Paulina Jänsch is an accomplished professional in the startup and venture capital space, who has recently been recognized as one of Europe’s Top 100 most influential women in the field. Paulina holds an International Master’s in Finance from EADA Business School, where she pursued her passion for finance and gained valuable knowledge and skills that have contributed to her success in her current role.
Paulina has been actively committed through Leanox in advancing gender parity in the startup and venture capital sectors since she graduated from EADA. Her commitment to investing in 50% female entrepreneurs throughout her portfolio and generating funds from 50% female investors shows her commitment to supporting female founders and advancing diversity and inclusion. She has also been actively involved in mentoring, coaching, and providing feedback sessions to help and encourage female founders.
Among many important topics, in the following interview Paulina discusses her time as a student at EADA, the skills and knowledge she acquired, the opportunities she got or the value of visibility and taking action to achieve gender parity.
How does it feel to be named one of Europe’s most influential women in this sector?
I am honoured to be listed among so many powerful women I have been looking up to. It makes me proud that our work with Leanox is getting recognized and that our female empowerment is impactful.
Who are some of the female role models who have influenced you professionally, and why?
One of my earliest role models was Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx. Her optimism, strong belief in herself and “the sky is the limit” attitude motivate me to aim high and work hard for my ambitious goals.
I am in awe of Indra Nooyi, who successfully led PepsiCo by unleashing the power of people and who has proven that anything is possible.
Among other female role models, I look up to: Tina Müller, who led Douglas into a new era by digitally transforming the beauty industry, and the power duo Verena Pausder and Lea-Sophie Cramer who inspire upcoming entrepreneurs to own their super powers, execute and shine bright.
By now we see a pattern.
Vision. Goals. Optimism. Courage. Confidence. Execution.
That’s what I aspire to inspire as a leader.
Can you tell us a bit about Leanox’s investment approach?
We invest industry agnostic in early-stage startups in Europe that are inherently impactful, with 50% female founders by headcount across our portfolio.
Inherently impactful to us means that a startup is created to solve one of the world’s biggest environmental or social issues. We invest in impact innovation, that leaves no doubts. Our impact investing mantra is: “If it’s not a hell Yes, it’s a No.”
You can find more information about the investments we have made on our website (www.leanox.eu).
Can you tell us more about your mission to promote gender parity in the startup scene?
Our vision is that we enter a room with an equal number of females and males. Yet, most startup events display the opposite. To turn this vision into reality more women are needed in the entire investing supply chain, from founders to mentors, role models, investors, accelerators, and VC managers.
This is what our mantra #fifty50female signifies. We lead Leanox in parity (50% female partners), we invest in parity (50% female founders by headcount across our portfolio), and we seek gender parity from our capital providers (raising capital from 50% female investors).
Do you remember the moment that motivated you to focus on gender parity with Leanox?
I have been involved in female empowerment all my life. However, the initial spark to embrace gender parity as a core investment thesis at Leanox initiated at EADA. My co-founder Thore and I organized our first event, the “Leanox Liftoff”, a shark tank event at the EADA Barcelona campus. Numerous international investors flew in to see our pre-selected startups pitch. In the selection process, we realized that the minority of applications had a female founder.
We weren’t sure whether this happened because there are simply not enough female founders or because we didn’t have access to female founders and networks yet. In the end, one out of eight founders that pitched was a female founder. We realized that money had to flow through to females and that female founders need more visibility. We also recognized that as a VC dedicated to gender parity, we must demonstrate this core value and position ourselves accordingly. Since then, it is our vision to become the leading impact and female empowerment VC in Europe.
What difficulties have you faced as a female investor and entrepreneur in this field, and how have you solved them?
No one goes through life without difficult moments. Building a VC fund is no exception. The question is: Will I allow difficulties to hold me back, diminish my impact and stop me from creating positive change? Absolutely not.
A female mentor told me: “It is up to you to feel welcome.”
This does not mean that you should accept the status quo, keep quiet, and pretend to feel welcome. On the contrary, it means that it is up to you to inspire change, demand action and offer solutions that allow a room where everyone feels welcome.
Whenever faced with a difficult situation formulate an action-based solution. Ask yourself, what can I do to improve the situation? What must change in the short term on a personal basis and systematically in the long term to overcome this challenge?
Think in solutions. Think in the next steps. Think as if every difficulty is your chance to improve, your chance to innovate, to be a visionary. I invite you, the reader, to own your superpower, think in solutions, and be the change
How do you think increased visibility for female changemakers can help in some way to achieve parity in the sector?
Seeing is believing.
I have seen women achieve amazing things, by being courageous, confident, charismatic, driven, empathetic, visionary, optimistic, and daring doers. So, I allowed myself to own my superpowers and work towards a vision that used to be unimaginable.
Through the visibility of their success stories and the representation of diverse superheroes new generations are inspired to leave old-fashioned cultural beliefs behind and become whatever they want to become. Seeing is believing. And we need to see a lot more successful humans from diverse backgrounds inspire the good in others.
Are there any tips or advice that you could share with women who are just starting out in the startup and venture capital space?
