– This article was first published on Quotenet.nl by Simon van Teutem –
There is already enough talk about old boys networks. Quote went to visit a female one for a change: network organization TheNextWomen.
Radiantly, Rixt Herklots, Program manager, lets us in at her office in Amsterdam-Zuid. Here she performs her administrative duties on a daily basis. According to Rixt, TheNextWomen is more than a social club, ‘We connect female entrepreneurs, investors and professionals, based on knowledge, capital and connections. Women often have a lack of one or more of those three. We offer them the total package. ‘
Unlike many men’s clubs, TheNextWomen feels very inclusive, “All women are welcome, but it is a paid membership. Some come to visit, but are not prepared to pay. Women in the Netherlands are not always used to investing in themselves when it comes to business. Even if it is only 25 euros a month. ” The Dutch mentality. ‘It is also something Dutch to find networks not very important. Women often later find out that it is essential. If you invest in a network, you can move much faster, especially if you do not already have one. ”
All well and good, but with 25 euros per month, no funds are filled. Fortunately, they have drawn up an investment fund for that, ‘We have 75 women in our fund, each of whom pays at least ten thousand euros. That’s how we got together a one-million-dollar fund. We use that money to help female entrepreneurs. “But you can not just knock on the door for a bag of money,” We invest in people who already have a lead investor, or get money from a crowdfunding agency. There is always a third party. They bring in the first 90%, and then we help with the last push. We also have a pitch competition where more than fifty thousand euros in prizes can be won. October 4 is the final, with finalists from London, Paris, Tunisia and our own Amsterdam. ‘
The network, founded by Simone Brummelhuis, offers more than money; the expertise of investors is also used. For example, with every investment, two investors from the fund are asked to be a liaison. They give a monthly update to an investment committee, consisting of seven women. According to Herklots, that system works well, ‘Of the 26 investments we have made, 23 are still in business, and growing! We already have several success stories. That is how we invested in TheNextCloset, which is doing extremely well. Just like Plugify. Fest Amsterdam has also received 3,000 euros from us to go to a fair in the past. By now there revenue is over more than two million and they are in our top 100 list. ‘
Herklots sees TheNextWomen as a strong counterpart of the old boys networks, ‘That is the thought we started with. We saw that these men were doing quite well. They sit in the pub with a beer and a burger, and that is how things are done. We thought: this is also possible in the women’s way. So we organized kitchentable dinners with sushi and prosecco. “Is TheNextWomen then an Old girls network? ‘We would not call ourselves that, because we are trying to build a bridge between young entrepreneurs and women who are high in the corporate ladder. We try not only to be a counterpart of gender in old boys networks, but also of age.
The idea behind it is the same: connecting people and doing business with each other. ‘ The ladies have a clear goal: ‘The mission is to create an equal, inclusive business ecosystem. You see that only 4% of the money goes to female entrepreneurs, while according to the Chamber of Commerce there are more and more female entrepreneurs starting their own company. So those stats must go up! I think it should come more from women here in the Netherlands. Many women find that working part-time is also great. And if you work two or three days a week, it will be difficult to get to the top. These are choices that people can make themselves, of course, but if the vast majority continues to do so, then change will also take a long time. ‘
But according to Herklots, it is also true that you can not force women to work full-time, “I do not think we should go after women with a whip. Quota are also only a quick fix, because you do not want to get a position just because you are a woman. You want to be there because you are the best. It does not necessarily have to be 50/50 if women want less than men. My goals is that the possibilities are there if you want to go to the top as a woman.
What have they done so far to achieve their goal? ‘That is a good question. Our fund helped women receive funding that they might otherwise not have received. In addition, with our top100 list we give visibility to female success. By giving these women a podium, we immediately have an in with them. Suppose someone comes to us with a nice start-up idea in the furniture industry, then we know one of the co-founders of Zuiver. They convert 10 million annually. We can send out an e-mail to her and see if you can stop by for a cup of coffee. ‘
And what is the biggest obstacle? “There are actually two obstacles. First, female entrepreneurship has become a bit of a buzzword. Everyone is talking about it, but little room is made for real change. The second obstacle is that all women’s networks are in their own little space, instead of actively working together. Everyone has their own ideas and wants to do it in that specific way. But you are all fishing from the same pond. I do not know if, in the end, that’s the best way to go. ”
Herklots finds it difficult to say where the club will be in ten years, “We exist almost ten years, in which a lot has changed. First we were an online magazine, we have now completely left that. It is therefore difficult to predict what will change in the next ten years. But we are going to set up a new thirty million fund and that will play the biggest part. If we can create a nice support network around where the matches are central, then we will remain a valuable part of the ecosystem.”
Fortunately, there are women at the top of the corporate ladder who want to help with that fund, ‘We are now sitting at the table with a few nice big institutions for the first investment rounds, and we also notice that in the investment world female managers want to think along and are willing to make connections happen. The momentum is here! But we are not going to get it done with just women. You need large institutions that will also commit to that. We also make a call to the men who are in the Quote500. If they are interested, we will be happy to receive a call, ‘resolves Herklots with a wink.