Munich Startup: Katrin, please start by outlining the most important milestones of your professional career.
Katrin Bacic: I’ve been the Managing Director and Chief Strategy Officer of Wayra Germany since 2018. We’re part of the open innovation initiative of the Telefónica telecommunications group. Prior to that, I held various senior positions in business development and innovation at Telefónica in Germany and Spain for more than 13 years. As Director of Innovation at Telefónica Germany, for example, I was responsible for internal innovation development.
In addition to my role at Telefónica, I’m also a speaker, an author, a member of various juries on diversity and a mentor in the Stealth Mode Program of Factory Berlin and WAI Accelerate (Women in AI).
Munich Startup: What exactly does your job entail at Wayra?
Katrin Bacic: Together with the two managing directors Florian Bogenschütz and Albert Graf, I manage the German headquarters of the Wayra open innovation hub. We have a beautiful office for about 80 founders in the heart of Munich. As CSO, I’m responsible for Wayra’s strategic approach in the German market. I manage all five of our startup programs – the community program for early-stage startups, the acceleration program with the venture-client model for joint projects between startups and our parent company Telefónica and our investment arm: We invest in early-stage startups with tickets up to 350,000 euros. In addition, Telefónica and K Fund also invest in deeptech start-ups in Southern Europe and Latin America with the joint Leadwind Fund in order to promote technological development internationally.
Munich Startup: In your LinkedIn profile you write: “I specifically support female founders.” Why do you find this topic so important?
Katrin Bacic: More diversity in the German economy is a topic that is dear to my heart. Women in particular are strongly underrepresented in the startup ecosystem. The causes are complex and often deeply rooted in our culture: For example, women are still deeply involved in family life, partly due to structural problems, such as a lack of childcare. In addition, young girls sometimes lack the confidence to implement ideas on their own. Introducing the idea of starting a business to young women when they’re in college is too late. Being courageous and daring to take risks needs to be communicated much earlier on. But girls and young women need real role models for that.
‘Bonus’ reasoning isn’t necessary
That being said, I’m firmly convinced that ‘bonus’ reasoning isn’t necessary when it comes to diversity in teams, executive boards or supervisory boards. Equal treatment doesn’t need reasons, and women don’t have to provide some kind of measurable ‘added value’, meaning they don’t have to prove themselves over and over. Diversity needs to become a matter of course.
Munich Startup: How exactly can you support female founders?
Katrin Bacic: Access to capital is certainly the biggest lever for female founders. Currently, only about one percent of venture capital goes to female-led startups and five percent to mixed-board startups. 93 percent of VCs are currently led by men – even though we know that diverse teams are more successful.
How can that change? It all depends on different parameters for adjustment: Mentoring and coaching specifically for women are important, as is creating more visibility for female founders. In addition, more diversity needs to be promoted on the part of investors. That’s why I’m part of networks like the FIN (Female Investor Network) to increase the visibility of female investors and promote more female business angels.
Munich Startup: For years, the issue of too few women founding businesses in Germany has been discussed – corresponding programs have been initiated and networks have been founded. Have you noticed any positive changes in recent years?
Katrin Bacic: Yes, definitely, I’ve clearly seen positive developments in the startup ecosystem. According to the new Startup Monitor 2022, there’s been an increase in female founders from 18 to 20 percent. That’s definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s still a long way from parity. That’s why I support the #25to25 initiative, with the aim of having 25 percent female founders in the German startup ecosystem by 2025.
Breaking with gender stereotypes
Munich Startup: What other measures could help more women decide to become self-employed?
Katrin Bacic: What’s important is: “We have to change the rules and battle against stereotypes” – every day. What that means in practical terms is that women need more access to outside capital and reasonable security during parental leave and maternity leave, and that includes female entrepreneurs.
In addition, it needs to be made clear to girls when they’re young and in school that women are also allowed to take risks, to be brave and to be loud and less conformist. It’s important to stop the classic ‘pigeonhole thinking’ in gender stereotypes. Some initial positive signs are already visible. For example, I’ve noticed an increasing number of initiatives from all of the major VC funds to invest more in female founders. There’s more and more of a will to promote diversity.
Munich Startup: Back to the topic of startups: Which young companies have you found particularly exciting lately?
Katrin Bacic: What I’ve found particularly exciting lately are:
- Franka Emika, a highly innovative company that manufactures robots for industrial production, research and development.
- Cobrainer, a leading global AI-based skill platform for internal recruiting and talent management.
What the companies have in common is their innovative, technology-based approach, smart management team and Munich as their home base.
Munich Startup: And which technology or industry do you find particularly interesting at the moment?
Katrin Bacic: Companies around the world are in a state of upheaval, so there are many interesting business models. Artificial intelligence and machine learning influence all business processes, which is why I currently find many robotics startups extremely exciting, such as the Munich-based robotics startup Franka Emika.
To me, connectivity is the key to the digital future in society. That’s why we urgently need the large-scale expansion of 5G and satellite technology in Europe in order to reach all people. In addition, the topic of sustainability is obviously highly relevant.
“In general, a greater willingness to take risks is needed in Germany”
Munich Startup: No matter where you turn, there’s a crisis – is now a good time to start a business? If yes, why?
Katrin Bacic: It’s always a good time to start a company. Of course, there are many arguments that speak against it at the moment, such as the pandemic, the war between Russia and Ukraine and inflation. But “Say yes when others say no.” The current risks offer many opportunities in fields such as digitization, technological progress and new work, which means they’re promoting the demand for many new innovative products and services. In general, a greater willingness to take risks is needed in Germany.
Munich Startup: Wayra is part of the Munich startup ecosystem, so you know the city well as a founding location. What do you think could still use some improvement in Munich?
Katrin Bacic: Munich is the best location in Germany for B2B startups because it’s home to large multinational corporations such as BMW, Siemens and Audi. Munich is a growing hotspot for innovation and entrepreneurship, which we obviously want to promote with our 5G Lab. It is rightly so that we call ourselves a “tech hub” due to the city’s renowned universities, large and concentrated business environment and strong startup ecosystem.
A good IT infrastructure, the availability of funding and the proximity to established companies also play a role, as does the presence of large multinational companies. Our city also excels as a location for science: The Munich region is among the leading locations in 27 fields of technology in all of Europe.
Munich Startup: What founder would you like to meet in person some day? And what would you ask them?
Katrin Bacic: I can think of many inspiring people I would like to meet. For example, Gwynne Shotwell, President & COO of SpaceX, an impressive executive and engineer, so she can tell me when the first person will fly to Mars.
I would also like to share a glass of wine with Verena Pausder and Lea-Sophie Cramer, because I’m a big fan of their podcast ‘Fast & Curious.’ The two just have so much energy, are full of motivation and openly talk about so many important topics. I would ask them if they would like to be guests on our Wayra podcast ‘Startcast’.