Victoria Arnhold and Claire Siegert, the founders of Businettes
Photo: Businettes

Businettes: Incubator for Early-Stage Female Founders

Is it necessary to approach female founders differently than male founders? To Claire Siegert and Victoria Arnhold, the answer is clear: Yes, it is! To be able to deliver just such an approach, the two founded their company Businettes together. In their interview with Munich Startup, they share what Businettes covers exactly and what the two have learned from founding their own company.

Munich Startup: Claire and Victoria, you are the two founders of Businettes, a community platform for (aspiring) female founders. What exactly does your platform offer?

Claire Siegert and Victoria Arnhold of Businettes: Businettes is a digital incubator for early-stage female founders. Our platform includes a digital, solution-oriented program that is specifically tailored to the needs of aspiring female founders. We work with three different approaches.

#1 Business program – first, using our five-step business program, our customers can autonomously work on their business ideas from any location and flesh them out until a concrete business case emerges that they can confidently present to potential customers, partners or investors. We work with a combination of different methods from the field of design thinking and with elements from the Business Model Canvas. In collaboration with our pilot customers in early 2020, we developed the final version of our program so it meets the needs of women both with and without knowledge of business administration.

#2 Personal development – On top of that, our customers gain access to a module for personal development that we developed with a qualified psychologist. This module is dedicated to our customers’ soft skills in order to make it easier for them to manage their new or future role as founders. To give some examples, the module includes exercises that help boost your confidence in your own skills, increase your willingness to take risks, become more decisive, build resilience and much more.

#3 Female founder community – Last but not least, we also have a community with more than 400 female founders and women who are interested in starting companies. They communicate with each other, give mutual feedback, find sparring partners in mastermind groups, participate in regular expert workshops and much more.

Munich Startup: What is your own founding story?

Victoria: I was inspired by my own friends to make founding easier for women. Many of my friends had interesting business ideas, but they hadn’t implemented any of them. For some reason, they didn’t have the right contact points that were specifically tailored to their needs as female founders. I absolutely wanted them to implement their business ideas, which is how – without even really realizing it in the beginning – I ended up developing my own business idea for Businettes! The problem I ended up facing, however, was that I was my own first customer and encountered problems very similar to those of my friends when it came to implementing my idea. For several years, I tried to get Businettes up and running on my own while working full-time as a marketing manager, but that was easier said than done …

A male-dominated startup scene

Claire: After completing my studies, I worked in the startup ecosystem, but was on the corporate side. I often spoke with my best friend Victoria about how male-dominated the industry is, and that applied to startup conferences, to the participants in startup programs and to the employees in accelerators programs. It was after I decided to become self-employed in 2019 that I realized – while doing a bit of marketing consulting on the side – that I wanted to work on a larger vision in collaboration with a team. 

Victoria and I saw each other as the perfect match and decided to develop Businettes together, which is how we started our journey together as a female founder duo.

Munich Startup: What gap does Businettes want to close?

Businettes: With Businettes, we wanted to contribute to closing the gap between female and male founders in the European startup ecosystem. At the moment, only 17 percent of founders are women, and we’re not even talking about female-only teams, but rather mixed teams. That means there’s a lot of work to be done!

Courageous career decisions and taking the stage

Businettes: We see closing the female founders gap as a major opportunity for empowering more women to make courageous career decisions, to take the stage and to dare to become more than what the hierarchies of our current society have to offer. We firmly believe in making a positive impact for female empowerment.

Munich Startup: Do you think it’s necessary to approach female founders differently than their male counterparts? Where exactly do you see differences?

Businettes: Yes, we definitely think that’s the case. From our experience, we’ve seen that women are exposed to a whole different set of problems than men when founding companies. First, women often doubt their own skills, and there’s also a lack of female role models who can encourage and inspire women to start companies. Mothers or women who want to become mothers, on the other hand, often question the balance between family life and entrepreneurship, which is much less often the case with men.

There are also differences during the founding process: Time and again, we’ve noticed that companies run by women grow a bit slower – but do so more organically – than those run by men. And often, they can be even more successful over the medium and long term. Women are less likely to risk everything and often take a more gentle approach when it comes to company management, growth and employee management. 

