Competitiveness and Innovation – Won’t Happen Without Women

Originally published by Forbers.hu

A special workshop held last Friday in Budapest was designed to encourage women to become business decision makers, investors or owners of businesses capable of successfully competing in the global arena. As a general rule, women are underrepresented in these roles in most of the places, particularly in Hungary. The Women/Business/Angels initiative used this event to launch collective brainstorming and community building towards making a change happen, looking for ideas on to how to involve more women – and men-beginners – in providing market-based financing, using their own funds, for innovative startups in Hungary and the CEE region.

To fill the gap in the Hungarian innovation ecosystem and to promote a more balanced gender representation among business angels, Antal Károlyi, President of the Hungarian Business Angels Network (HunBan) asked Eszter Szabó, the first female member of HunBan (and an angel investor of edUcate) to help mobilize women. Angel investors play a key role in the ecosystem as typically they are the ones who provide first-round investment for startups.

Eszter Szabó joined forces with her peers to launch the Women/Business/Angels initiative, and the cause has already won the support of several women business organizations and four co-working offices as partners. The coalition is open and welcomes additional organizations committed to improving real market competitiveness.

The new platform is designed to connect more experienced male angels with women and men who are beginners in investing and want to learn the ropes.

The world of investors and innovative entrepreneurs is still unknown to many in Hungary.  With that in mind, the opening event on Friday aimed to educate attendees about the basic terms of investing and to provide an insight into the opportunities that are open to both genders, while showcasing examples and players – more women than usual, and also men – who are already investors or whose companies have received investment. While angel investors are increasingly active in Hungary, this area is still unexplored or ignored (either out of lack of information or because of the stereotypes) by many investors.  What is for sure is that female players are typically underrepresented in the Hungarian business sector, including at innovative startups and among investors.

The workshop was opened by an inspiring speech from Candace Johnson, President of the European Business Angels Network (EBAN). “I firmly believe that the Women/Business/Angels initiative, which was quickly joined by several co-working offices from Budapest and numerous women’s organizations as partners, can be a role model to be followed by others across the Central Eastern European region and ultimately throughout Europe. I am very happy to support it and contribute to its development”, Johnson said.

Attendees of the informative event also benefited from inspiring speeches by female decision makers, including Orsolya Párkányi, founder of joinmywedding, Katalin Ivánka, owner of IVANKA Beton Design, and Renáta Tamási-Irsai, a founder of IT company Samebug. They all shared their personal stories about entrepreneurship, the role of advisory bodies and capital investment. In addition, a panel was facilitated by Veronika Pistyur, Managing Director of Budapest Bridge where Gabriella Liptay, Marketing and Communications Director at KPMG Hungary, Eszter Varga, entrepreneur and angel investor, and HunBan member Gergely Németh shared their thoughts about the things that motivate and inspire investors.

“In order to create new, innovative and competitive jobs and businesses in Hungary, we need financial and intellectual contribution both from female and male angels”, Antal Károlyi said. “We are very proud that our Women/Business/Angels initiative was positively received and many who are interested in business found it inspiring. Close to 100 attendees – both women and men – took part in our highly energized half-day workshop, and it’s just the beginning!”, said Eszter Szabó, an instigator of the initiative (she and Antal Károly co-hosted the event). “It is my belief that men and women should join forces and work together to make a culture change happen to enable efficiency improvement in the economy.”

In addition, a World Café program (a special workout) was implemented with the involvement of ImpactHub and was joined by additional three co-working offices (Loffice, Kaptár and Mosaik), giving space to the creativity of participants who engaged in a collective brainstorming about specific solutions to increase the number of female entrepreneurs and investors.  Nokia supported the initiative by providing a venue.

The workshop was closed by Alain Nadeau, Head of the European Investment Bank Group representation for Hungary. In his speech he expressed his professional support for the innovative Women/Business/Angels initiative which is based on the culture of coalition-building and cooperation.

The long-term goal of the initiative is to build a better understanding of angel investment, a financing form not widely known in Hungary, for more people who want and can do for the future of the economy. Also, it aims to provide knowledge and connections, enabling beginner female and male investors to learn from experienced angel investors.