste from winding up in North America’s landfills – and their customers receive data on environmental impact as well. 

The event concluded with Joanna and other board members of Stanford Women’s Network inviting the attendees to continue being involved throughout the next events and small group dinners planned as part of the Investing x Women initiative. 

How SAP.iO Helps Underrepresented Entrepreneurs Succeed

SAP.iO, SAP’s strategic business unit that works closely with early-stage startups, made clear its commitment to inclusive entrepreneurship when it launched the SAP.iO No Boundaries initiative just over a year ago. No Boundaries offers venture capital and access to innovation for underrepresented entrepreneurs, with a goal of funding or accelerating at least 200 startups over a span of 5 years through SAP.iO Fund and Foundries. The SAP.iO Fund has committed to investing up to 40% of investible capital to inclusive entrepreneurship. 

The ideal outcome of No Boundaries is that the startups will thrive in the SAP ecosystem, deliver great value to SAP customers, and as a trickling effect, other investors will see the value in these entrepreneurs and will want to support them as well. Another goal of No Boundaries is to inspire VCs and other ecosystem players to follow SAP’s lead and enable a culture of diversity.  

Studies have shown that companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation (Boston Consulting Group). In 2018, companies founded solely by women received only 2.3% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups in the US (Pitchbook). Racially and ethnically diverse companies perform 50% better than companies with only diversity of gender (McKinsey). 

There is clearly work to be done. 

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