More women in the startup scene: 5 questions to… Susanne Traugott from “Women.start.up!”

In our section „5 questions to…“, we introduce people from UnternehmerTUM and their projects regularly.

Susanne joined the Women.start.up! initiative as project manager in May 2018. Prior to that, she spent many years working in the area of executive education and headed up the Executive MBA program in Innovation and Business Creation. Even while working on creating the executive education program and alumni network, she was also promoting topics that Women.start.up! also focuses on – first and foremost, “women’s empowerment” and the reconciliation of work and family life. Susanne has a university degree in communication studies, business and intercultural communication.

Susanne, what is the current state of affairs in Germany when it comes to women and business creation?

With 31.6% of women and 39% of men having a positive stance toward business creation, things appear to be quite balanced. Yet, it’s a completely different story when you consider the actual proportion of women startup entrepreneurs in Germany. Only 15.1% are women. In other words, there’s a major disparity between the general inclination to start a business and the actual implementation of one – and the number of women startup founders is declining, while men are dominating the startup world.

How can such a serious disparity between theory and practice come about?

Many factors prevent women from creating a business – such as a lack of mentors and role models, not knowing one’s own strengths as well as much larger obstacles when it comes to financing a startup. Only 7.8% of women-led teams manage to obtain venture capital, while for men, it’s 16.8%. Apart from that, a false idea exists in people’s minds when it comes to the tech startup scene, and we need to change that. Business creation can come about in many different ways. When we consider tech start-ups, we immediately think of young white men and their future visions, and images such as these must be done away with. Of course you can set up a business if you have a family! Mothers in particular prefer being able to plan their time freely and work from home. Women are also increasingly asking the question of the meaningfulness and impact of their business idea and want to build sustainable companies in the long term. Therefore, they usually need more time to set up a company, but are often very successful.

How is Women.start.up! planning on changing the current mindset?

Our goal is to make conscious what’s happening subconsciously. For instance, the level of confidence in the economic and innovative abilities of women is much lower than in the abilities of their male counterparts. Studies show, for example, that in pitch situations, men are subconsciously rated as ambitious while women are considered inexperienced. Which explains why venture capital goes to men far more often than it goes to women.

Within UnternehmerTUM, we regularly engage in exchanges with staff members from all areas of our company. We work on making people more sensitive to the differences between men and women, and raising awareness around the fact that the goals, motivations and needs of women who are interested in business creation may differ from those of men – and that the same mechanisms and support tools that work for men may not work quite as well for women. What’s more, we’re working toward inviting more women to speak at conferences and other events, to make these events more diverse.

The subject of visual language and gender-appropriate language also plays a role. Our Digital Product School program is a positive example: Thanks to having adjusted the website, the program now attracts far more women than in previous program periods.  Women identify more strongly with task- and qualification-oriented profiles, such as “eloquence” and “a good eye for what’s essential,” while men tend to respond to properties related to status and power, such as “negotiation skills” and “assertiveness.”

Do you offer specific formats to sensitize people around this issue?

Our consistently growing community offers room for exchange and mutual support. Problems can be identified and solutions can be found there. Our network brings together a wide range of women from the most diverse backgrounds, from successful CEOs to young students interested in setting up their own businesses. Our next step will be to offer community events, such as a pitch night for women where they can engage in exchange and get feedback in a safe space. We look after and advise the women very individually, we arrange contacts or suggest them to participate in existing formats of the UnternehmerTUM.

What types of women tend to respond to your offer?

Generally, women who are interested in business creation or technology take up our offer. Thanks to our UnternehmerTUM programs being closely affiliated with Munich’s Technical University (TUM), we have many students in our network. It’s striking that a great number of these students do not go on to pursue the idea of creating a business once they graduate, preferring instead to seek a job and financial security. However, many of them return to us later on when they realize, for example, that they are not getting ahead in their job or have entered the family phase and are looking to set up a business on the side. We offer a point of contact for such women and assist them in their endeavors. 


For more information, go to the website of Women.start.up! or write directly to Susanne at: traugott@unternehmertum.de.