We headed to Israel for this year’s Forbes Under 30 Global Women’s Summit. It was a real opportunity for us to dive into an entirely open and inspirational environment, in which we experienced entrepreneurship detached from predefined gender patterns and other societal norms. This event, organized by the Forbes organization, gathers mentors and inspiring leaders as well as honorees from the Forbes’ Under 30 lists from different regions of the world. Meeting up with those that have already achieved the status of “successful entrepreneur” turned out to be an important bridge-builder for both of us as we launch our own entrepreneurial careers as ETH Zurich Pioneer Fellows. It helped us to be able to openly discuss the challenges we face, our hopes, and things we need to consider eye-to-eye with others who are going through the same phase. Throughout the intensive program in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the emphasis was on women as leaders and entrepreneurs. This inspiring female-centric approach was reflected in all panel discussions and networking events, as well as tour experiences and special events.
On the path to entrepreneurial success, today’s founders often find themselves in an infinite loop sharing their vision with peers and coaches from within an affirming inner circle. Sticking to this predetermined path presents a danger – a comfort zone with a limited perspective. Recently named to Forbes 30 under 30 Europe, Gnanli Landrou and Etienne Jeoffroy took the opportunity to expand their horizons.
Detaching from Gender Patterns
Profit versus Values
In networking with different entrepreneurs at the events, we heard more than once the phrase, “profitability matters,” as if it represented the only metric defining success for entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses. Well-meaning speakers and mentors advised us to “aim for-profit and maximize it,” but for Oxara (Gnanli Landrou’s start-up that focuses on sustainable building) what does maximizing profit mean for its community and vision? We learned during an excursion to SodaStream that the purpose of profit is to enable companies to generate a more impactful and sustainable business model. Exchanging ideas with Daniel Birnbaum, SodaStream’s CEO gave us strength and insight as to how to build a values-centered start-up, rather than focus exclusively on financial gain. From a science-entrepreneur perspective, the visit to SodaStream’s factory was an opportunity to understand the manufacturing process and value-chain challenges of sustaining an innovative successful company.
Diversity Creates Success
Gender equality was an important cornerstone of the Forbes Under 30 Global Women’s Summit, second only to the focus on the importance of sustainability over profit, the summit emphasized diversity and equality as important components in building a company and positioning the long-term success of a business. We returned from the summit committed that our businesses, Oxara and FenX would invest an extraordinary effort to achieve gender balance. The summit opened our eyes to the potential and advantages that come along with a diversified team and working environment.
The most important take-home message for us; however, involved the more general notion of leadership and the importance of empowering future employees. We believe that it is only through empowerment that we can reach impactful metrics. Empowerment includes gender balance, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace. SodaStream managed to implement the value of diversity and inclusion into their mission, by making sure that their product “…is produced by Jews and Arabs who work side-by-side in peace and harmony.”
Entrepreneurship and Social Change
We were inspired to hear that entrepreneurship can be a vehicle for positive or negative social change, and that it is our responsibility, as future leaders, policy makers, and decisions takers to make the right decision to tackle glocal (global & local) challenges. As much as we listened to and met profit-driven young leaders, we also encountered inspiring like-minded start-ups that possess a sense of mission - to be socially responsible, protect the planet, and do the right thing for all of their stakeholders. They aim to achieve a balance between cause and profit. Speaking of cause - we believe that the movement toward gender equality should include both women and men. Support from both genders is necessary to move the fight forward and ultimately shape and achieve a broader societal impact.
The 4 days we spent with at the Forbes Under 30 Women’s Summit along with young founders and future leaders was not only fun, but a great networking, learning, and sharing opportunity. From visiting world most unique places in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem such as the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE), the SodaStream factory - located 30 km away to WestBank, the “party of a life time” at Machane Yehuda Market or SHUK, the Tower of David, and finally the workshops focused on women empowerment in business. We had a unique life experience. We look forward to being part of the next global summit in Detroit where we will pitch our business ideas to investors.
More insight and inspiration…
Jenah St. is on a quest for sustainability in the fashion industry by providing vegan leather handbags made following luxury standards. Combining the advanced organic chemistry technology with the design and fashion industry know-how allows her to produce a unique vegan leather bag, animal-free. The material used complies with the European Ecolabel and the brand’s partnership with a renown Italian manufacturer provides credibility and authority. Jenah St. bags are sold all over Europe.
Alaya, a startup based in Lausanne, empowers people to change the world one act at a time. Through one platform, Alaya enables companies to build a compassionate, purpose-driven culture and engage employees while serving the community. Doing so, they make corporate giving and employee volunteering easy, flexible, and measurable, driving outcomes that matter to organisations worldwide.
Finally, Clara Campo Cid, humble successful entrepreneur from Amarist studio, a creative and activist art studio based in Barcelona Spain. The studio focuses on the creation of functional pieces and sculptures capable of stimulating the thoughts of the viewer through works that invite to reflect on the world around us. They are breaking down barriers by proposing controversial art sculptures like Bomb Love using Alabaster stone inspired from war. Their art pieces are exhibited in galleries and sold worldwide.
About the authors
Gnanli Landrou, co-Founder of Oxara, a value-centered start-up with the vision to enable access to sustainable and affordable housing for all by turning excavation materials into low cost and eco-friendly cement-free concrete.
Dr. Etienne Jeoffroy, co-Founder of FenX, a recently incorporated start-up imagining a revolution in construction by transforming mineral waste originating from several industries into building insulation materials, fully recyclable, and low CO2 emitting.