A new private initiative, the Greek Female Startup Founders’ Cluster of ICC Women Hellas, has embarked on a mission to promote female-led Greek startup companies, with the support of the domestic and international network of the International Chamber of Commerce.
Debuted within a short time after the launch of the Greek national startup registry and the respective announcement of tax incentives for investing in Greek startup companies, the initiative aims to provide visibility, training, networking and funding to Greek or Greece-based female innovative startup entrepreneurs who own at least 50% of a startup venture.
It also looks to encourage more women professionals into digital entrepreneurship and, in time, help them with sources of financing.
The Greek Female Startup Founders’ Cluster is the latest of several activity chapters of ICC Women Hellas (ICCWH), founded in 2019 by Greek business owner Marina Giavroglou to bring together local and Greek diaspora women professionals from an array of fields.
“This brand new cluster aims to support the local female startup ecosystem through webinars and workshops. It will also be the channel of communication between ICCWH members and female startup founders from various sectors”, entrepreneurship consultant Maria Hala, Head of the newly founded cluster, tells Greek Reporter.
Acclaimed female professionals from other activity clusters of ICCWH also contributing to the Startup Founders’ Cluster are Irene Veniami (shipping), Marilena Koutsoukou-Kallitsantsi (culture and arts), Irini Nikolopoulou (ICCWH Communications Officer), Niovi Christopoulou (NYC venture capital and innovation ecosystem) and Cluster Ambassador Zina Mavroidi (CEO of e-Fresh.gr).
Once the initiative has united an adequate number of Greek female start-uppers, the next stage, Hala notes, would be to create a female “angel investors” environment in Greece, similar to ones which exist in other regions of the world.
Global sector means global challenges
The main obstacles that Greek female startup founders face are similar to those of their E.U. peers, says Maria Hala.
Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted female digital entrepreneurship globally by causing a drop in the amount of funds invested in female-founded startups –back to the levels of 2018.
Business information platform Crunchbase estimates that, during the pandemic, $4.9 billion were invested globally in 800 female founders’ startups, which is 27% less than in 2019.
“On the other hand, the fact that we all work remotely now, combined with the ways that women think and move, will generate great surprises by upcoming female-founded startups.
“That is because women are especially insightful and flexible in how they create new things, form new teams, and find new investment opportunities, compared to men,” Hala believes.
But while the impact of the pandemic appears to be temporary on the sector, there are still two main obstacles over time for female start-uppers.
“Age and work-life balance is first on the list,” she says. “The mid-30s average age of startup founders, which applies for both men and women, coincides with the period when someone begins to think about starting a family.
“So, this challenge is greater for women and they have to find a way to handle it,” Hala points out.
The second weak spot has to do with women’s academic specializations.
Female startup founders are on average highly underrepresented in computer science and engineering (STEM), the sector that attracts the bulk of private equity investments, she explains.
However, women’s flair in life sciences, which is their most conventional study background, can open up opportunities to start up in a sector where men are less likely to venture.
It is no coincidence that some of the best-performing Greek female-founded startups are health apps, such as DoctorAnytime and Advantis.
Therefore, the question becomes how to shift investment interest towards life science digital startups, either from private equity flows or from angel investors.
Bridging the gender gap
According to data by the Kauffman Foundation, female-led or female-founded startups can be 20% more profitable.
However, the latest of two European Startup Monitor Surveys so far has confirmed once again that there is a tremendous gender gap in early-stage female involvement in digital entrepreneurship.
The ESM Survey 2019 found that just 8% of startups in the EU were founded by all-female teams as opposed to 67% founded by all-male teams.
And although those few female-founded entities appeared to outperform those founded by men, venture capital firms were more likely to invest in the latter.
“This is a huge trend with regards to where capital flows towards, and a gap which we would like to contribute to bridging, with the help of all our members from all clusters of ICCWH. Through our professional experience and personal networking, we want to help this specific community to find its feet, Hala states.
“The ideal would be to attract female investors, but as a start we need to assemble the female startuppers and give them a voice for stepping out in the first place”, she adds.
While ESM Survey data placed Greece in 2nd place for female startup entrepreneurship in 2016, at an impressive 28%, this dropped to 14% in 2018, which is very close to the latest European average.
“Elsewhere in Europe, and of course in North America, there are distinct venture funds investing exclusively in female-founded startups. In Greece, however, the startup community is still in a very embryonic state when it comes to supporting female start-uppers,” Hala comments.
For 2021, the Female Founders Startups Cluster aims at spearheading a series of projects, highlighting the business activity of Greek women start-uppers, while promoting their businesses to the domestic and international investment communities.
Hence, Maria Hala hopes that, by the end of the year, the Greek Female Startup Founders cluster will have brought together an adequate number of members, enough to allow them to progress to a point where it can seek financial support on their behalf – be it from startup accelerators and incubators, private equity funds or angel investors.