A digital nomad with the mission to empower female founders

Claire Siegert is a digital nomad with an ambitious vision — she wants to welcome more women in the European startup ecosystem. The project is based on a social problem: among other things, there are significantly fewer female founders than male founders, it is more difficult for female founders to obtain venture capital and, last but not least, there is a lack of female role models in leadership positions.

Salah Zayakh baut derzeit als Geschäftsführer ein Corporate-Start-up auf. Ein wichtiger Baustein seiner Karriereleiter waren die vier Jahre als wissenschaftliche Hilskraft am Fraunofer IAIS.
© Privat

Claire Siegert is a digital nomad with an ambitious vision — she wants to welcome more women in the European startup ecosystem. The project is based on a social problem: among other things, there are significantly fewer female founders than male founders, it is more difficult for female founders to obtain venture capital and, last but not least, there is a lack of female role models in leadership positions.

To welcome more female founders into the startup ecosystem, the Fraunhofer Venture alumna co-founded Businettes, a company that aims to tackle these fundamental problems and help women found their own businesses. The Businettes online incubator program guides female founders through the business ideation process towards their own business case and product. The company also shares the stories of inspiring role models and delivers workshops designed to empower women in their roles as business leaders.

Claire Siegert studied international management and marketing at the Berlin School of Economics and Law (HWR Berlin), and ESCE International Business School in Paris. After various roles in the private sector, she then joined Fraunhofer IPA and Fraunhofer Venture to dive deeper into the startup scene.

In this interview, she explains how she found her way into the world of startups and shares her tips for fellow company founders.

You’re a digital nomad — what’s that like?

I’ve been working remotely for  a whole year now. Living abroad again has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I wanted to see what it was like to live and work by the sea. So in autumn 2021 I rented a house in Portugal with a group of other self-employed people for two months. It was difficult to find aninterim tenant for my apartment in Munich for such a short period of time, so I extended the sublet and  kept on extending my stay abroad — and before I knew it, I’d spent nine months living in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and the UK. In May 2022  I decided to give up my flat in Munich and enjoy the freedom of the digital nomad lifestyle for an even longer period of time, without anything holding me back. My business is 100% digital, so I can work productively from anywhere, and there are so many beautiful places that I’d love to explore. As a remote worker, you get to know the culture, way of life and world of work in your temporary home much better than you would as a tourist. I already know that I won’t keep up with this lifestyle forever, but for I enjoy the privilege until I find a new place I want to call home.

Is adopting a digital nomad lifestyle a work-related decision for you, or are you just taking advantage of the opportunities that technology provides?

Businettes is still primarily focused on the German market, but we’ve already started doing business in France and we want to expand into other European countries too. So it’s good for us to get to know all these different cultures and build up local networks.

Our team has been remote from day one, and my job allows me to enjoy this level of flexibility. Victoria Arnhold, my co-founder, lives in Paris, and I was living in Munich when we started working together – and then Covid hit anyway. Right from the start, we used all the online tools  such as MS Teams, Trello, Notion, Zoom and so on and we collaborate very well even though we’re not in the same country. We’ve onboarded interns and freelancers virtually with ease, only meeting them in person months after they’ve started working with us.

I can imagine that it’s more of a problem if you need to transition a team that’s used to collaborate face to face in the same office to a fully digital way of working — like most companies had to do during the pandemic. But the same is true the other way around, too: For my team, it would be a huge change if we suddenly found ourselves all working together in one office. That’s still an option we’re keeping open for the future, though.

Let’s talk about your project: What exactly do you offer at Businettes and what’s your business model?

Businettes started out as an online incubator for female founders. Women who have a business idea in mind can register on our platform and then gradually concretize and build their idea into a consistent business case. At the end of the program, they’ll know what to do next: whether that means shelving the project, modifying it and taking it forward, or going ahead and launching it! When they’ve completed our program, the founders have their first prototype, an initial concept for a market launch, a pitch deck and a network of fellow female founders at their disposal. We also have a personal development module, which is designed to give female entrepreneurs the self-confidence they need in their new role. The module covers topics such as  stress management techniques and questions like “how do I get rid of imposter syndrome?”, “how do I introduce myself?” and “how should I speak to partners?” We want to empower female founders — because we believe this is critical to closing the female founder gap in the startup ecosystem across Europe. 

