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Women Founders and the Evolving Startup Space

Isabelle Persson, Head of Investments and Partner, Expert DOJO

Isabelle Persson, Head of Investments and Partner, Expert DOJO

Isabelle Persson is the Head of Investments and Partner at Expert DOJO, an international accelerator that helps the U.S. and non-U.S. market players scale quickly worldwide. Isabelle leads the investment domain at the company and knows the entire ecosystem of investors with whom she syndicates follow-on investments and supports outside investment. She is responsible for finding the best strategy, building up syndicates, managing and developing scout programs, and looking for creative ways to bring investments into Expert DOJO, and constantly taking the business and its portfolio companies to the next level. Isabelle collaborates closely with investors worldwide and supports startups in securing additional funding with them. She has built a rock-solid team of investment experts who assist her in running operations.

In an interview with StartupCity magazine, Isabelle identifies the challenges women startup founders face in the market and how they can upskill and develop to mitigate it effectively.

What challenges do women founders face when it comes to starting a company?

The problem is not the lack of money that’s out there, there is more capital on the table than ever before to help them materialize the founder's plans. The problem, however, lies in getting past the most critical stage as quickly as possible, and it is much more problematic for women founders. They struggle the most in moving past the growth mode, and a lot of it is due to gender bias. What I do is to work hard to help women founders get past the early growth stage faster and add value to their journey towards success in the market.

In your opinion, is technology the sole driver of success for startups or is there any other aspect that can help startups thrive in the post-COVID world?

In the way that we work with startups, technology is not necessarily the sole driver of success. At Expert DOJO, when we look at companies to invest in, we focus on five qualities in the founder and the company that can help them succeed and become a unicorn. The qualities are execution power, good communication, domain expertise, a clear roadmap of a growing recurring monthly revenue, along with market size and product market fit. We invest in every kind of startup, be it pre-products or companies already generating revenue. We push them forward and work on the factors combined into getting hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars as monthly revenue. Once they reach that amount, the chances of becoming a unicorn are looking pretty good.

What best strategies do Expert DOJO help startups with to up their game in the market, and how much of these strategies stem from experience?

We start working with a startup that we invest in and develop a long-term relationship with them from day one. We coined "growth experts" instead of commonly calling Expert DOJO an accelerator. We always onboard startups through a seven-week growth program where highly experienced trainers like branding experts or strategy experts come in and give participants different themes to work on every week. For example, we start with the fundamental parts like rebuilding websites and business models to build them from the ground up into something more efficient. After that, we enter phase two which is growth.

“My Past Professional Experience Empowers Me To Curate The Best Growth Strategies For Startups”

After completing these fundamental steps, we start looking at external capital and adding investors interested in investing in these startups. We also have a 52-week growth hacking program where we conduct weekly collaborations with the cohorts comprising over 150 companies. In addition, we also schedule weekly calls with companies to discuss how to execute the strategies and move to the next stage. As I mentioned, our relationships are long term, and we stay this close to our companies for several years.

My past professional experience empowers me to curate the best growth strategies for startups. Before being a part of the venture capital world, I have dipped my toes in every market, from real estate to sales. But after coming into this field, I realized it to be the one that fits me the best, and soon I also witnessed many other strong women joining hands with the organization to drive its mission forward. 70% of Expert DOJO's employees are women, and we continue to bring strong women into our team who are not afraid of fighting gender bias in the venture capital field. This is why I chose to join Expert DOJO not only as Head of Investment, but also as partner, to be able to change from within.

What is your opinion regarding the evolution of the startup culture in the next few years?

We will witness more and more unicorns coming from different parts of the world. We have several successful companies springing up from India and Africa. The U.S. will not be called the biggest hub to produce most unicorns. We’ll see a ton of more great companies coming out of Africa, and another region that’s interesting to watch is South East Asia. I personally think Bangladesh and Pakistan have immense potential to produce unicorns.

What advice would you give the women entrepreneurs coming into the venture capital space?

Every women entrepreneur should find themselves a good coach. I had a coach when I first came to the U.S. from Sweden, and it was with her that I shared my ideas. A coach does not have to be someone with expertise in a similar domain but someone who has what you lack and can help you and support you with those additional qualities. Furthermore, you can also be someone else's mentor and share your knowledge and experience with them. I had recently conducted a program where 60 women investors were invited to our office and shared their experience and expertise, helping each other identify problems and find solutions. This unified approach is what women founders should seek in order to become successful in founding and running a startup.

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