Why #FemaleFounders Is Still A Thing
Berlin’s startup scene is vibrant and diverse – and full of women with great ideas and powerful visions.
Women voted in Germany for the first time in 1919. One would think that now, over a hundred years later, discrimination or gender prejudices should be overcome. Yet apparently the startup scene norm still seems to be male. The stereotypical entrepreneur is a bearded hipster, the archetypal investor wears a suit and tie.
Are women less able to do business? Do females make worse founders? Of course not. Yet according to the latest Startup Heatmap Report, only 18,04% of the founders in Berlin are female. So the need to promote women in industry, especially in tech, and support female founders does seem to exist. Even in a country as equal as Germany, even in a city as progressive as Berlin.
Until it is a given that women are just as capable of founding successful companies as men, organizations and institutions supporting and promoting women with entrepreneurial spirit will have currency and traction. Humboldt Innovation has an annual Female Founders Day by the university’s accelerator. Female Founder Space is a Berlin-based global platform to help women founders. Female Co-Founders is a networking initiative in Berlin. Factory Berlin’s Stealth Mode is a 3-month mentorship program for women and non-binary founders. And Grace is Ignore Gravity’s accelerator for female founders.
We spoke to Fabiola Munguia, co-founder of the startup Secfix, about her experiences as a woman entrepreneur in Berlin.
Fabiola, tell us a little about yourself and your company.
Sure, I’m Fabiola. I’m from El Salvador and I have been in Germany for almost ten years now. I’m the co-founder of Secfix. We automate security compliance for startups and SMEs in Europe. We help them get and stay compliant for security standards such as ISO 27001 and SOC 2 at a fraction of the time and costs than if they did it themselves.
Maybe you’ve never heard of ISO 27001, but it is a security standard that tells other companies that your company is secure and you’re following processes to be compliant and have implemented proper security measures.
So what kind of companies do you address? Who needs this?
Actually, everyone! Every company that wants to work with a bigger company, like a bank or government agency, insurance companies, or other enterprises. If you want to work with them they’re going to ask you if you’re ISO certified or how they can trust that your company is secure. So basically, showing this kind of certification gives you the possibility to work with enterprise customers.
Secfix took part in Grace. What is Grace, and what did you gain from it?
Grace is a really nice accelerator program that we participated in in 2020. It was really interesting, and the first time I was in an accelerator. It was all female founders, or female founders-to-be. The best thing about it was the network that they provided. They gave me a direct connection to join forces with people from the security industry in Germany that I was able to communicate with about my idea. They also introduced me to venture capital and to public grants that I could take into account for our funding.
Not only this network but also the connection to the female founders in my batch was really helpful because we had a safe space where we could discuss things that you normally cannot discuss in a group where there are males. You know, issues that you have or things that you are afraid of when you’re incorporating a company or starting your own thing. It was cool to share.
Fabiola, when I founded my own company back in 2014/2015, there were just as many women with great ideas running around the Berlin startup ecosystem as men. Yet when I look at the startups getting the really high amounts of funding, the team pictures seem to be mostly of smiling young men. And most of the investors, be it angels or VC, seem to be male. Is this a false impression?
No, it’s a real impression. Minority founders or female founders are not super well positioned in the startup world, unfortunately. That doesn’t mean that the venture capital firms are only investing in male founders. But obviously there’s already a bias because venture capital companies are very male driven, most of the partners are men. So obviously they’re going to invest in people who they see as similar to themselves.
But I think also the perspective of women out there who are discouraged or scared of founding their own company is one of the biggest issues. Because they may be thinking, ‘Should I found my own company now or should I wait until I have a family?’ So maybe they’re considering not doing it until they're in their thirties or early forties. They think, ‘Okay, family is something that could come up and if I have a startup now, what am I going to do with my family?’ So there are two things: Not enough female founders want to take the risk, and there are not enough females well-positioned in venture capital.
What advice do you have for women who have a good idea for a company?
