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Diversity leads to more creativity and innovation in the entrepreneurial world. This is why we keep a close watch on all the developments underway in this area.

The start-up community Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) Rotterdam now has something to celebrate with a glass of champagne. The proportion of women entrepreneurs there has risen up to 20 percent, double what it used to be. “You can keep talking endlessly about diversity, but you can actually do something about it as well,” notes General Manager Joyce Kornet-Vreugdenhil.

Times may be changing, but even so, the proportion of female and male entrepreneurs is far from equal. For her part, through CIC Rotterdam, Kornet-Vreugdenhil is ushering in change inside the world of start-ups. CIC Rotterdam currently houses over 250 innovative companies and investors in the Groot Handelsgebouw building next to the central railway station in Rotterdam. The innovation hub spans 11,000 m2 and is designed in such a way that the community members can meet each other at communal spaces and events.

Joyce Kornet-Vreugdenhil

A growing proportion of those start-ups are run by women. In 2020, Kornet-Vreugdenhil signed the Diversity Charter of the Social and Economic Council (SER). The aim thereby was to increase the number of female start-up entrepreneurs at CIC Rotterdam from 10 percent to 20 percent.

Recently, this long-sought-after goal was accomplished. This is a major milestone for the community. “We are really thrilled about this,” says Kornet-Vreugdenhil. “Ultimately, of course, you want the number of female and male entrepreneurs to be more or less even. Still, this is a pretty big step that we have had to work hard for. When we signed the Charter over two years ago, our goal was to work towards better representation of the city and society in the world of entrepreneurs. I’m really proud that we have managed to reach the first milestone.”

Focus on diversity

More than anything, according to Kornet-Vreugdenhil, the key to success lies in adopting a broad approach. “We’ve been focussing on diversity over the past few years. By engaging with the community regularly on this subject, people now recognize the need to organize and sponsor events for specific target groups and to form strategic partnerships.” In short: “We have seized upon a whole host of opportunities to promote women entrepreneurs. Our ambition remains at the top of our minds this way.”

Inspiring entrepreneurs

Even despite the pandemic, CIC succeeded in attracting a large number of entrepreneurs from the Rotterdam community in 2021. The tally now stands at 250 companies, and a large number of them are also founded by women. Lox Solution is one such example. Co-founder Anna Rouleau and her company focus on increasing transparency within the logistics industry. They have created a tool to help companies drive down their logistics costs and make sure that they are always billed the right amount. 

Entrepreneur Andreea Moga is also a member of CIC’s client base. She wants to close the digital skills gap with Techlabs by offering free tuition to young people. In the process, the goal is to encourage people to get together and collaborate on technologies that solve problems.

“I love the fact that we are attracting such a wide variety of (female) entrepreneurs. From the healthcare sector to logistics, all of them are focused on solving problems at play in the world,” Kornet-Vreugdenhil enthuses.

Role models

The uptick in the number of female entrepreneurs extends beyond Rotterdam. From the figures of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce (KvK), it seems to be a national trend. The fact that there are a growing number of female role models contributes to this, Kornet-Vreugdenhil believes. “In the Netherlands, more and more standard-bearers are stepping forward. I can really relate to women being inspired by that.”

The rise in more women starting businesses also fosters a strong sense of connection. And that, in turn, ensures that the challenges they face are also recognized. Nevertheless, most of the things women ultimately come up against in their businesses are no different from those of their male colleagues, she emphasizes. “After all, women entrepreneurs are also just entrepreneurs.”

‘Just the beginning’

This growth at CIC is set to continue at a steady pace over the coming years, according to the plan. “This is just the beginning. It’s great that we have accomplished our goal, yet ultimately, perhaps it’s even more challenging to actually maintain that growth.”

For example, a huge opportunity lies in finding a much better balance when it comes to raising growth capital. “Women entrepreneurs are still not able to raise enough growth capital.” CIC is committed to closing that gap in the coming years. “This must and can be done differently. We will be working very hard to bring about real change.”