This month at Pangea, we have been running a series on the amazing women who make up the Pangea team. We had a chat with the Chair of The Board of Directors at Pangea Accelerator, Borghild Holen to get her insights on her journey and the interesting lessons and observations she has made over the years. She has always been passionate about business development and has over 33 years of experience in international financing and investments in emerging markets and developing countries.
Tell us a little about your journey and interest in business development and supporting youth and gender?
BH: Early in my career, I worked at the Regional Development Fund (Norwegian) and my experience doing business development inspired and informed me going forward in my career to continue supporting youth. This includes my time at DNB, the largest Norwegian Bank, where I worked most of my career. ( I did not work with startups in DNB, on the contrary, I worked with large corporates and financial institutions.)
My interests also led me to be entwined with Norfund in two ways. Initially, I was a member of a committee appointed by the government with a mandate to propose changes in Norwegian foreign policy and development aid policy. We focused among other things on how we could contribute to development of sustainable businesses in poor countries, which led to the establishment of Norfund. The second way was that; ten years later, I joined the board in 2007 and was there for more than 10 years where we continued our focus on developing sustainable businesses and job creation. It was after my time in Norfund that I met Christian Wig and Jonas Tesfu and joined the board of Pangea. I saw it was a great way to continue my work in business development.
I think that our vision for Pangea to connect startups with capital, competence and network can make a difference. Pangea has also another very positive feature; nearly 100% of the entrepreneurs are native Africans, unlike many others. — Borghild Holen, Chair of The Board Of Directors at Pangea Accelerator.
How did FemInvest come to be?
BH: After I left DNB, I remained active in the startup ecosystem in Norway and have also invested in some startups in Norway and I currently sit on the board of one syndicate and one startup in Norway. I got the idea to start an investment club, FemInvest, after I realized I didn’t have deep enough pockets to be an interesting investor alone. At FemInvest, we are ten female investors and we have completed 3 investments with one on the pipeline. Most of these investors have long experience and hold senior positions in large Norwegian corporates. I think that our combined competence and network, more than capital base makes us an attractive investor.
What has changed in the business and startup environment?
BH: There has been extensive changes since my first experience with startups at the Regional Development Fund nearly 40 years ago. At that time there was a lot of mechanical/engineering innovation, the markets were local and focus was on the product itself. I think it is much more demanding to succeed as a startup today. It is much more complicated from the ideation stage until you succeed, markets are more borderless which means that competition is also tougher. I really believe accelerator programs like Pangea, are very important in helping startups from ideation until they succeed.
What are some of the success stories you have witnessed in the startup ecosystem?
There are a couple of Scandinavian start-up stories that impresses me. I have not been involved with them and only seen them from a distance. The first is Finn.no, which started as an app for selling second hand goods and equipment and was created by one of the large media companies in Norway. Today, that company is dominating the whole market for app-based second hand sales in Europe. Spotify too is another good example from Scandinavia. I look forward to seeing more African startups dominating global markets as well.
What do you think the startup/tech ecosystem needs to do to support more women to succeed?
BH: This is an important and difficult question. It is a fact that male-led startups receive investment more easily compared to female-led startups yet the fail rate for male-startups is higher.I strongly support that work needs to be done on creating opportunities for female entrepreneurs. I do not think that there are formal obstacles, it has more to do with culture and old habits. Most investors are men, and we tend to support or engage those that are like ourselves. Women therefore, need to be included in the decision making process when capital is allocated. In that respect, Pangea is doing well. We have 50 % women on the board and 67 % in the management group.