The aim of the Morning Talks series of interviews is to present the impact of partnerships on the EU innovation and investment ecosystem.

For this interview, we met with Mali Baum, serial entrepreneur, CEO and founder at WLOUNGE. Mali recently led’s Women Leadership Session.  

Our experience showed us that we should not complain that we do not have enough women investors and enough female founders, we must act and be part of the solution, give them skills, awareness, knowledge.

Mali, can you describe your role in your organisation and tell us a bit about your background? 

I am a serial entrepreneur converted to an investor and probably I will never stop building or stepping into great companies and great people, as I always aspired to create true, impactful solutions. 
I was born in Tel Aviv and I am in Berlin for 10 years, back to our family roots. However, even before my arrival in Germany, I was working globally and with different markets and cultures, such as the US market (Silicon Valley and New York), Asia, and of course, Europe, while building my own company and products. I learned quite fast to fit myself in different cultures, when we moved to Berlin, I immediately felt and noticed that Germany and Europe were behind other ecosystems such as Asia, the US, and also Israel, when it comes to women in leadership, women founding venture, women investors, women in high-level positions, creating their own financial freedom and career. Inner circles and board rooms were lacking this culture of diversity as a superpower of any organisation’s success, and definitely not enough women founding companies or founding their own funds/investment activities. It became my mission to change this scenario in Germany and in Europe and it is one of the biggest goals and achievements of WLOUNGE. 

Since then, we have expanded our network massively and we wanted to leverage it for the community’s partners’ and members’ benefits. We built different solutions. In some cases, we are also stepping into companies, hands-on for growth and scaleup. We made a great exit last year with one of the companies and we are working with key players in the innovation industry, private and public sectors, corporate’s venture capital, VCs, accelerators, universities, banks, governments, and the European Commission, to open the door for more innovation and more diversity. 

On another level, we are also working with the public sector and education, creating the Women Leadership Program (to develop an entrepreneurship mindset) to educate the market, organisations and individuals. This is how we make an impact, and for doing this we have developed an accelerator for female investors, as investors do not have to be millionaires to be business angels. We created the leadership language #WDL for organizations and individuals to work on their personal and business skills and development.  
We want to take down the obstacles and boundaries and provide access to skills, everything we brought from our own track record and partners within the WLOUNGE network as a superpower to forward it or give back to the ecosystem. That is our current impact business model, tackling small actions and big actions at the same time for big social, financial, and environmental impacts.  


What is unique about WLOUNGE and what is the ambition behind it? 

While there are many communities, networks, or ecosystem players out there, WLOUNGE uniqueness is that we are not limited to a line of action and we create tailored adaptable solutions. For example, COVID-19 came and, in one week, we converted everything to online as we had a technology partner within the community that in one hand received massive access to customers and in another hand worked with us on all online formats we have developed. As we are part of the market, we shift into many activities that the market truly needs.  

Most importantly, we are proud of our values, we aim for social, environmental and financial impact. If those values are not there, we cannot do anything: ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) is in the DNA of WLOUNGE creation as a movement company.  


What key areas/markets are you currently looking into, and which funding stages do you aim for? 

I am very passionate about impact investment because Europe must lead when it comes to social and environmental impact, and especially diversity. We are much more diverse than any other ecosystem in the world. This is where my relationship with the European Commission started, tackling how to incorporate more diversity, including gender balance, in EIC applications, investments, knowledge, and opportunities for all sides. As an ecosystem and co-investment partner, this is what we bring to the table with all our WLOUNGE partners and network. 

Are there any specific challenges for a female investor? 

Yes, indeed! First of all, there are not enough active female investors, so the circle is quite small. Second, there is less collaboration among women, compared to men. The main obstacle is still fundraising and the need for a stronger voice and role models, this is where we see our responsibility also for the younger generation in Europe.   

I am very lucky to have strong ally ambassadors and supporters around WLOUNGE leveraging what is missing for women investors, getting into those small circles, getting faster into the best opportunities. We are the funnel, if a startup needs fundraising and access to the market, they will come to us. If corporates or VCs need more deal flow, visibility, they will come to us. I know that access is key to success, this is the giving back part.  

We are cherishing this power privilege and we bring it back to the ecosystem. Smart Investors take these companies to other markets, scale them up, take them to Proof Of Concept (POC), open doors for key industry players. Often you do not see the required skills in female investors, making them less attractive to startups so we need the voice and the visibility to bring them all together for the growth of Europe and its own made-in-Europe innovation. However, this is changing because if you want to attract women into your team and your product is touching impact, you will need female investors in your investment portfolio or at least an advisor. 

As an investor, what strengths and skills do you look for in companies when assessing a potential investment? 

As a serial founder myself, I always fundraise for my own companies. The top investors that I ever worked with were those that are hands-on, opened doors, understand the product, and understand the market very well, Smart Money. 

From the investor side, you have to understand everything you are investing in, or you are stepping in/ supporting because if you do not have an extra value besides providing capital, it will lead nowhere, and it will not be a very good marriage.

Can you think of important achievements for you, so far? Is there a success story that you can share with us? 

WLOUNGE has many small and big success stories, from taking startups into accelerators that are our partners (such as SIBB e.V. in Berlin), which happens on a very early and ideation level. We are pulling them out from universities or bringing them from other cities to Berlin, from recommending them to stronger ones like Techstars accelerator which I am very active with. 