How does the Businettes program work?

Our customers work on their business ideas themselves. We’ve created an automated program based on business ideation tools, psychological methods and gamification. You go through different chapters that build on each other. You only advance to the next level if you have achieved all the exercises of a level. Our online platform is available day and night, so our founders can complete the program whenever they want, to suit their schedule or time zone. This was really important to us because many of women become founders while being moms or working in full-time job positions. We have seen some people deciding to become full-time founders straight away, but the majority starts in smaller steps. In fact, 50% of all newly founded businesses in Germany are are side-businesses at the beginning.

The women we work with have very unique backgrounds and different levels of business knowledge and experience. But our program can be completed by everyone, even without any prior business knowledge. It’s designed to teach our customers everything they need to know about the world of startups and investment and to use business jargon confidently — which then of course makes them more self-confident in general regarding their business idea and their new role of an entrepreneur.

Do you see any particular thematic preferences among the start-ups, given that the program is targeted specifically at women?

In fact, among female founders we see many products or services for women, that is, by women for women, or also for families or children. Some also go into the HR or marketing sectors, which are traditionally more female-dominant. And we also have quite a few founders in the fields of nutrition, fashion, medical engineering and mental health. We see tech solutions in the sense that most of the business ideas are delivered via apps, marketplaces or platforms who need to be coded. But real deep tech start-ups are rather rare.  We hope to see this change in the medium term, and the signs are good as the number of women opting to study STEM subjects is already on the rise. To create a gateway for female founders to enter the deep-tech market, we’ve partnered with tech companies like Infineon and Bosch, who can share their industry knowledge and networks with women who want to set up a business in this field.

Speaking of partnerships, how do you finance your company?

We have several business models: On the B2C side, we charge female founders to use our online platform. As it’s an automated solution, it’s more affordable for a founder to come to us for support than to work in a 1:1 format with a coach, for example. From the start, we wanted to keep our costs affordable for new founders. After all, we’ve seen for ourselves how important it is to think very carefully about where you invest your money — especially if you’ve quit your job to focus on your startup full time. Next to the fully automated basic version we also have Businettes Premium where we offer 1:1 sparring calls on top of the program - which is especially relevant for solo-founders.

We also work with companies that share our beliefs around female empowerment and are keen to demonstrate their commitment to diversifying our economic landscape. For example, in addition to the tech companies already mentioned, we also have a cooperation with a health insurance company, because especially in Germany insurance is a big issue for entrepreneurs, or with one of the largest social business networks, LinkedIn.

In France, our business model is totally different: We’re certified as part of the French continuing professional development program (CPF), so our customers can complete our course free of charge - the costs are covered the French government and the customer’s previous employers.

How important are networks?

INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT! Having a network is essential for anyone who wants to found a company, and ideally you should surround yourself with people in the same phase of life as you. If you’re surrounded by people who are employed by a company for example they’re more likely the ones who will discuss the risks and uncertainty of your decisions. It is so important to embark on your journey with the right mindset and to understand that worries and fears aren’t an obstacle; they’re completely normal.

That’s exactly why we started the Businettes Community. We now have more than 500 members, all of whom are already female founders or women who are about to start a company. The community is a place where women can discuss their questions, challenges and successes, with the shared belief that we’re #strongertogether.


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Infos und Anmeldung

© Businettes
Victoria Arnhold and Claire Siegert.

Are links with investors important for founders?

Definitely. This is one of the topics we are working on at the moment because we want to give women the best possible chance of getting investment after completing the Businettes program. Generally the founders we work with are at a very early stage in their startup journey which is sometimes a bit too early for investments yet. To get venture capital, you need to show that there is a business case behind your idea, that it has traction, and that there is a product-market fit. We also want to challenge the notion that you obligatory need an investor if you want to be successful in the startup scene and make an impact. When companies get angel-funding at a very early stage, business angels might invest like a few hundreds of thousands euros in exchange for up to 20% of the company shares - — which is quite a bad deal.

