Delia, Xathon is entering its fourth year. Why is the event still so important?
“Talking doesn’t get you anywhere. Words need to be put into action.”
Delia Goos is Lead Events at Henkel dx Ventures and this year is organising Xathon – the Business Accelerator Programme for Female Entrepreneurship – for the fourth time. In the interview, she explains what makes the event so special this year, what the new programme items are, and what the motivation is behind them.
Delia: Because fundamentally nothing has changed. I regret to say. As the numbers of the Female Founders Monitor and Crunchbase show, less than 16 per cent of all founders are women. In fact, female-led start-ups received just 2.3 per cent of all global VC financing in 2020. And that’s definitely not because there aren’t any female founders out there! Quite the opposite – and that’s what the last three Xathons showed. The problem is that there’s often not enough money to develop their business models. Or there’s no network spurring these women on. That’s where Xathon comes in.
Why is that? Are men better at networking?
Delia: Good question! I think men just go for it without overthinking things. Recently, yet another female colleague came up to me and said “You know so many people – how do you do that? How do you actually network?” I suspect that many women feel much more inhibited than men. Xathos is designed to give them more self-confidence. And help them to stick to their goals and pursue their business plan.
“The female entrepreneurs need knowledge, expertise and people who support them, people who can help push forward their ideas. That’s what we want to offer more of this year. We want to be matchmakers and facilitate future opportunities.”
How do you intend to achieve that?
Delia: Ideally, the women already have a business model that they bring with them to Xathon – it’s great if they can also bring a prototype or initial version of their product that’s already on the market. At Xathon, we then want to empower the female founders to take this business model, this prototype to the next level – through mentoring, coaching, and networking.
And with money.
Delia: Yes. It’s just a small contribution. All the same, we’re helping female founders by providing prize money together with our partners – in some cases, this can make all the difference to the founders. But for many, there is no way forward after a certain point because they don’t have the necessary funds. This is where the prize money enables them to push ahead and expand their business model.
How else do you support the women at Xathon?
Delia: We support them by providing a diverse network. On the one hand, a community of like-minded female entrepreneurs is created right there at the event, some of whom have experienced or gone through similar hardships. These women are able to share their experiences and give each other the encouragement they need. On the other hand, there are mentors and experts who can really help the entrepreneurs. People with knowledge and experience who can inspire the participants and help them to take the next step.
You mean the mentors that are new to Xathon this year.
Delia: Indeed. They will be the lifeblood of this year’s Xathon. Ideally, these are also founders who bring their own team and offer mentorship in various areas – from tips on funding, early-stage capital, customer acquisition, go-to-market strategy, brand and marketing, mission and purpose, to pitching and product management. The mentors and their teams will support the female founders over the three days while they work on their business models.
“We believe in a fairer, more equitable ecosystem; one that strives for equality and actively supports female founders, sharing knowledge and experience with them and funding the ideas with great potential.”
How come you decided to change your concept?
Delia: We used to take a more holistic approach. We thought in terms of individual sprints, from ideation, research, validation and prototyping to MVP. But we realised that this approach has its drawbacks when looking for early-stage start-ups, because it covers a very wide field. At Xathon, there were female start-ups that were already quite a long way ahead, who really only wanted to do pitch training. Others had only just outlined their idea and were still validating it. That’s when we decided that we had to optimise the concept so that it works for everyone.
So, what’s different this year?
Delia: We have refined the whole concept, transforming it from an inspirational event into a ‘taking action’ event. We want to have much less content on stage about diversity and female empowerment or about the issue of why there are so few female founders. There will be sessions like that, but far fewer than last year.
Why is that?
Delia: Talking about it doesn’t get you anywhere. Words need to be put into action. The female entrepreneurs need knowledge, expertise and people who support them, people who can help push forward their ideas. That’s what we want to offer more of this year. We want to be matchmakers and facilitate future opportunities – enable female founders to get to know their investors years in advance, before the first investment is made. That’s why we want to bring them together with people who can really help them – be it with the mentors in the working sessions or with VCs and angel investors, who we invite to a reception on the first evening. This provides female founders with the opportunity to meet the VCs directly.
“We want to educate and support a new generation of female entrepreneurs. We want to network them, inspire them, listen to them and enable them to grow.”
What do you hope to achieve by this?
Delia: It’s important to us that all one hundred participants are given the chance to meet at least two to three VCs at the Xathon – without having to pitch in front of them. At the same time, we want to show the female entrepreneurs how they can cultivate relevant contacts that could be useful for them later on. That’s why we also offer a masterclass on the topic: How do I stay in touch with VCs? What is relevant information to share and what isn’t?
How do you envisage this year’s event?
Delia: On the first day, we’ll match the participants with their mentors so that it’s clear from the beginning of the event: Who are my mentors? What can they offer me? And vice versa: What do the female founders need? It’s not about someone standing at the front telling them how ideation and research work. The founders need a different kind of input. So, in the working sessions, we’ll take it a step further. It’s where we’ll start delving into the finer details. This is why we ask the founders this during the application process: What do they hope to achieve by participating in the Xathon? What is it that they need in order to advance their business model?
How do you select the participants?
Delia: Xathon is all about working hard for three days and getting results. So we’re looking for people who want to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in: female entrepreneurs who are building the businesses of the future; those who want to pioneer, improve our planet and use innovation as a tool for positive change. That’s why this year we especially welcome applications from digital start-ups that want to drive business models in the field of sustainable innovation and enterprise tech. This can be in the form of an app, a platform, a B2C or a D2C shop. But we’re also looking forward to concepts from other verticals such as AI, healthtech, AR/VR and fintech.
This year, Xathon is sporting the motto #challengeaccepted. What do you mean by this?
Delia: We believe in a fairer, more equitable ecosystem; one that strives for equality and actively supports female founders, sharing knowledge and experience with them and funding the ideas with great potential. Our motto #challengeacctepted encapsulates that spirit: we want to educate and support a new generation of female entrepreneurs. We want to network them, inspire them, listen to them and enable them to grow. This requires aspiring female founders who have the courage to build a business model, who aren’t afraid of being a mother and a leader at the same time, but who want to make a difference. We finally need a positive change in the industry. And that’s what we’re working on – this year even more so than in previous years.