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Katalin Ertsey works as a diplomat at the Hungarian Embassy in Prague, where she fosters scientific and economic cooperation. We asked her about the challenges and opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the region, and how she compares the Czech and Hungarian ecosystems regarding women’s entrepreneurship. Read the interview and learn more about her insights and experiences.
As a diplomat working on science and innovation, what role do you believe startups play in driving innovation and economic growth in Europe?
I believe that mostly those startups will drive economic growth that are based on science and tech innovations. But not only economic growth is important in keeping Europe competitive: our comparative advantage is also based on high quality standards and regulations that ensure safe and sustainable products. Social innovations are also key to this as in times of multiple challenges, only new approaches, creative solutions can ensure that future generations can also enjoy a European way of life. Those who don’t respond to a real market need will not be viable: at the end of the day, the customers will define which startups are able to survive and grow. I believe that lifestyle apps will be less attractive, rather innovative solutions based on scientific excellence will gain attention.
What is needed to support and foster the growth of women-led/women-established startups in the Czech country?
Finding them! I believe that nr 1 challenge for Womenture is to find those who have real potential.
There are many opportunities for startups in general, but it is hard to find a good match, where the right type of support is given to the right type of teams. If the program succeeds in raising awareness and reaches women founders beyond the usual bubbles, that will be a great achievement.
How important are international collaboration and partnerships for startups in Europe?
It is essential. Nobody can survive in a fast-changing innovative economy without working internationally. I see what a huge advantage Czech and Slovak startups have by basically working on a 15+ million market. I always remind Hungarians that they are dealing with a Czech/Slovak market, so in real terms, every team has some kind of connection with the other country and often Slovak startups grow up in the Czech market, while Czech can expand fast to Slovakia. But other types of international partnerships are also essential.
It is embedded in the startup culture to collaborate, to crowdsource, much more than traditional companies do, so it is in their DNA to learn from each other. And this learning method is the most effective among the players of the ecosystems that are similar to each other. Sure, there is a lot to learn from Silicon Valley but real cooperation is much more likely to work among teams that grew up in similar cultures, in countries with similar histories and backgrounds.
We are now mapping our gaps and challenges in the Czech and Hungarian ecosystems regarding women's entrepreneurship. What are the key opportunities and challenges for new or even upcoming women entrepreneurs?
I believe it was a very wise decision to include those who do not think of themselves as startupers, but simply as entrepreneurs. Women especially tend to struggle with impostor syndrome, lack of self-confidence, etc.
They must be able to see themselves as successful entrepreneurs, who are able to develop a small/medium-sized company and take it to the next level. They should not be stressed by striving to be the next potential unicorn in CEE. They should be able to present themselves with this kind of confidence and free themselves from imaginary expectations. A solid, well-grounded business plan is more important than shiny presentations, and confidence comes from knowing their strengths and weaknesses and learning about themselves in the process. Learning from failures is my mantra: if this program can help them learn how to do that, then it will be a huge success.
What are some notable Czech or Hungarian women startups that have achieved success in recent years, and what do you think has contributed to their success?
I have just learned that a friend and emerging female star of the Czech ecosystem, Vanda Seidelova with her Twigsee got a major investment from Sandberg Capital and Bakalari.
It is not only a big success, but also interesting news because investing into digital education at nursery school level is not an obvious choice of private equity firms. Also, Vanda becomes the CEO of the newly created firm, Educleus – I believe this is even more important than the investment, she is entrusted with management tasks and that is the best example of women entrepreneurs' potential. But of course, others are also the pride of the Czech ecosystem like Katarina Vackova, or the Czechitas girls, or the founders of Snuggs and Zasilkovna who are now household names. I am also happy that Minty which was a tiny, beginner startup in 2017 when I included them in our V4 workshop for startupers, is now a major brand - that is such a joy to see!
What would you recommend to any woman that can feel hesitant or afraid of starting something new?
They can build confidence based on self-knowledge. The best investment in the beginning of a journey is to be aware of your abilities and while huge success stories may be intimidating and bringing out your impostor syndrome, successful women similar to you, at a smaller scale are inspiring. And learning from their mistakes is even better than learning from your own. Investing in learning about yourself is an important life skill: it will never leave you and it will help you get up from the ground if you fail. Insight into your motivation, potential, skills, risks, strengths and weaknesses is the way to create a realistic foundation for confidence – that’s what women need the most.
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