GFA: Can you shortly present your start-up and what inspired you to start it?
BP: We find better Materials for a better future. ExoMatter developed a KI based data-driven materials R&D platform to help manufacturing companies find better materials faster with an edge in cost, sustainability and performance data. I studied entrepreneurship and had already founded my first start-up during my studies. However, I wanted to found a startup with a technology that has a direct impact on the innovation power of companies and thus creates a direct contribution to a sustainable future. I met my co-founders and together we founded ExoMatter last year.
GFA: Can you tell us about your journey as a female founder? What inspired you to start your own venture?
BP: My start-up journey as female founder is no special from that of other founders, whether female or male. What is special about me is that I realized during my bachelor’s degree at TUM that I am very interested in entrepreneurship: What makes the best teams? How do you get from an idea to a start-up? Etc. And together with three women, I founded my first start-up during my Master’s in Entrepreneurship. I met my co-founder and I immediately saw the problem that materials are one of the main drivers of innovation and also ecological damage in the world. This made me realise the need for the idea and together we founded ExoMatter. My intrinsic motivation for founding my start-up is that I want to build a company where women and men are equal. This means that family and work have to become one. I want to create a place where families can work, children can be looked after and everyone can be individually supported according to their needs.
GFA: Have you faced any specific obstacles as a female founder and woman in the tech industry, and how did you overcome them?
BP: Yes. I have often experienced that because of one’s gender, one is not perceived as being as competent as the male co-founders. Especially in the field of deep tech, industry, chemistry and SMEs, I am almost always one of the few women in appointments or events.
For example, I was at a pitch event with my co-founder and questions were asked after the pitch. On the one hand, the entire jury and audience were only men of the same age, and on the other hand, all the questions were first directed at my co-founder, although I was standing next to him. How do I deal with that? Well, I say clearly that I will answer the question, as it falls within my remit, and address the issue of diversity directly and openly.
I also try to support female founders who have just started and do warm intros where possible. But I think it’s great to see that there are more and more communities and support for female founders!
“Be brave and bold.
Go out with your idea and inspire people with your vision and your product.” ~ Barbara
GFA: Have you encountered any gender-related biases or stereotypes in fundraising or accessing capital, and how have you tackled them?
BP: Yes, all the fact that only men participate in the investor calls. But there are also many investors who pay attention to this and try to have a diverse selection team. There are also some VCs that only invest in mixed teams. We are specifically looking for investors for whom not only mixed start-ups are important but also whose staff teams are diversified
GFA: Can you share a significant milestone or accomplishment that you are particularly proud of as a female founder?
BP: Yes I am super proud of our 200k sales that we have achieved. And that within 14 months. I am also super proud that we have the same understanding of diversity and equality in the team and that we are perceived as a balanced team. This has nothing to do with being a female founder but we should stop talking about female and male founders and start talking about we are founders. No matter where we come from, what gender we are and what education we have. What should count are the milestones we have reached or the lessons we have learned from all the failures and lows.
GFA: What advice do you have for other women and girls aspiring executive positions or start their own ventures?
BP: Be brave and bold. Go out with your idea and inspire people with your vision and your product. Look for mentors, networks to support you on your start-up journey. Stand up for yourselves. No one else will do it for you. Take the space, whether you are pitching to male or female investors or clients.
GFA: Have you found any particular resources or support networks that have been helpful to you as a female founder?
There are many great communities for female founders. One is the woman founder from Unternehmertum https://www.unternehmertum.de/landingpages/women-startup
Also great is Encourage Ventures https://encourage-ventures.com
Evangelistas is also very supportive. These are just a few examples, I am sure there are many more out there.
Barbara Praehofer, Co-Founder of ExoMatter and trying to revolutionise the sector of Materials Development.