Brigitte Baumann is the Co-founder of Go Beyond Early Stage Investing and part of this year’s jury of the Swisscom StartUp Challenge. In the interview she tells us about her experience with startups, her passion for diversity and how she wants to create an impact in the startup ecosystem.
Brigitte Baumann, you have been a successful business angel for almost fifteen years now. Which factors contribute to a positive angel-startup relationship?
I will point out three main factors. First, we need to set out with a win-win attitude. Some of the founders, when they’re raising money for the very first time, are not very aware of certain things and if investors wanted to they could take advantage of that. It is fundamental that both parties be very open about their experience, try to first create a common understanding of their assumptions and language for negotiating so that they can start at an equal footing. Second, both sides need to learn about best practices in this area before they start working together. And third, it is important that there are discussions about the value that needs to be provided from both the entrepreneur and the investor so that they know what to expect from each other apart from the investment.
You were the first Swiss and second woman to be awarded European Investor of the year. Why is diversity important to you?
There are different reasons for my passion for diversity, which goes far beyond gender: One is that anytime in an environment where diverse thinking and behaviour is valued and encouraged, productivity is much higher than it would be from a monolithic approach. It is much harder to encourage diversity, but it is worth it. One core element of entrepreneurship is usually that people who see the same things interpret them in a different way. Unless you have a diverse group of investors, it is very hard for entrepreneurs to really be embraced. Diversity does bring innovation.
There is one is a much more personal reason: Whenever we find ourselves in an environment where we’re part of a very small minority and there’s an overwhelming majority, it is much harder to voice your different thinking. But if you create a more mixed environment, everyone feels more comfortable speaking up.
What could therefore be done to make the Swiss startup ecosystem more diverse?
First of all, the angel community is still incredibly monolithic. Other countries have already done a lot more work to change that. It is estimated that there are 3 per cent women in angel investing in Switzerland. At my angel platform, Go Beyond, it is 40 percent. Data shows that more women investors encourage more women to become entrepreneurs and more women entrepreneurs to seek financing to grow their businesses. We need a lot more women in order to make this environment more diverse. Whenever an environment is built by a majority of people, it gets built with a framework that works really well for this majority, not taking into account other mindsets or approaches. It often happens, that, even if they are unintended, within these startup support initiatives, there are implicit biases, e.g. words used in the programme like bootcamp, battle ect can have an impact, time and length of the programme, the kind of people the jury is composed of … all play a role, the more it is designed for diversity, the more it will attract diverse entrepreneurs. That’s what entrepreneurship is all about.
You invested in companies all over the world. What makes the Swiss startup ecosystem unique?
I really appreciate the ecosystem in Switzerland, which creates a very successful environment for startups. They have access to talent with high education and to world class universities. They have the “Swiss values” of simplicity and excellence. Also, the government gives the startups freedom to operate, it is for example relatively easy to hire people or to build a company. The lack of heavy administrative procedures and the openness is a very positive thing that startups really value. And one thing that is great about Swiss companies is they are born to be global because the market is quite small, which is a huge asset and a challenge at the same time.
You are part of this year’s jury of the StartUp Challenge. What do you appreciate about this initiative?
I am delighted to be part of the jury. I love to help entrepreneurs, but more importantly I believe that one of the critical things that still needs to get done in the ecosystem is building more bridges between corporates and various types of investors in order to help to support startups. The Swisscom StartUp Challenge is part of that and therefore plays an important role in that respect.