We see it as a powerful supply chain: with some companies, we start very early from university, we bring them to the next levels, through programs or other partners (win-win), then go to venture capital, then go to market/ POC, and we see them today on the scale-up level.  

There are big success stories, startups that we stepped in and brought into an exit. One of them is Ecoteck, focused on green supply chain data, which was sold for a great value to EcoVadis in France last May. 

What is great is that we keep the founders and innovators close, we make them the new generation of investors in the ecosystem, leveraging their knowledge and improving their skills, giving back to society, to the ecosystem. 

Every year, we hold the Tech Award Gala in which we bring the winners of tomorrow’s – key players, ecosystem players, private and public sector politicians, venture capitals – on stage. This is also a way to leverage success because most of the winning startups did a great stepping up and building up their company for the next phase. Some of them became very famous. 

I see it as a big success because, without the community and the network activity, they would not be appealing enough for investors, customers, or even to employees, to take their next step. 


You moderated our Women Leadership Session, what motivated you to join this event/workshop?   

Leadership is crucial when you are building a company, managing a team (even if small), managing investors (it is a full-time job) and customers’ success. It is in my DNA, giving back and creating more success stories together. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw that a lot of companies and corporates needed help as everyone shut down, all the employees were at home, and they did not know how to hold on to their 5 to 20 to 50 or above employees. They could not keep on working the same workflow they were used to. 

To tackle these issues, we built a Program and every day, at 5:00 PM, experts, role models and everyone else could join so they could get support on anything, from personal development to business development and finances.  

We began to build a language to define leadership, starting from attitude, voice, mission, vision, role model execution, no-ego, emotional intelligence, 12 skills, 12 icons for your success. We tested the #WDL (WLOUNGE Dare Leadership) with 15 highly selected women from diverse stages and backgrounds. On the first edition, an online program that lasted for 8 weeks was launched during the lockdown. We had sessions twice a week and it was a game changer for everyone, we set the bar together and created give and bring culture so everyone supports each other In Europe, women are less direct in asking for what they need, so the challenge was to get them to open up and support each other while they receive our support and knowledge in parallel. 

Following that edition, we started to implement it with corporates, such as Porsche and Deutsche Bahn. We discussed how to help employees, how to implement their company culture. We also started doing it to EIC beneficiaries and supported the autonomous Women Leadership Program. 

Our experience showed us that we should not complain that we do not have enough women investors or enough female founders, we must act and be part of the solution, giving them skills, awareness, and knowledge. 
Furthermore, it is not all about business, personal development is key. We need to get to know them closely to connect them, give them access to the ecosystem, and learn who can benefit from whom.  


In your opinion, what are the main challenges for female founders?  

During’s Women Leadership Session, I took notes because I really wanted to help the participants. For example, a participant from Hamburg is in the mobility industry and she does not feel she has the right access for her growth. As a men-dominated industry, we must understand their mindset and find a way to step in, with them, not against. There was also a participant who felt that she always had to be polite, when she just had to be professional.

Then, we talked about voice, how you build your voice in the industry. Voice is how you bring yourself into the room, how those investors or potential partners know that you exist. As an investor, I work on self-branding with the founders to teach them how to become a magnet for investors. On the Female Investor Accelerator, we are building the “future angels” to become a magnet for good founders by raising their voice and bring their self-branding and expertise to the forefront.  
We gave many tips during the event and, it might sound like a cliché, the key is to believe in yourself, know your skills, always keep learning and be genuine. European founders are much more genuine and provide more tangible goals, making Europe very attractive for investors from Asia, Silicon Valley, Israel, etc. Women founders must be assertive, self-confident, present themselves clearly, sharp and short. Those who are making it big have those traits in their personality.

How is the EC tackling gender inequality with specific initiatives directed to women? 

There is a lot of ongoing work, and the European Commission genuinely wants to improve. Being a jury in the EIC Accelerator fund and Horizon Europe showed me how important diversity is as a parameter, which was not enough discussed when I started several years ago. 

It is evolving and hopefully we are contributing to more success stories. Many startups would never make it without the EU first support, that is the gap that we aim to close.  

The Women Leadership Program is one of the actions. Recently, the European Commission has become a more significant player partner in WLOUNGE and I believe we are going in the right direction. Eventually, we want to see companies on the level of Google or Facebook impact with a business model made in Europe led by women founders, cofounders or investors.   


What do you see as the main advantages of women-led companies that have been funded by the EU? 

The truth is that the EIC steps in when there is a brilliant idea, risky and with big potential, with value for Europe, approaching sustainability, diversity, social impact. However, these companies potentially would not survive without this initial support, when the biggest risk exists. This is a gap that we want to avoid by getting them to be ready for investors, to be bankable, to be even a bit profitable, to be ready for venture capital.  

This has a great impact on the economy and society, it is changing people’s and companies’ lives. I know at least three companies that became unicorns only because the EIC believed in them, supported their development, and then the investors stepped in.  
This is why I am so engaged. I live in Germany, which is a very financially and economically well-established country, and I want to take companies that are supported by the local public and private sector and bring them to the EIC and raise them, and vice versa. Those who already received support will get what they need to establish their business in Germany.  

Every year, we celebrate the ecosystem’s success with the TECH AWARDS which is already being called “the German Tech Oscar”. This year, we are going global, raising more success stories within tech WLOUNGE local and global partners. We call it “local roots and global reach”. 

Article published by EurA AG.


Read our last Morning Talks issue with Maria Ana Mesquita: Looking Into The Challenges Faced By Female Entrepreneurs 

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