With International Women’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to shine the spotlight on some female founders currently making massive waves. These 7 female founders managed to secure a spot in the top 10 of the Blue Tulip Awards. This competition is a year-round programme aiming to accelerate and drive breakthrough innovation. We asked them about their innovation, how they got into the game and what their advice is for others that want to succeed.
Anouk Binkhuysen, Faqta: ‘Stick to your ideals’
Anouk Binkhuysen is co-founder of edtech startup Faqta. It is an online video-based learning platform for children in primary schools, with teachers as coaches and activators for learning. Binkhuysen’s startup-story started with a project that didn’t quite work out. “Together with Faqta co-founder Jan, I worked on a concept to bring more attention to musical education in primary schools. After our publisher discontinued the project, we really got the feeling we could have a positive impact on both teachers and kids. That’s when we realized the idea of Faqta deserved a chance.”
That was in 2016, and Binkhuysen is moving fast to develop the programme to supply education tailormade for todays’ generation. “Together with third co-founder Wouter, we started our mission to connect primary schools with the future of learning. And we were in a rush, I wanted my own kids to work with Faqta as well, while they were still in primary school.”
Female entrepreneurs that want to make it as a founder should make sure to stay true to themselves, says Binkhuysen. “Stick to your ideals. The startup and scaleup-scene can be a tough, masculine world sometimes. So stay disciplined and focus on excellent execution and building a good team around you.”
Elena Köstler, Niluk: ‘Don’t measure your success in money’
“I’ve felt lonely for years between 14 and 20 years old,” says Elena Köstler. “I always had the feeling of not fitting in until I discovered that many people in my age group struggled with the same feeling. That they have a desire to connect with others in a more meaningful, personal, easier and fun way.” That is why she developed Niluk, a social network app to facilitate friendships through meaningful offline social contact. Users can connect based on location and shared interests and build new relationships along the way. Köstlers background in psychology and cognitive neuroscience came in particularly handy for her ambitious goal. “My vision is to boost friendships with Niluk in the most user centered way, and to reduce loneliness by at least ten percent in the EU in the next five years.”
“Even though common wisdom says that nine out of ten startups fail, I always think that success is not necessarily measured in money but in the impact we want to make. Besides that, not trying it in the first place because the statistics are against you, is the definition of failure. Someone who tries to improve the world with their own capacities, energy, love and network is brave, kicking ass and should deserve all the respect. Nobody said it would be easy, but you should always believe in yourself no matter what.”
Freke van Nimwegen, InstockMarket.nl: ‘Just do it’
“During a traineeship in a supermarket, I noticed how much food was going to waste,” says Freke van Nimwegen. That inspired her to start InstockMarket.nl, together with co-founders Bart and Selma. “We already produced exciting new meals in three different restaurants and in our own food truck with products that would have otherwise been thrown away. We started InstockMarket.nl to make even more of an impact.” The online platform gives chefs an opportunity to order food that needs saving from getting thrown away. “They get the fresh product delivered the next day. Both the chef and the one making the products save money and more importantly, they contribute to a circular economy.”
To get a startup off the ground, Van Nimwegen advises female founders to ‘just do it’. “Don’t try to get everything right from the start. See how people react and adjust accordingly. In other words, you’ll be walking the bridge while building it. Do make sure to take the time to tell people your story and your mission. It helps people to identify with your cause and follow your startup.”
Charlotte Melkert, Equalture: ‘Don’t focus on the risks’
After starting a recruitment office at 19 year old, Charlotte Melkert noticed how in many companies recruitment and HR was way behind other parts of the industry. “With Equalture we want to make the process more predictable and be a strategic partner in decision making within starting companies”, says Melkert. “We use AI and neuroscience to help identify the needs of a team and predict which candidates are the best fit for them.” Melkert believes that every successful company has one thing in common: a team with a diverse set of skills that makes growth possible.
Besides gathering a qualified team, Melkert knows there are other requirements for success as a founder. “In The Netherlands we tend to see only the risks when starting a company. We see failed startups as a genuine failure. It’s a mindset we really need to get rid of. Every startup experience allows a person to grow exponentially, both privately and professionally. I wish everyone to go experience it some time, no matter the end result.”
Iris Soute, Picoo: ‘Don’t listen to advice’
After finishing her PhD in Interaction Design for Children, Iris Soute decided not to pursue an academic career. Instead, she developed Picoo, an interactive device that merges outdoor play with computer games. “It started as a study project in which we were tasked to create ‘something’ for kids,” Soute says. “It was 2005 and nobody worried about kids spending all their free time on their iPads yet. People laughed at the idea. After finishing my research on game design and gathering UX-feedback from kids, I had two kids of my own and screen time was suddenly a hot topic. So together with co-founder Daniel Tetteroo, I decided to turn it into a product.”
Soute has some important advice for female startup founders, which is: don’t listen to advice. “You’re launching a startup, so you’re doing something no one has ever done before. Instead, listen to someone’s stories, experiences and lessons learned. Then decide for yourself what applies to your situation and what you can learn from.”
Melanie van Halteren, CoVince: ‘Listen with respect’
Nowadays we have the possibility to create a better world together using new technologies. CoVince founder Melanie van Halteren thinks today’s challenges are no longer exclusive to one region or country. Instead we are all equally responsible for becoming a part of the solution. That’s why she started her distribution and content creation platform with configurable VR, AR, AI and mobile-building blocks. ”I’m convinced that emerging technologies can help us achieve a better world but I experienced that even today it’s only available for a select group. I want to bridge the gap and make learning with immersive technologies accessible and affordable for everyone. For small businesses, the self-employed, corporations, young, old, rich, poor, physically or mentally healthy or challenged. With CoVince I really think we can accelerate people’s development by making it fun and effective.”
To achieve success in the startup world, she wants female founders to not let existing structures and visions stop them. “You can always create your own role and add your own value. Create collaborations between people, expertise and tech. If you feel responsible for other people’s business as if it were your own, you’ll act accordingly and create valuable collaborations. Finally, listen to each other with attention and respect, but don’t get distracted by all the advice you get. Stay determined and follow your own path.”
Amandine Coutant, myskillcamp: ‘Own your future’
With her innovation myskillcamp Lifelong Learning platform, Amandine Coutant helps learners take control of their career by connecting their favorite sources of learning, with various integrated courses. Coutant: “I started my company with my husband, Kevin, CEO of myskillcamp. At the beginning, I was a real estate agent in France, and was focused on business and keeping a good relationship with my network of partners. A few years later, my goal was to manage people and help them to achieve their own goals.”
The startup journey also helped Coutant to make her goals more clear. “When we created myskillcamp, our first mission was to deliver software that was more friendly and useful for learners. But now, with our knowledge of the market and more experience, we know why it’s important to ask the right question for your employees and to guide them.” When starting her business, Coutant had a clear dream she didn’t give up on. Something every founder should do. “Believe in your dream, live your life and never forget, everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes, professional life can create and adapt your personality, but you’re the owner of your future.”
These founders and their innovation made it to the semi-finals of the Blue Tulip Awards, an ecosystem-driven program with four main events throughout the year and with prizes awarded to winners at each of the different stages of the event. So they have a serious chance of making it to the top spot. There’s currently ten startups in eight categories left, check all of them out here.
Next up for these innovations is the semi-final round, which will take place on March 12 at DeFabrique in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Several rounds of pitches and Q&A sessions will form the basis for the judges in the themes of education, finance, security, living & working, mobility, health, nutrition and climate to pick the five best innovations. The top 5 of each theme will move on to the finals, where they will compete for a price-package that is designed to accelerate their business.