Especially due to this difference, it’s important for women to have contact points where they feel directly addressed and where these specific challenges and approaches are taken into account. 

Better done than perfect

Munich Startup: Do you think now is a good time to start a company? If yes, why? 

Businettes: We don’t think there’s actually a perfect time to start a company. What’s important is to just do it and to follow the motto: Better done than perfect. A sign that you’re ready to start a company is when you can’t stop thinking about your business idea(s) and can feel your inner fire awaken. That is always a very good guide.

What we have definitely noticed is that the pandemic has created a major opportunity for online businesses because the obstacles are no longer as great. Consumers are now used to taking care of many things online.

Munich Startup: What have you learned from starting your own company?

Businettes: So many things! But we’ll keep it short and limit it to three:

#1 Don’t give up! – Starting a company comes with many lows, but those who persevere, don’t give up and develop resilience will be rewarded with breathtaking highs. It’s also important to always be open and able to adapt instead of stubbornly continuing on when things simply aren’t going in the right direction. We had to change and pivot the concept for Businettes several times because it just wasn’t making the impact that we wanted to generate yet. It wasn’t always easy, but we’re incredibly happy that we stayed true to ourselves and kept going.

#2 Take a break. – Starting a company is extremely exciting, but also very exhausting. As a founder, work and free time often merge seamlessly and before you know it, the last vacation without a laptop in a deck chair on the beach was two years ago. But it’s precisely these moments when our thoughts are far from business and we’re doing something completely different that give us the most new energy and strength for our companies. That’s why we now force each other to take regular breaks, during which out-of-office notifications are mandatory and our laptops remain closed.

#3 Stress less! – Yes, founding a company can be really tough on your nerves, but in the end, you find a solution for just about every problem – HONEST! And when things get particularly stressful, what usually helps us is exercise, sleep and good time and project management with our favorite tools, such as Trello or Notion.

Long-term vision: investments in female startups

Munich Startup: What technology or industry would you bank on in the future?

Victoria: Because I originally come from the fashion industry, I’m extremely interested in anything having to do with circular fashion and a sharing economy. What I find particularly interesting are fashion rental services, such as from our customer Ward’Robe Affair from Ivana Perbi-Ohlheiser – which to me is the solution to the fast fashion problem and a major step towards sustainability in the fashion industry. The millions invested in companies such as Vestiaire Collective, as well as the fact that Maje, Sandro and The Kooples are launching their own second-hand and rental platforms, are absolute proof to me that this is the future of the fashion industry.

Claire: That’s a very interesting question, because in the long-term vision for Businettes, we’re actually planning to invest in female startups. Everything that is sustainable, socially minded and doesn’t generate more waste and poverty is interesting to me. There’s no way I can narrow that down to one industry or technology. I would like to see more impact foundings and startups. The perfect example is Social Bee from Zarah Bruhn as a role model.

Startup hub with prestige

Munich Startup: What do you think could still use some improvement in Munich as a startup location?

Businettes: As an international team, we’ve gotten to know many different startup hubs. For example, we’ve been part of the Station F incubator in Paris since July 2020. Station F is as renowned in France in the startup world as Harvard is in the US in the academic realm: being accepted there is a true accolade. In addition to its prestige, it also offers everything you might need as a founder: in-house access to different accelerators, international networking opportunities, office hours with investors and mentors, office space and much more. On top of that, Station F is open to international founding teams, not just to French teams. 

This kind of institution and accolade for female founders would be interesting for Munich. It was with the launch of Bits & Pretzels at the very latest that Munich has had international attention in the startup ecosystem.

Munich Startup: What founder would you like to meet in person some day? And what would you ask them?

Victoria: I think Melanie Perkins from Canva is extremely interesting, because she not only revolutionized and democratized the design world, but also donates a large portion of her wealth. I would like to ask her if she ever expected Canva to be as big as it is today.

Claire: Oh, there are quite a few! If I were to focus on Germany, I would be interested in talking with Nina-Julie Lepique and Lea Sophie Cramer. I’d ask them how they managed to make the taboo topic of female sexuality socially acceptable, how it felt announcing their business idea, and how they managed in investor meetings – which I’m very much assuming were mostly with male investors – to get people on board.