Empowering Females in Tech & Innovation with Carina Klaffl
A great passion for entrepreneurship led Carina Klaffl to her current role as Co-CEO of Vienna-based startup Female Founders, a growing community of entrepreneurial women in Europe whose vision is to reshape the economy and empower females in tech and innovation. The organization aims to solve two of the biggest pain points in the European tech ecosystem: access to funding for female-led ventures and access to female talent.
Prior to her current role, Carina led Female Founder’s startup accelerator, Grow F, for over a year and a half — collaborating closely with 79 female-led ventures and guiding them toward becoming investment-ready.
Klaffl’s professional background includes driving sales and business development for several startups in Vienna and Amsterdam. She formerly held the title of Head of Partnerships at Pioneers - one of the first platforms in Europe to bring together startups, investors, and corporations.
Carina’s initial interest in becoming an entrepreneur evolved during her time at Vienna University for Economics and Business where she specialized in Entrepreneurship — ultimately leading her to obtain a Master's degree in Entrepreneurship at Lund University in Sweden.
We spoke with Carina to learn more about the origin of her career, the curriculum and vision for Female Founders, and the trends she sees in the VC industry.
Working in partnerships
HubSpot for Startups: How did your experience working in partnerships prepare you for the work you do currently as Co-CEO at Female Founders?
Carina: For me, the drive to working in partnerships and business development either for startups or startup ecosystem players was always a strong belief that with technological solutions we can change the world for the better. In partnerships, you learn a lot about building relationships which is crucial for the role of a CEO for the relationships you have with your employees, shareholders, and external stakeholders. At Female Founders we also see ourselves as strong community builders — bringing various important stakeholders together.
The curriculum and vision for Female Founders
HSFS: What type of women make up the target audience for Female Founders?
Carina: Any woman that either wants to start a tech startup herself or wants to make a career in the European startup and tech ecosystem — that’s who we are actively addressing with our programs and events. Specifically, in our startup program we work with first-time founders that often lack a network within the ecosystem.
HSFS: What can women hope to learn in the accelerator programs that you offer — Grow F and Lead F?
Carina: Grow F is designed for startup founders that are looking to raise their first institutional rounds will learn how to drive the fundraising process and negotiate terms, and get hands-on insight into all materials necessary for their fundraiser — ranging from bullet-proof pitch decks to financial plans. Moreover, they will not only be connected to their peers and a mentor but also to our wider community including Europe’s leading early-stage investors. The Grow F program was named one of “Europe’s Top 8 Accelerators for Female Founders.”
The Lead F program is designed for entrepreneurial women from scale-ups, VCs, tech companies, and founders who want to work on their leadership skills and widen their network. The program unites everything you need to manage teams and organizations in this fast-changing world: deep-dive sessions with subject matter experts, access to a resource base to foster your entrepreneurial mindset, and networking with a group of like-minded leaders.
HSFS: What is your long-term vision for Female Founders?
Carina: Our vision is an equitable future through equal opportunities in tech and innovation. We are living in a world with many challenges and technology will be one of the main drivers of solving them. We fundamentally believe that technological solutions need to be created by diverse groups of people in order to reflect and benefit the world’s diverse population. So with Female Founders, we don’t just want to support female entrepreneurs and gender-diverse teams but also focus long-term on other dimensions of diversity by creating an inclusive startup and tech ecosystem.
A focus on diversity
HSFS: How do you help partners create a diverse and inclusive culture through your DEI consulting?
Carina: We have recently launched Inclusive Minds - a consultancy where we empower scale-ups and tech companies with design thinking and scientific research to develop actionable diversity, equity, and inclusion solutions. As your tactical partner, we create a conscious and lasting impact at any stage of your DEI journey.
We always first have a look at the data that exists already in an organization and also try to understand the current status quo by gathering more quantitative and qualitative data. Based on that, we evaluate the areas we want to focus on first together with the client and then work on a concrete strategy including setting goals. As a last step, we implement initiatives and concrete action points. After some time we reflect and basically start the loop again by looking at the data.
HSFS: What have been some of the biggest success stories from individuals/companies who have completed your accelerator programs?
Carina: It’s hard to pick one individual success story. To date, our Grow F alumni have raised a total of over 35 million euros including VC funds like Credo Ventures, HTGF, Cusp Capital, Capital T, Plug & Play, Trind, and many more. We are very proud of their progress and are sure that we will hear more about the companies as they continue to grow. Many of the Lead F alumni have used the program to formulate their future vision and also start their own companies.
The challenges of being a CEO
HSFS: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as co-CEO?
Carina: Two of my major challenges involve balancing different aspects. The first one is about finding the fine line between concentrating internally on the team and their development and supporting them on their journey, while at the same time having your eye on the external world and further developing the organization — building and maintaining relationships with external stakeholders. Being a small business with now 20 team members, it is always a balancing act between Operations and Strategy. It often requires refocusing and setting the right priorities.
In addition to those two challenges that are universal, the current market environment is something that is always on my mind. Many of the founders in our ecosystem are affected by the slowdown of investments and have to find ways to extend their runway.
Trends in the VC industry
HSFS: What are some of the trends you’re seeing in the startup and venture capital world? Do you think the percentage of female founders will increase in the coming years?
Carina: The current investment landscape is very challenging for startups, scale-ups, and investors. While there was a 30% funding decline for male-only and female-only teams, the funding decline for mixed teams was only 11% according to Atomico’s State of European Tech 2022 report. That is interesting because it proves the point that gender-diverse teams are more resilient.
LP's are no longer just interested in pure ROI, but also push ESG topics. So most VCs are now looking into DEI strategies for their own fund and also expecting this from their portfolio companies.
The importance of company culture
Carina went on to explain that many scale-ups have had to lay off employees, which has had a significant effect on company culture.
Carina’s passion for implementing a diverse culture while inspiring fellow female entrepreneurs is most certainly admirable. Success is imminent with the growth of Female Founders and the ambition to help female leaders succeed in their careers.