Less than one in three companies in Germany is started by a woman. That's too few, so the Economy Ministry wants more female entrepreneurs. Manuela Kasper-Claridge investigates how e-commerce can lead the way.
Bärbel Grünberger always knew that she would become an entrepreneur. "I grew up in business. Taking on responsibility has always been part of my life," she says. And yet her career path was not very straightforward.
As a young woman she dreamed of a career as a ballerina, became a prop master. Later she trained to become a real estate agent. Ten years ago and with very short notice, she took over her father's business which supplied teak furniture to wholesalers.
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"The wholesale business has a very masculine structure. It wasn't easy to assert myself," says the Bavarian and laughs when she thinks of her early years as a business women. Now at 37 no one can pull the wool over her eyes anymore.
Adventures in e-commerce
A few months ago Grünberger ventured into a new entrepreneurial world — e-commerce, or online trading. Since then, she has been working on search term analysis, the ideal product presentation online and her presence on Instagram.
She offers decorative iron and glass products under the brand name Varia Living online via platforms such as Amazon. It is her second entrepreneurial foothold next to her wholesale business, and it is here in the digital sector that she sees real potential for growth.
In February of this year alone, she was able to increase sales by 500 percent. So far, she only offers 50 products online and has not yet turned a profit. Grünberger is nonetheless convinced that her prospects are good.
"If, like me, up to this point you only knew the offline business, then this is new territory. Now, sometimes the wholesale business seems really antiquated to me," she notes with astonishment. And not only that, but for her the digital business world has turned out to be incredibly fun. "You can try so much and with e-commerce it doesn't matter what you look like, whether you are old or young, a woman or a man."
Getting a boost
"More women setting up companies means more ideas, more jobs and stronger growth for Germany. A high level of diversity of business models and corporate cultures can also generate crucial competitive advantages," according to an optimistic economy ministry in Berlin.
The ministry has launched numerous initiatives to help women who want to start businesses. There is the National Agency for Women Start-ups Activities and Services and the "Women in Digital" which focus on women entrepreneurs in the digital sector. But the ministry is not alone in its initiatives.
"Female Entrepreneurs of the Future" is yet another program to help boost entrepreneurism. It is supported by the Association of German Women Entrepreneurs (VdU) and the online giant Amazon, among others. The support program offers digital coaching for women entrepreneurs who want to sell their products online. However, many of the participants also see networking with one another as a decisive factor in their entrepreneurial success.
Make a difference
Australian Kathy Wong is a gifted networker and passionate entrepreneur. She is currently traveling through Europe, meeting founders and producers to convince them of her idea. Her motto is: "Get out and make a difference."
Wong, who could have lived the quiet life of a retiree after successfully selling her company, now wants to promote social entrepreneurship, which she is doing through her new company Moeloco.
The trendy flip-flops she sells leave a very special footprint in the sand with sayings like 'I am free' or 'Be crazy.' So far over 8,500 pairs of the flip-flops have already been sold worldwide, and for each pair sold Moeloco donates a pair of sturdy shoes to children in Kolkata, which allow them to go to school.
Kathy Wong in Kalkutta, India. Her company, Moeloco, donates shoes to needy children, which allow them to attend school
"We are a normal business even though our work has a positive social impact, but we are not a charity," emphasizes Wong. And she is positive that women entrepreneurs are generally more open to social issues and could bring many creative ideas to this area, claiming, "Women have incredible possibilities."
Yet without the internet making these possibilities a reality would be much harder. Thanks to digital platforms, it is now much easier today than it was a few years ago for women to start businesses. Bärbel Grünberger has founded a second business in just three months. "The great thing about being an entrepreneur is that I can always implement my own ideas," she says with a passion. Kathy Wong finally sees women as equals on the corporate playing field and is currently expanding her social media channels and starting an interview series on YouTube.