Meet the disruptors

Edition 19 April 2019, by Phoebe Dodds

The female entrepeneurs making waves in 2019

With the #MeToo movement sweeping Hollywood last year, the rising popularity of International Women’s Day and the array of feminist memoirs popping up on, it’s safe to say that gender equality is the topic du jour. The Netherlands is already hailed for performing well when it comes to gender equality, but in the start-up world, female founders are still woefully underrepresented, while male founders receive a disproportionate amount of venture capital funding. This month, we shine a spotlight on female founders making waves in the Netherlands as they share their journeys so far.

Mariah Mansvelt Beck is co-founder of Yoni, the eco-conscious feminine hygiene company aiming “to break the taboo around menstruation and get organic cotton tampons, pads and liners on all shelves”. So far, they’re doing a good job: their products can be found everywhere from Marqt and Etos to Albert Heijn, and their adverts are plastered around Amsterdam. Mariah founded Yoni with Wendelien Hebly after learning about the lack of legal requirements regarding listing ingredients on feminine care packaging – which can even include plastics and perfume. Yoni addresses a gap in the market for organic feminine hygiene products, and the company helps further break down any stigma through their aesthetically designed blog tackling ‘taboo’ subjects. Mariah notes that the nature of her company provides her with an obvious benefit over a male entrepreneur: “I have user experience no man will ever have!”

Nelli Jeloudar and Monique Janke founded Bundleboon, a curated personal shopping service for kids, in 2017. Between them, the founders have experience working at companies including De Bijenkorf, Zalando and Pandora. Bundleboon, which lets users take a quiz about their child’s style, before sending them a stylist-arranged box with between two and four hand-picked outfits, was a hit from the very beginning. The company received 150 pre-orders within its first two weeks, was accepted into the Startup Bootcamp Accelerator and has since been featured by the likes of De Telegraaf and Vogue – and all this within Bundleboon’s first two years of existence.

Connecting women in the creative sector is Awura Simpe, founder of the Creative Women Collective, which builds community through events. An energetic powerhouse, Awura also founded the Creative Women Agency this year, and hosts a podcast through her business as well as biannual seminars. Would Awura agree that the climate for female entrepreneurs is shifting in a positive direction? Yes: “women in general are using their voices more to speak about inequality, and as a consequence, the consciousness around the necessity for change is growing”, she says. Awura also notes that this change doesn’t just apply to business: “it’s also about upbringing, education and relationships”. She’s a strong proponent of connections and supportive groups – unsurprising, given her business – and believes in the power of individuals to make a difference as a whole. Awura explains: “I believe that, as we combine our strengths together, as a collective, we will be able to rise above the personal and become global”. It’s through Creative Women Collective that she’s on her journey of connecting female creatives, both online with themselves, and offline with other creative professionals.

One of the leading entrepreneurs in the wellness space, Nathalie Streng is the founder of The Cold Pressed Juicery, providing Amsterdammers with “healing, organic plant-based foods and juices to go” since 2014. Nathalie is adamant that her gender has not hindered her in any way: “so far, being a woman in business isn’t more challenging than being a man – at the end of the day it’s about whether your costs are lower than your turnover and that challenge is just the same for a man as for a woman.”

The women I spoke to vary in their experiences and perceptions of sexism in business. Despite Bundleboon’s success so far, when it comes to external investment Nelli thinks that being female has presented challenges: “older male investors think women don’t have the same type of stamina”. Even so, she’s hopeful for the future – Nelli notes that “companies like The Next Web are starting to create resources focused on supporting female entrepreneurs, and so hopefully the situation will improve in the next couple of years”. Mariah is also hopeful – although she’d like to see “more female role models to look up to and to discuss challenges with”. Nathalie points out that in the Netherlands, “every woman can strive for what she wants. I encourage women to follow their dreams. Nothing limits a woman here at all – it’s excuses.” What these women have in common is a drive to create high-quality, impactful products and services, and if their successes to date are any indication, they will remain some of the Netherlands’ most influential businesswomen for years to come.