This first event held at the Luxinnovation premises in Belval served as a platform for unifying the ecosystem and increasing awareness about opportunities available to women innovators at the local, European, and global levels. It also highlighted support mechanisms offered by Luxinnovation and Startup Luxembourg, which can be leveraged to bridge existing gaps and elevate the visibility of female entrepreneurs in Luxembourg.

Inna Perepelytsya, Senior Startup Advisor at Luxinnovation, emphasised the urgency of addressing gender disparities in entrepreneurship. Citing a study by the European Investment Bank, she pointed out a stark contrast between Europe and the United States, where female founders make up just 11% and 23%, respectively. “We want to boost this number,” she affirmed.

When women are in roles of decision making, in management, in organisations and companies, the results are better.

Empowering initiatives for women

A significant focus of the event was the presentation of the 2023-2024 European Prize for Women Innovators. This prestigious award recognises and honours women entrepreneurs for their outstanding and groundbreaking innovations that positively impact people’s lives and the planet. The award offers substantial cash prizes, ranging from €20,000 to €100,000 across three categories. Managed by the European Innovation Council and the European Institute for Innovation & Technology, this award is open to female founders with innovative companies registered in the European Union or affiliated countries, such as Israel and the United Kingdom, until 27 September.

Francisco Melo, Advisor – European R&D and Innovation Support, presented the different pillars of the Horizon Europe programme, which include research and innovation focused initiatives, and pointed out the increasing trend of recognising women in both fields. “Increasingly companies need to have a gender equality plan to be able to participate in Horizon Europe. We have not only the gender equality strategy, but tools like the Gender Equality Index, to monitor and measure the effectiveness of these strategies.”

As the innovation agency, our role is to stimulate economic development through innovation.

Programmes that fund and recognise women behind innovation are also on the rise. This is particularly true for the third pillar of the Horizon Europe programme under which both the European Women Innovators prize and the WomenTechEU award for women-led deep-tech companies fall under. Luxembourg startups Magrid and VoiceMed were recent winners of the latter award, and both received support from Luxinnovation during the application period.

“These events are a good starting point. I really like the idea of presenting the [funding] programmes because finding them on your own takes a long time and you never know which one is right for you. This way, you know which ones to focus on,” explained Tahereh Pazouki, Founder of Magrid. She also underscored the importance of developing tailored employer-specific plans and providing support for managing financial responsibilities and legal intricacies, particularly for entrepreneurs in the initial phases of their company operations. Using her own experiences, Ms Pazouki urged women to consider reapplying for funding opportunities, emphasising that the process of reapplication can lead to valuable improvements and growth, even after receiving initial negative feedback.

It’s advantageous for the economy and for society when women are in these positions.

Rising interest and applications

The growing interest of women founders in existing programmes is an encouraging sign of progress. The European Women Innovators prize saw a substantial increase in applicants, rising from 155 in 2019 to 277 in 2022.

Likewise, the Women TechEU award set a new record with a total of 467 applications last year, ultimately funding 134 companies. In 2024, over €11 million will go towards supporting women-led startups.

The EIC Accelerator programme that assists start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises in scaling and expanding into new markets also saw a notable rise in the participation of female-led companies. “In 2023, 40% of the winners were women-led startups. This shows that women are participating more, and if they are participating, they are winning more,” added Mr Melo.

Luxinnovation, serving as the national contact point for Horizon Europe, maintains a dedicated team to support all companies applying for competitive programmes, providing pre-assessment support and guidance throughout the application process.

Women are participating more, and if they are participating, they are winning more.

Elevating the visibility of women-led enterprises

Under the Luxembourg start-up platform, businesses can identify as female-founded and be easily discovered by investors. “I encourage female entrepreneurs in Luxembourg to register. It is a free tool and it increases your visibility,” Ms Perepelytsya emphasised.

Sasha Baillie, CEO of the national innovation agency Luxinnovation, highlighted that having women in decision-making roles leads to better results, due to the diversity in perspectives and mindsets.

“Many reports across the world show that when women are in roles of decision making, in management, in organisations and companies, the results are better. As the innovation agency, our role is to stimulate economic development through innovation, and we are a vehicle to also convey this message and raise awareness that it’s advantageous for the economy and for society when women are in these positions,” asserted Ms Baillie.

Photo credit: Luxinnovation

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