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Empowering Female Founders: Building Strong Teams and Securing Funding

Andra Bagdonaite - Partner at FIRSTPICK Introducing Andra. A partner at FIRSTPICK. Her journey to becoming an investor wasn’t textbook. She started out with social projects, fostering entrepreneurship and IT skills in children, then transitioned to management consulting. Together with colleagues Jone and Dmitrij, they partnered with Startup Wise Guys, marking the beginning of her investor career. Meeting the right people at the right time has been pivotal in her career progression.

FIRSTPICK is a high-speed VC fund and an accelerator for tech startups in the Baltics that invests mostly in Fintech, SaaS, Deeptech and Consumer marketplaces. The team at FIRSTPICK has been indispensable; the fund’s achievements wouldn't have been possible without them. Together they have built a venture challenging traditional investment norms, fostering a supportive founder community, and transcending gender stereotypes.

What are some of the key skills or qualities that you think are essential for success as an entrepreneur?

Success as an entrepreneur demands resilience to bounce back from setbacks, creativity for fresh ideas, adaptability to market shifts, and clear communication to rally teams and investors. Add strategic thinking, a knack for risk-taking, and time management skills. It's a rollercoaster ride, but with the right mix of skills and attitude, you're set for the adventure!

What are the key factors you consider when deciding to fund startups? What is the decision-making process behind it? 

We look for Baltic founders with big ideas that can scale up. We want to work with founders who understand their industry, have a product that's gaining traction, and a realistic plan for the future. We have a strong preference for B2B SaaS, Fintech, Consumer marketplace and Deeptech companies. FIRSTPICK doesn't just give money – we offer hands-on help and support too. We want to be actively involved – we come with our investment, but we also come with our knowledge, network, and experience. With a sense of pride yet humbly, we share that 43% of startups in the FIRSTPICK portfolio are led by female co-founders. 

Female founders bring diverse perspectives, empathy, and innovative problem-solving to the table. They're great at building relationships and fostering teamwork, creating inclusive environments. Their unique outlook enhances decision-making and boosts business performance, making them key players in driving innovation and growth.

What advice do you have for female founders regarding building a strong founding team and leveraging their unique insights to drive business growth?

For any founder, female or male, building a strong founding team involves embracing diversity and complementary skills. Seek team members who share your vision and values but bring diverse perspectives to the table. Leverage your unique insights by fostering an inclusive company culture that values collaboration and empathy. Use your perspective to identify untapped markets, address overlooked needs, and create innovative solutions. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, and build a supportive network of mentors and peers. Ultimately, trust your instincts, stay resilient, and let your authenticity shine through in every aspect of your startup journey.

How do you view failure in the startup world? What advice do you have for female founders on overcoming setbacks and turning them into opportunities for growth?

In the world of startups, failure isn't just a possibility—it's practically a rite of passage. It's where you learn the most valuable lessons. Setbacks are like detours on the road to success. They may slow you down momentarily, but they also provide opportunities to reassess, adapt, and ultimately grow. Take the time to analyze what went wrong, what could be done differently, and how you can use that knowledge to your advantage. My advice to female founders facing setbacks is this: stay resilient, stay curious, and stay creative. Remember, it's not about avoiding failure—it's about how you bounce back from it that truly defines your success.

How can female entrepreneurs build strong relationships with investors and secure funding?

Female entrepreneurs can connect with investors by being authentic, showcasing expertise, and sharing common values. Don't assume investors won't understand your vision or that you need to fit into a male-dominated mold. Network actively, seek out diversity-friendly investors, and emphasize your unique perspective. It's all about finding the right match and building relationships based on trust and shared objectives. At FIRSTPICK, we have backed 8 startups with female co-founders. This figure not only reflects our commitment to diversity and inclusion but also showcases the incredible talent and potential of women in leadership positions.

How do you perceive the differences in the questions asked of male and female founders during pitches, and what strategies do you recommend for navigating these differences to present our businesses effectively?

In the Baltics, gender biases in pitch questions are rare, as founders are treated equally. Still, it's important to ace your presentation. Focus on demonstrating the value and potential of your venture, allowing your pitch to stand out based on its merits rather than gender-related considerations.

What are some common mistakes or misconceptions that first-time female founders make when fundraising, and how can they avoid or overcome these challenges?

Common mistakes founders, both female and male make, include not being clear on how much money they need, targeting the wrong investors, and taking too long to raise funds. To tackle these challenges, founders should plan carefully, find investors that fit their business, and speed up the fundraising process by being well-prepared. Conducting due diligence on potential investors and seeking those compatible with their business model is essential. 

How do male and female founders approach networking differently in the context of the funding gender gap, and what opportunities are available to female founders to overcome these differences?

While women attend the same events and conferences, they often find it challenging to connect with top-level individuals, as much of networking remains exclusive and behind closed doors. Encouraging more inclusive networking practices and actively participating in industry events can help break down barriers, ensuring women have equal access to key connections and opportunities in the entrepreneurial world.

Founders often face the challenge of prioritizing personal well-being amidst the startup grind. Can you share some specific strategies you would like founders to implement to create a healthy work-life integration while managing the demanding schedule of a startup founder?

Try setting boundaries, taking regular breaks, and delegating tasks. Incorporating exercise and mindfulness into daily routines boosts mental and physical health. Cultivating a supportive company culture that values work-life balance is key. Seek guidance from your support network. Finding harmony between work and your personal life is crucial for long-term success and happiness. It's a marathon, not a sprint, after all.

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