We want to show that there are definitely other possibilities, such as government funding (EXIST Gründerstipendium, etc.) or crowdfunding for, which enable you to raise capital for fewer shares at a later stage because you are already a few steps further along and the ROI is more promising. Nevertheless, the feedback you get at an investor VC pitch is extremely important. Our company is currently fully bootstrapped, which means we’re completely self-financed. We initially used our unemployment benefits, government grants, the EXIST Start-up Grant and freelance work to keep ourselves afloat. Now we generate a great income for ourselves with Businettes. We haven’t given away any of our shares yet, but we also haven’t ruled out the idea of investment for the future.

Let’s talk about your career: When did you first develop an interest in founding a company?

While I was studying, I worked for various startups and I always knew that I wanted to keep working with startups or found my own company. My time at Fraunhofer Venture, where I worked closely with founders, was  an important phase in my journey. Soon after I left Fraunhofer, I realized that it could be the perfect time to start my own company. I wanted to keep working with entrepreneurial personalities; it’s fun to be around people with that kind of passionate, driven attitude, discussing about solutions rather than stating problems, and it’s inspiring to be surrounded by people who want to make the world a better place.

Through my years at Fraunhofer and in the months that followed, I realized how few female founders there are. At many tech conferences or startup meetups I’ve been to, I was one of the very few women in the room — and I wanted to change that. But I didn’t actually come up with the idea for Businettes myself; my co-founder Victoria developed the initial concept back in 2015, when she decided to create a co-founder matching app. The match was perfect and we decided to empower women together. We are exploring how we can get more women involved in the startup scene.

Before you joined Fraunhofer Venture, you worked at Fraunhofer IPA. What did you learn from this experience?

I wanted to get involved with innovation. I joined Fraunhofer IPA thanks to a parental leave replacement position, and the role gave me the opportunity to learn about a whole new world that I had never been exposed to before — robots, labs, patents and sensors were completely new ground for me. My role was to support the research teams with their marketing activities. I had to understand the industry, topics and projects my colleagues were working on, to be able to help them marketing wise. It was exciting to communicate scientific work and technologies on websites, conferences and fairs in a way that is engaging for the public. The other thing that really gave me confidence for my career was the freedom that I was givenin the projects I worked on, , even as a young professional. That was an important experience for me, and I still draw on it in my approach today.

We support female founders and give them a structure to work with, but we also give them the freedom to develop their idea in their own way. It’s the only way to get results.

My time at Fraunhofer also taught me that you can always contribute and make a difference, even if you don’t know everything there is to know about a topic. Just having the ambition to understand a project and its objectives, customers and partners is usually enough. In my current role, we work with tech companies to develop programs designed specifically to support founders working with hardware solutions or sensors, for example. We rely on our partners’ expertise and we go straight to the source — our community of female founders — to find out what they need.

Back at Fraunhofer IPA I found out about Fraunhofer Venture when I was supporting two teams that had been onboarded by the FDays entrepreneurial program, that later became known as AHEAD. Helping scientific teams to look at their technologies from a commercial perspective and incorporate them into business plans was exactly what I wanted to do. That role taught me the different methods there are to achieve this. We experimented with various workshop formats based on business design methods, incorporating Fraunhofer-specific aspects.

These experiences planted relevant seeds for my future as a company founder.

What do you think needs to change so that female entrepreneurship starts gaining momentum?

I think there are lots of things to work on. Firstly, more women need to get involved in investment so that female founders have a better chance of securing risk capital. People invest in people, and we naturally tend to invest in people similar to ourselves, or in people we like — so men are more likely to invest in other men. There are some initiatives out there that aim to change this, but there’s still work to do.

There also needs to be a shift in our perceptions of success. Why do startups only getting attention when they’ve raised huge amounts of capital across multiple rounds of financing? It’s really discouraging for other startups to see that — it makes people think that their company isn’t worth anything until they get to that point. These enormous investments are seen as the only way to succeed. But I think it’s equally, or perhaps even more impressive when young companies are bootstrapped as they need to think carefully about how to generate a recuring cashflow fast.

Parental leave and childcare are also important factors. We need better schemes that allow parents to automatically share parental leave equally, and these arrangements need to be accepted by companies and society as a whole. If we had more childcare places, full-day schooling concepts and daycare options, deciding whether to pursue a career or go freelance or have a family wouldn’t be such an obstacle to female founders.

I could give you ten more ideas, but let’s leave it at that for now (laughs).

Thank you for talking to us!