If you want to learn something about your own country, it helps to talk to young people. Even better: with young people who come from abroad to Germany. Which doesn’t hurt either: if these people are women, especially when it comes to a business that lacks women, invest in start-ups.
Clear the stage for Madeline Lawrence. Half American, half Italian, grew up in Barcelona, studied in the Netherlands, 24 years old. “Young and naive,” she wrote on her Twitter profile. And: “Make rich men even richer.” This does not mean very seriously. Not enough.
Lawrence is a venture capital investor and heads Dutch venture capital firm Peak in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. At the beginning of July, she opened the office in Berlin, it was the company’s first outside Amsterdam. Stockholm has just been added. All the money for the Peak Fund, 66 million euros, comes from other founders of the company. Before starting at Peak and donating money to start-ups in Amsterdam, Lawrence had already co-founded his own venture capital fund, called ASIF Ventures, which invests in student startups. So she knows what she’s talking about.
After her first weeks in Germany, she learned a lot. On the country, on the people, on the start-up and investor scene and on the state of digitization. First surprise: “I hadn’t realized before how bad the internet was here.” She often made video calls to the German founders in Amsterdam and they have repeatedly apologized for their poor Wi-Fi connection. But now she notices it to herself: “When I log into a conference with the others in Amsterdam, I’m the only one who looks completely pixelated. ” It doesn’t help to create successful digital start-ups or invest in them if the fast internet is already lacking.
Another observation, this time positive: In Germany (and not only in Berlin, because there are also a lot of young companies outside the capital) there are a lot of founders (especially founders) who are already starting their second company and this time pay attention to the fact that their business is making a positive difference in the world. “I’m not quite sure that impact focus is a little bit advanced, but I generally think it’s good to incorporate that part of the strategy,” Lawrence said.
She also experienced something in Berlin that she already knows from Amsterdam: there is a lack of women and people from other cultures among the founders and investors. “It’s no secret that there is a lack of diversity,” says Lawrence. “Venture capitalists are still an old network of boys.” She notes that investors have recently hired several young women, but the higher the management level, the fewer women there are. There are hardly any women associates in the companies. At industry meetings, she often sits between a group of 40, 50, or 60-year-old men and smiles to herself as she opens her rose gold-colored laptop.
With 50 percent women, Peak is one of the most diverse venture capitalists, says Lawrence. “It is not a coincidence. But we did not specify that we would definitely hire women. We always chose the best people and half of them were women.” At one point, diversity became a sure-fire hit because diverse employers attract more diverse employees, she says. Diversity has proven to be an economic advantage, also with regard to different age groups and origins. “As a youngster, for example, I have the advantage of recognizing other tendencies because I notice that my friends all talk about this one thing.”
In Berlin, it’s his job now: Finding trends. And good start-ups. Or let them find you. Because that’s another idea: “There is more money in the market than ever before. Venture capital funding hit a new high in 2021. “It has never been easier for a founder to raise capital. A lot, ”she says. “If an investor wants to be the one giving the money, he has to hurry and be prepared to pay.” Lawrence had expected this to be the case in Berlin – “but it’s another thing to be in the middle of it now”. She advises founders to carefully consider sponsors and not to take the first person to show up, but rather the right one for them – also when it comes to partners. “Statistically speaking, a relationship with a venture capitalist lasts longer than marriage.”