Women entrepreneurs are met with scepticism

Technical University of Denmark

In April 2022, an amount running into double-digit millions of kroner ticked into the account of entrepreneur Marie Lommer Bagger’s start-up Measurelet. The start-up is located in DTU Science Park in Hørsholm, north of Copenhagen, which typically houses start-ups originating from research conducted at DTU that are working to become more established with capital from external investors. A number of investors—headed by the Danish Growth Fund—saw the advantages offered by Measurelet’s high-tech toilet, which measures how much fluid a patient excretes during a toilet visit. The toilet is currently being tested at Gentofte Hospital.

Prior to the investment from the Danish Growth Fund, Marie Lommer Bagger had been on a five-year journey through the start-up environment, where, as a woman, she experienced being met with suspicious questions and a lack of understanding that many women are driven more by values than quick gain when starting a business.

“I’ve attended meetings where the investors were rather condescending, and I’ve sometimes felt that there has been a lack of respect for the fact that I’m actually the one who has driven this project forward,” says Marie Lommer Bagger, who—in addition to being an entrepreneur—is a qualified nurse.

For example, she remembers being questioned at a competition about how many fluid accounts are prepared at a hospital.

“They just started asking questions about the need for my start-up, thereby challenging my expertise as a nurse. As a result, I had to spend all my time defending myself, instead of talking about the potential and the great time savings offered by the technology,” says Marie Lommer Bagger.

Good answers in pitch competitions

It is a well-known phenomenon that women entrepreneurs are met with prejudices and stereotyped views, says Mikkel Næsager, adviser at DTU Entrepreneurship. This has been highlighted in several international reports and in the Danish Diversity Commitment initiative, which, among other activities, works to increase the number of start-ups founded by women. DTU has joined the initiative and is addressing this issue in the DTU-owned investment firm PreSeed Ventures, which focuses on early entrepreneurial businesses.

In 2022, DTU has also put gender equality on the agenda at this autumn’s ‘Digital Tech Summit’, which is one of the Nordic region’s most important tech events organized by all eight universities in Denmark, and where the latest knowledge in digitalization and new digital technologies will be presented. Here, Mikkel Næsager gave a presentation and held a workshop—Unbiased—on the need to strengthen the framework for more women tech entrepreneurs and equip them to handle investors’ questions in pitch competitions.

Research conducted by the American start-up environment TechCrunch shows that women are typically asked questions about how they will handle everything that can go wrong, so-called ‘prevention questions’. Men, on the other hand, are asked ‘promotion questions’ about the potential of the idea, and this has a great influence on the investors’ interest.

The research documents that start-ups which are asked promotion questions raise 7.21 times more capital than start-ups which are asked prevention questions. And women in the investor environment are asked prevention questions in two out of three funding situations, resulting in fewer investments.

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