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Denmark takes another step towards empowering women in tech
A programme to increase the participation of women in the thriving Danish startup ecosystem moves to the second of three planned stages
Copenhagen played host to a significant event on 22 September, as Denmark’s need to attract and retain more women in the technology sector was given a high-profile and significant boost.
The event took place at Copenhagen Town Mall, and was hosted by the mayor of Copenhagen in company with more than 250 female tech founders, investors, international ambassadors and VIPs. They all attended to witness the headline act – the launch of Tech Nordic Advocates’ (TNA) Women in Tech Programme: Modules 2 and 3, following the launch of Module 1 earlier this year.
The Women in Tech Programme is a three-pronged strategic programme designed to help female entrepreneurs launch, grow and scale tech businesses. It was set up with a top-down approach, acknowledging the severe lack of guidance, support and investment traditionally offered to female entrepreneurs in the ecosystem, which led to a startling statistic – women accounted for only 4.2% of new entrepreneurs in Denmark in 2020.
Compared to Denmark’s international, and even regional counterparts, this figure was a concern, and certainly a wake-up call. Despite Denmark’s, and the Nordics’, reputation as being a socially enriching and enabling climate and home to tech innovation, entrepreneurship among women is very low.
TNA took inspiration from Canada’s blueprint of ensuring that guidance and assistance were coming from the top, rather than creating an echo chamber at grassroots level where discussions were often positive, but changes were few and far between. And after close collaboration, conversation and planning, Module 1 of the Women in Tech Programme was launched on 1 February this year.
“Module 1 was the initial, international mentoring programme, which included hands-on mentoring, one-to-one sessions with experts, skills development events, an emphasis on networking, and overall development of the immediate ecosystem,” said Jeanette Carlsson, CEO of TNA.
Module 2 – the Accelerator Programme – has been designed as a natural next stage of evolution from Module 1, even though it doesn’t necessarily mean that people who took part in the first module make the transition. Rather, it is purposely designed for an advanced level of business development, and whoever that pertains to.
Applicants include female founders and co-founders of high-growth potential tech businesses, who will first be introduced to a pre-accelerator “bootcamp”. Three of these two-week bootcamps will take place each year to test the credentials of each person’s business and growth plan. Of the 20-25 participants each time, 18 are then chosen to complete the overall six-month International Accelerator. Those who are not selected are given feedback and guidance, as well as an invitation to return and try again.
One participant, Thuri Kledal, founder of VR-Nature, spoke about the benefits of the programme, and Module 2 in particular. “Gender shouldn’t have to make a difference,” she said. “The importance is what problem you solve, and by what means. I am just excited to get all this business support and to listen to all the knowledge and experience that people are bringing to us entrepreneurs. We are no longer basing everything on trial and error, but tailored advice.”
Read more about tech diversity in the Nordics
- The shortage of women in the boardroom is a problem in the Nordics, like other regions, but work in its tech sector means the future could be more promising.
- Tech Nordic Advocates adopts a different approach to closing the gap between women and men in the Danish tech startup sector.
- Arriving in Denmark to find she was the only woman on a computer science master’s course was a shock to Plamena Cherneva.
The Accelerator itself is delivered by TNA in tandem with Danish and international entrepreneurs-in-residence, investors and partners. It comprises: one-on-one coaching; demo days and pitch events; partnerships with embassies from outside the Nordics, including the UK, the US and Canada; and an introduction to key skills including investment trends, how to navigate the investor community, and the idea of pitch deck production and delivery.
“These final aspects, especially, blend seamlessly with Module 3,” said Carlsson. “Module 3 is also a European first, as an international umbrella venture fund of international investors committed to investing in women tech founders and high-growth tech companies that are led by women.”
Expansion of collaboration
Again, those who have taken part in Module 1, as well as those at a more advanced or different stage of business development, are all welcome to apply for Module 3.
Carlsson continued: “Training is provided in areas of investment readiness, due diligence, and pitch development and delivery, while participants also play an active role in Module 2. This final module sees the establishment and operation of an umbrella organisation made up of Danish and international investors that are committed to Denmark’s women in tech.”
Last month’s event in Copenhagen emphasised just how quickly the success of this programme is spreading, and how many people are rallying to the cause, she said.
Locally, the Danish Industry Foundation was on hand as a headline sponsor to promote the notion of competitiveness in the sector as a way to create growth and jobs. Internationally, the likes of KPMG, Magnusson and NetCompany were joined by a new key partner in the form of the London Stock Exchange (LSE).
Tamara Gehring, Nordic and Western European lead for primary and capital markets at the LSE, was first introduced to the Women in Tech programme last year, and was eager to contribute to this year’s event through panel involvement and numerous productive discussions throughout the day.
“It was a fantastic event, where the expansion of collaboration was clearly on show,” she said. “I think it is key to economic success to empower more women in business and as entrepreneurs. Half of the planet’s population are women – a huge source of potential which we need to get better at tapping into.
“I would like to see more tech founders in general feel empowered about their financial options and enable them to access public capital. We are focusing on empowering women entrepreneurs, but also on supporting the growth of the whole funding ecosystem in the Nordics, as we’ve already seen in London via companies like Trustpilot, the Danish tech unicorn that we welcomed to the Stock Exchange earlier this year.”
Participant Inga Stein Burgaard, founder of Seek + See, added: “One thing that I appreciated most about this programme is pairing with mentors and meeting other ambitious female entrepreneurs. I have now connected with many like-minded, ambitious entrepreneurs that I can relate to and use as sparring partners. The other thing is being able to book office hours to discuss topics with experts like KPMG or Magnusson – something that has already provided critical advice and saved me a lot of money.”
Tip of the iceberg
It’s a sad sign of the times that such a comprehensive and collaborative framework is needed to promote gender equality in such a progressive Nordic country. But it is a challenge that is being met with positive results.
“It is completely skewed that we have so few female entrepreneurs in Denmark,” said Cecilia Lonning-Skovgaard, mayor of Copenhagen, during the event. “Entrepreneurship and technology go hand in hand in a modern society, and Copenhagen and the whole society will miss out on opportunities for growth and jobs if we do not get more talented women on board in the tech industry.”
Carlsson added: “We have helped stimulate growth of existing tech businesses led by women, and enabled access to international markets and capital to the tune of DKK4m [£5m] in Module 1 alone. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, which shows what can be achieved with the right support.
“We have huge, unexploited female potential. We need those women for sustained innovation, competitiveness, growth, jobs and equality in tech, business and society as a whole.”