"The female founders are missing"

Bettina Engert helped to make Flixbus big, was at the venture capitalist Acton Capital and has now started at the non-profit organization Startup Teens. A conversation about the career aspirations of young girls, the desire to start up, foregoing fat salaries and what all this has to do with TikTok.

Startup Teens wants to reach young people through their own channels. The new boss, Bettina Engert, is therefore currently having TikTok explained to her and has also already produced a first video. Engert, meanwhile, has no shortage of plans, especially when it comes to the topic close to her heart: the promotion of young girls.

Ms. Engert, you left a job at Acton Capital for Startup Teens. Why did you do that?

A lot of people have asked me that, including how I could turn down the money to move to the nonprofit. Of course, I had a pretty secure job at Acton Capital, an extremely good salary and worked with really exciting companies. But we constantly complain in Germany that we have too few female founders and that women don't trust themselves to lead. I've always observed that, earlier at Flixbus, later at Acton, only there I was primarily kind of on the sidelines. At Startup Teens, I can shape things myself and have a direct influence on them.

The scene has been lamenting this phenomenon for some time, but little is being done about it. Does the problem lie with funders, who are less likely to back women?

I don't think so. There are initiatives at all the big venture capital funds on how to invest in more female founders. Because the will is there to promote diversity and bring women to the top in positions. But the female founders are missing! There are also structural problems such as a lack of childcare that prevent young women from doing so. But much worse: many young girls lack the self-confidence to implement ideas on their own. And I deliberately say girls, not women, because it's also a question of age. If young women have already signed up for university, it's hard to get them to start their own business later on and jump in at the deep end. This change in one's attitude that entrepreneurship and doing it yourself can be an alternative to being an employee has to happen earlier, at the latest in the teenage years.

Most teenagers can probably be reached through TikTok. Do you have an account?

I have to say, I was already out of Instagram and I have three followers on TikTok. I've always preferred reading texts and I'm one of those weird people who still physically checks out books from the library. But it doesn't help. If the only way to reach kids is through them, I need to get on those channels too. I shot my first video for our next Startup Teens Challenge and two 14-year-old girls are giving me some TikTok tips right now.

Startup Teens wants to inspire teenagers to solve problems themselves, for example with the help of coding.

Does social media reach those who are also interested in startups and everything to do with them?

There is no other way. We have two target groups: Some are interested in startups anyway, are active on our YouTube channel and also exchange ideas there. The others don't know us yet, don't have anything to do with coding, and you have to pick them up on their channels. If they spend an hour a day on TikTok anyway, then they should ideally learn something useful or become curious about the opportunities we offer instead of watching the tenth video of a fitness influencer. There's so much more to learn there, and it's something everyone can discover, whether their father is an entrepreneur or their mother is particularly tech-savvy.

With that in thoughts, how successful are the attempts by startup teens on platforms like TikTok?

Fairly successful. Our last challenge #CEOofLife had over 35 million views with participants like Lea-Sophie Cramer, Daniel Krauss and Florian Heinemann. Even if only a fraction became aware of Startup Teens and our content, we have already achieved a lot. In the second and third step, we then want to accompany them in presenting their ideas, developing them and giving them the right tools to do so. For example, we have a 14-year-old who has built a platform to select referees in youth football in a more neutral way. That's amazing! Although she is rather an exception in that respect.

Photo: Spotlight's platform

Above all, we need real role models. It doesn't help any girl to read Elon Musk's Twitter account, that's way too far away from the reality of her life.

Bettina Engert, CEO Startup Teens

What do you mean?

Many of the girls who apply for the annual Startup Teens challenge are often still hesitant to implement ideas independently. The boys often compete alone, whereas the girls tend to compete in teams.

So is it more difficult to inspire young women?

I think once they have tasted blood, they don't. That was also the case with me: I wanted to become a veterinarian when I was 14. Then I finished my A-levels and after two internships including three inseminated cows I realized: 'that's not it'. The fact that I ended up in the start-up sector was more of a coincidence, because my brother recruited for Flixbus among family and friends. I don't think it was bad for either side in the end, but otherwise I'd probably be doing something completely different today.

What does it take to inspire more girls and women?

Above all, we need real role models. It doesn't help any girl to read Elon Musk's Twitter account, that's much too far removed from the reality of her life. They need women they can get close to, realistic role models they can see on social media or at events, whom they can also ask concrete questions. That's what we're currently trying to do, for example, in the regional live streams.

In the end, do you want all of the people who come to Startup Teens to actually become female entrepreneurs?

Most of the teens we work with are 14 to 19 years old. That's not about scaling a business idea to make the big bucks, and we don't want to teach that. We want young people to learn to think for themselves, to learn the necessary skills, for example to become programmers and then active problem solvers. Whether they then apply this in their own company, as employees or in the family business is secondary for the time being.

Thank you very much for the interview.

About Bettina Engert: Bettina Engert (36) has been Managing Director of Startup Teens GmbH since 2021 and Vice Chair of Startup Teens Netzwerk e.V. Together with the founders of Flixbus, she built up a company from the idea to an international mobility provider. Most recently, she advised startups worldwide on brand building at Munich-based VC investor Acton Capital.

About the company: Founded in 2015, Startup Teens is a non-profit initiative that teaches entrepreneurship and coding to high school students between the ages of 14 and 19. Startup Teens operates the YouTube channel with the widest reach for entrepreneurship education for young people in Germany. In the mentoring program, almost 1,000 well-known personalities support teenagers in turning their ideas into reality.


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