Innovation Origins goes more in-depth. As of today, our journalists will regularly – in addition to our usual news on innovation and technology – be examining important topics for a week. Our first dossier is about female start-ups. Read all the stories here.
When you say female entrepreneurship, you say Simone Brummelhuis. Brummelhuis is not only the founder of TheNextWomen, but recently also co-founder and director of the Borski Fund, a capital investment fund focusing on female start-ups and scale-ups in an advanced stage in search of risk and growth capital. Is the start-up in question not yet that far along? No problem. It’s still important to keep it in the loop.
A start-up must meet a few conditions to qualify for financing. It must have at least one female founder and entrepreneur who owns at least 5 percent of the shares. Annual turnover must be a minimum of 500,000 euros and there has to be sufficient potential for further growth. The company must also contribute to the objective of the fund: reducing inequality. Finally, the head office has to be in the Netherlands.
With a budget of over 21 million euros, the fund has quite a bit to spend. The intention is that with this amount, 10 to 15 companies can be further developed over the next five years. But the fund is “growing business” and the original budget is steadily increasing. And that is good news for the fund, which was kicked off on 31 October in the presence of Queen Máxima of the Netherlands and the director of De Nederlandsche Bank (the Dutch Central Bank – DNB), Klaas Knot.
Gender issues in the spotlight
Gender issues, from the #MeToo movement to the discussions on women’s quotas, equal pay and now the investment gap, are currently in the center of attention. Is this a case of having the right timing?
“You always need pioneers to pave the way. These insights were around ten years ago, when there were also all kinds of reports on the subject. With TheNextWomen, we have been on the front page of the Dutch daily newspaper Financieele Dagblad (FD) several times. And it’s true, at that time the problem was a lot less visible. But when many people start paying attention to the same problem who all think something should be done, you suddenly reach a tipping point and the ball starts rolling.”
“As early as 2010, we started with TheNextWomen linking female entrepreneurs not just to capital, but also to business angels and informal investors who put their own private capital into a company.”
Advice and action
“In 2014, we set up a start-up fund with 75 female investors with a budget of 1 million euros to help 30 female entrepreneurs get started. We also linked them to other investors and assisted them in both in word and deed. We also organized all kinds of pitch events very quickly.”
“However, the demand for growth capital wasn’t as great then as it is now. In the meantime, it has grown many times over. By 2018 the investment demand had grown to 140 million euros! Our fund was too small for that so we needed to increase its size. Last year, the time had come to take the next step. We launched a program in June 2019 to bring entrepreneurs together with banks for their loan requirements. Then Laura Rooseboom, director of StartGreen Capital, and I launched the Borski Fund in October 2019.”
Where does the investment money in the fund come from?
“The original 21 million euros was raised by the three major Dutch banks ING, Rabobank and ABN Amro, each in the amount of 5 million euros, supplemented by money from Van Lanschot Bankiers and investment capital from family offices and 22 private investors, both men and women. These investors are often men who have children of their own, for example, daughters studying at a technical university. This suddenly makes them think: Hey, how will things work out for my daughter once she has finished her studies?”
“The best thing would be if at some point the government stepped in and put money into the fund. But as Queen Máxima (who advocates on behalf of the UN on inclusive financing and development, Ed.) pointed out during our kick-off event, this is not yet evident in the Netherlands, in contrast to other countries such as the UK and the U.S. This is because the Netherlands, like the EU, has no target group policy in politics. I also encountered that issue with TheNextWomen. This contrasts with the UN, which has established women’s rights and the empowerment of women as one of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
What kind of businesses are you targeting with the Borski Fund?
“We look at innovative companies and ask: where are they? You soon discover that it’s all about subjects with a female touch, such as innovative or sustainable solutions in the field of work and HR, education, health, care and fashion tech, but also products aimed at the female body. These are topics that are often not immediately understood by male investors. But we are also seeing more and more deeply technical innovations. A lot of good things are happening. It is also important that innovations be stimulated by women. After all, in the end it’s an interaction: If there’s no money available for it, they won’t enter the market, either.”
What do you want to achieve with the fund?
“We’re getting more and more name recognition. PhDs from Delft University of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology and Wageningen University are now also finding their way to us. We are receiving more and more applications for funding. But even if a start-up isn’t ready yet, I can always send them to the team at TheNextWomen. There they get a little more support, for example, when writing their business plan.
What do I really like about this model? That you don’t have to turn people down. You can say to them: Do this or that, and then come back. At least that way they stay in the loop. That way you build a relationship of mutual trust. Such a relationship of trust is very important when making investments. After all, by investing in the shares of a company, you also form a business relationship with each other. Entrepreneurs who are successful will soon become angel investors.
It is important that there be more angel investors, because they form a layer between start-up companies and the large funds. These are often entrepreneurs who started their own business in this way, but in the meantime have sold their company and invested money in other start-ups. In this way you create an ecosystem, also for the next generation.”