Interview with the Female Founders Award 2023 Winners

Interview with Natalya Nepomnyashcha, Founder of Netzwerk Chancen, and Irene Selvanathan, CEO & Co-Founder of Neurospace GmbH

Interview with Natalya Nepomnyashcha, Founder of Netzwerk Chancen

Can you give us a short overview of how you came to start your own business?

I came to Germany as a child with my parents from Ukraine and grew up in a socially deprived area in Bavaria, on social welfare. Despite very good grades, I was not allowed to attend grammar school. Without ever having obtained my A-Levels, I nevertheless managed to get a master’s degree in Great Britain via detours. My path to starting a career was rocky, and I was confronted with many obstacles due to my socioeconomic background. I am convinced that we need systemic changes so that the socioeconomic background should no longer determine educational and professional opportunities. That’s why I decided to found Netzwerk Chancen in 2016.

Which were the most challenging experiences during the process?

When I founded Netzwerk Chancen in 2016, only a few people believed that we would be successful. The main reason for this was that I founded Netzwerk Chancen as a side hustle. Leading Netzwerk Chancen in a voluntary capacity on top of my full-time job as well as managing a team that consisted almost exclusively of volunteers were definitely the biggest challenges. Furthermore, the fight for the recognition of social origin as a diversity dimension was a battle against windmills in the beginning. Initially, there was neither interest in nor sensitivity for the topic on the part of the business community. With the inclusion of social origin in the Charta der Vielfalt (German Diversity Charter) in January 2021 - which is largely due to our efforts - the topic has gained momentum.

What do you think could be done to promote female founders?

Only about one fifth of German start-ups in 2022 were founded by women. This must change urgently. It is important that we make female founders and their stories visible and support networks for female founders. Furthermore, we should shine a light on alternative ways to founding a company that allow for more flexibility and security, expand consulting services specifically for female founders, and facilitate access to information on special funding opportunities for women's start-up ideas as well as create new opportunities. All of this is also important so that, in addition to gender, social origin doesn’t influence the decision to found a company.

Interview with Irene Selvanathan, CEO & Co-Founder of Neurospace GmbH

Can you give us a short overview of how you came to start your own business?

As a long-standing project manager in various areas, I have gained sufficient experience in managing and controlling projects through my previous work in startups and at the same time understood the challenges that a company brings with it. Even though I didn't originally intend to become self-employed, the opportunity arose to realize my own dreams and goals as my own boss. I hope that this will also motivate other female founders, especially in the technical field.

Which were the most challenging experiences during the process?

There are so many factors: Can I do business with Space Exploration? How do I convince investors? How do I get partners? How do I finance this? And am I (as a woman) taken seriously in this area? Then I just did it.

What do you think can be done policy-wise to improve the start-up ecosystem in Germany?

The start-up scene in Germany has grown significantly in recent years and many space companies are based in Berlin. Even faster and unbureaucratic levers would be desirable here. But we are also happy about the support that Berlin has had and still has to offer us. However, getting funding isn't easy, especially in deep tech, which requires some upfront investment and perseverance. America in particular shows how important it is for the state to be the first customer (especially in space) and I think it is worth it because it increases the chances for a large number of projects and insights.

For more detailed information please contact:

Heather Liermann

Head of Department

Membership Engagement & Development