I would always advise just to try it out. Don’t think about a hundred scenarios. Don’t think of every scenario that could happen and assume that the worst-case scenario will happen and therefore decide not to do it. Stop worrying about being in your company for years and what happens if you fail. Take the risk and just do it.
So you think there is a difference between female founders and male founders?
Well, let’s take my team as an example. I have a male co-founder. He’s always trying to push me to apply to accelerators or to talk to CEOs of big companies and stuff like that. I never would dare, if he didn’t tell me that it is possible. I’ll be, ‘I’m not even going to apply because we’re not going to get in!’ And he just says, ‘Why do you think we’re not going to get in?’
I think as a woman there is a danger that you diminish yourself, that you feel that you’re not going to be able to make it. Men are tryers.
Is this something that is innate or conditioned?
I don’t know. And actually that’s maybe irrelevant. But I do see that there are not many female founders that are as positive on the outside when it comes to them trying to build up their career. They often think of themselves as somehow lower than it should be, is my impression.
So it is easier for men to become entrepreneurs?
Yeah, definitely. From what I see, the barrier, ‘I want to found a startup but I’m thinking of having a family’ is not a big issue for men. Because they know, ‘Probably I’ll have a family later or if I have one I’m not going to be the one having the baby.’
And also the funding possibilities are easier. I have seen some cases where men only have an idea and they raised a bunch of money, and I also saw female founders that had way better numbers, already had customers for their super cool idea, and they raised maybe only a third of what the male founders raised.
Are things changing, though? Or rather, have things changed in the last few years?
I think there has been some buzz, people are becoming aware that female founders should be more represented. And I think people are trying to do this. But still there is a lot that needs to be done. If you look at the numbers from the last couple of years, female founders are still under-represented.
In the short term, it doesn’t seem like there is a lot of fast positive change. But I think that at least putting it out there that this is a problem will have an impact in the long term.
Do you have role models, and if so, who and why?
My mum is my role model number one. She was also an entrepreneur, she also had her own company, and successfully sold it. I think she’s the biggest role model, especially because she did it all in Latin America, which wasn’t a very well-developed market. Building something there is ten times more difficult than building something in Germany.
I also have another role model. I was at the Bits & Pretzels festival in 2019 and Jessica Alba was there. She has built a billion dollar company out of baby products, which is pretty cool. I liked that she was very authentic, and she explained how difficult it was for her as an actress to be taken seriously in fundraising talks. She’d be speaking to investors and in the end they’d say, ‘Hey, by the way, can I get an autograph for my kid?’ How is she to respond? ‘I just pitched my startup to you, can’t we stay on topic?’
IT security sounds like a very male domain. Are you a hacker?
No, I’m not a hacker. I also don’t want to be a hacker. I’m just a business person – who makes cyber security more fun. A bit younger. Giving cyber-security a fresh side, showing it is not only a very conservative industry.
You know, you see pictures of hackers and guys coding at computers. I’m maybe bringing more of a female perspective into it. And how you can turn a boring industry into a more fun one. But of course we have developers, or hackers, on our team as well. And we also work with partners well-known in the cyber-security industry.
You founded your company in Munich and then moved to Berlin, why?
In Munich in the early stages we were called requestee. We were looking for funding, but our startup was still a bit too early for investors. It was super difficult to find something. So we decided to try it out in Berlin, and it was Grace that told us that there are grants and stipends for Berlin startups. So we applied for a public grant, and we got into the accelerator of the code university. So that’s why we needed to move, it was a requirement of the grant that you need to found your company in Berlin.
Great, thank you. Is there one last word you’d like to say to all the female founders out there?
Three words. Just do it.
I know, that sounds like a big cliché. But it’s how I feel. No matter what you plan, if it works out or not, the most important thing is execution. If you don’t stick to the execution then you won’t be able to make it happen. You need to believe in yourself. You need to believe that you can execute it. And you need to have a good team behind it that will help you to get there.
Click here for a complete list of female-founded startups in Berlin.
Interview: Olaf Bryan Wielk, ideenmanufaktur
Header image: © Secfix