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Lisa-Marie Fassl, founder of the women's network "Female Founders", is happy to observe not only that more and more women like to become founders, but also that established companies are learning to value female leadership.
Burgenland-born Lisa-Marie Fassl studied Business Administration in Graz in record time before working as a business consultant. By chance, she came across the start-up scene and was immediately taken with the zest for action and the positive attitude of the mostly male young entrepreneurs, so she founded an initiative in Graz to familiarize students with the idea of entrepreneurship. She even wrote her master's thesis on the frame conditions of start-ups. Since 2016, she has been working for the Austrian Angels Investors Association (AAIA), and at the same time, she built the women's network Female Founders to strengthen the position of women in the world of entrepreneurship. Taking stock four years later, she gives an optimistic résumé.
How has Female Founders changed since its foundation?
Lisa-Marie Fassl: We've had an amazing development, considering that we started out with one small event. Today, we are indispensable in the world of female founders and female leadership. Our meet-ups and multi-week start-up boot camps are very popular. We have made a name for ourselves across the borders as a Europe-wide accelerator program and as a program for rising female leaders. Our events are not only well-attended, but also show us that we are contributing to a real change in entrepreneurship. The fact that we haven't spent a single dime on marketing goes to show the large need for an organization like Female Founders. People usually find us through social media, and we are very invested in our community activities.
Do you feel there is a change in the dynamics of female founders in the Vienna Region?
Lisa-Marie Fassl: Yes, especially the last four or five years have seen a lot of positive change. There is much more awareness of the notion of entrepreneurship. Successful examples like Runtastic or Shpock have turned start-ups into a trend. Also, increased media presence contributed to the fact that the attitude towards entrepreneurship has been influenced in a positive way, and I'm glad to observe that politics have committed to the matter as well. Nevertheless, the Austrian female founder scene is still relatively small. Vienna and its surroundings are clearly hot-spots of the Austrian scene, but compared to cities like London, Berlin, Stockholm or Paris, our entire start-up scene lags behind the leading hot-spots, and it should be our ambition to measure up to the best. My grand vision would be to achieve a Europe-wide momentum so that there will be no need in the first place to create special programs to motivate women to assume leadership positions, or to motivate female founders to get under way.
Where do you currently see room for improvement in motivating more women to become founders?
Lisa-Marie Fassl: I think it's sad that there are so many well-educated women who, for some reason or other, do not have the confidence to create a company and who depend on being supported. I see a lack of confidence in women, and I think we can counteract this by creating role models.
Which obstacles do female founders have to overcome these days?
Lisa-Marie Fassl: The biggest challenge is still the compatibility of work and family. The problem is that the notions of both company foundation and family planning come up during roughly the same period of life – usually the late 20's, early 30's. The compatibility of a functioning family and a successful career as a founder often comes with many trade-offs, and currently, many potential female founders do not accept this challenge. Again, I think that best-practice examples would be the best way of showing that both can be balanced and that a successful career and a happy family life do not need to contradict each other. In order to make this work, we need the help of politics, too, though. We need higher day care capacities and financial coverage during grace periods and cases of illness. When a female founder cannot attend to her job because she needs to take care of her sick child, it usually means losses in terms of work orders. There is a clear disadvantage compared to the classic employee model. This is why starting a company is risky and unattractive to many women.
Who are the female role models that you think there should be more of?
Lisa-Marie Fassl: Katharina Klausberger, founder and ex-CEO of Shpock, is a good example. We should also mention Klaiton founder Tina Deutsch or Bianca Busetti, founder of the AI photobook start-up journi. I'd like to see role models not only in terms of female founders, but generally in terms of female leadership.
What is your résumé on Female Founders accelerators Grow F and Lead F?
Lisa-Marie Fassl: Both programs have created so much demand that they completely excelled our expectations. The start-up accelerator program Grow F focuses on scalable and quickly growing companies from all over Europe. They go through a three-month program in which they network, they are provided with male and female mentors, and they work on making their product market-ready and investment-ready. Lead F is a parallel program which is not exclusively tailored towards start-up companies or female founders, but instead aims at women in established companies who want to advance in terms of leadership, digitalization and innovation. More and more good partners come on board of this program, including Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB), Uniqa, Raiffeisen and SAP. We haven't tapped the full potential by any means, since we observed that many companies only slowly recognize the impact of these training programs on their female employees. Obviously, it becomes more and more important to more and more established companies to give women the opportunity to reach leadership positions.
Is there also demand from outside of the Vienna Region?
Lisa-Marie Fassl: There is very positive feedback from our target audience in the Vienna Region. We were surprised, however, to see a lot of international inquiries from all parts of Europe for our training programs. There are a lot of requests from Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia. But we also see more and more applications from Western Europe, such as Germany, France and England. There is no European initiative that is comparable to Female Founders, which represents the complete ecosystem for female entrepreneurs. Therefore, I'm convinced that Vienna has the potential of becoming a hot-spot for female founders and female leaders. The Vienna Region should publicly commit to being the hub for future female entrepreneurship. The city of Vienna is especially attractive to this target audience. We see this in our accelerator programs, for example, when Grow F attendants come to Vienna for a month and not only gush about the program, but also about the city itself. We've had discussions at Female Founders whether we should move to a different location because of the growing international interest. But ultimately, Vienna scores as a top-class total package, and we believe that there is no better location