1. Dare to ask questions
What worked well for me to get started was following inspiring people on LinkedIn and to send them a message stating what I admire about their work and asking them whether they would have 20 minutes to talk with a newcomer like me about impact innovation, female empowerment or how we can create positive change in the startup scene.
It is CRUCIAL that you go into these meetings prepared. Write down some facts about the person, google the company they worked for, read publications they might have written or shared, and write down the questions that will help you most to get started in the scene. Enter the meeting a minute early and make sure everything is charged and fully set up.
Most people I reached out to, got back to me and were happy to share their wisdom. Some even became mentors that I frequently meet. Some would like to be investors in our next fund.
After a while, aspiring entrepreneurs started reaching out to me, asking for meetings and of course, I was happy to share every bit of experience I had gathered.
My advice is to ask people who truly inspire you for a short meeting, prepare well, be respectful and offer your support in return.
2. Feedback is a gift
Understand constructive feedback as a gift that makes you better. Ask for feedback and think about ways how to implement feedback to improve the overall outcome. Feedback is not something that should hurt you personally. Constructive feedback is a crucial part of the process to improve steadily. If you get unsolicited feedback, try to find the 1% of truth in that feedback, take that as a gift and move on.
3. Seek relevant input
Follow role models on social media, listen to entrepreneurship podcasts, read entrepreneurship newsletters, and venture capital books, attend fairs and conferences, or study impact investing classes. All of these are great ways to learn, get used to the lingo, stay up to date, connect to inspiring people and enter the scene slowly but surely. Once you have a foot in the door, you are in. The beauty of the entrepreneurship scene is that everyone could be the next big change-maker. Why shouldn’t that be you?
Can you give us more information about your upcoming female empowerment, impact innovation fund?
So far, Thore and I invested in 10 companies through Leanox. As a next step, we are planning to raise a larger VC fund. Our investing thesis remains the same. We continue to invest industry agnostic in early-stage, impact innovation startups in Europe. We aim to raise capital from 50% female investors and invest it in 50% female founders, by headcount across our portfolio.
We aim to boost impact innovation and strengthen the European ecosystem. So much innovation right now comes from China and USA. In Europe, we are concerned about sustainability, but we are not utilizing financial and human resources enough, to become the global leader in impact innovation. Let’s push for innovative solutions that improve the world instead of harming it. Let’s challenge the status quo and find sustainable solutions. One way to achieve this is by boosting impact innovation through smart capital.
With Leanox, we aim to be part of that solution.
In the short and long term, what do you intend to accomplish with your work in the startup and venture capital space?
Currently, we are waiting for the official start to fundraise capital for our upcoming fund. Next to seeking prospective impact unicorns and managing our existing portfolio companies, fundraising will be a priority to fuel impact innovation and continue to use our power to empower.
Our long-term goal is to become the number one leading impact innovation and female empowerment VC in Europe. Ideally, in ten years, gender parity is established, and all VC investments are impactful. Until then, we are going to work hard to become a driving force in the impact investing scene.
How did EADA’s International Master’s in Finance help you to get ready for your current role in the startup and venture capital space?
EADA had a huge influence on my career. Partly, because I gained valuable financial skills and partly because I met my co-founding partner Thore Vogel, and our former professor, now Leanox portfolio director, Raushan Kretzschmar.
Thore and I both decided to go the extra mile by attending the CFA Research Challenge where we represented EADA in an international competition to evaluate the merger between two banks, Caixa and Bankia. The successful teamwork throughout this intense project sparked our interest to start a company together that would evaluate companies financially.
We soon realized that financial valuation would be immensely helpful for startups. So, when friends of ours started companies, we helped them with their financial planning, fundraising, strategy, and valuations. Skills that we have gained during our time at EADA. Our consultations immensely helped the startups we worked with. That’s how we started Leanox, initially, as a financial consulting company for startups.
We soon realized that our network was interested in the startups we consulted and keen on investing. We hosted the Leanox Liftoff event at EADA, where 15 investors, mostly from Germany, came to Barcelona to see eight startups pitch. As a result, we structured a few deals and gained the initial capital to manage and invest in the first ten startups.
Two EADA professors supported our idea from the first moment onwards, Raushan Kretzschmar, professor in Private Equity, Financial Modelling and FinTech, as well as Investment Banking and Structured Finance Professor Gavin Kretzschmar. In the beginning, they supported us as mentors. Then, Raushan joined Leanox as portfolio director. Given her CFA and FRM accreditations and her private equity background, Raushan has been a crucial part of the team since the beginning.
Our journeys naturally pulled us towards an entrepreneurial path. In the end, I am extremely grateful to have followed my intuition, to have a strong support system, and most importantly to have a co-founder like Thore, who is not only complementary in skills but also courageous, clever, kind and immensely empowering.
How can individuals with inquiries reach you?
If you are a startup that seeks funding, please reach out to co-founding partner Thore Vogel.
For questions regarding portfolio management feel free to reach out to portfolio director Raushan Kretzschmar.
If you are interested in a partnership or to invest in our next fund, don’t hesitate to reach out to me (Paulina Jänsch).
For anything else, we will get back to you shortly via email@example.com