Promoting female entrepreneurship with the EU Commission

Promoting female entrepreneurship with the EU Commission


Library Life — published 18/07/19

Promoting female entrepreneurship with the EU Commission

Brussels is a city teeming with individual entrepreneurs who specialise in everything from design to political consultancy. Working on your own can be challenging though, so Danish businesswoman Anne-Sofie van den Born Rehfeld, who arrived in the Belgian capital 9 years ago, had the idea of creating a homely workspace where ideas, friendships and informal networking could thrive.

 

City of ideas

 

“When I came to Brussels as a consultant, I didn’t know anyone,” she explains. “I was working from home and my clients were mostly in Denmark. I missed the social aspect of work, like finishing on a Friday and wearing smart clothes.” Anne-Sofie had the notion of renting a house, making it look attractive and inviting people to work there. Her aim was to combine the cosiness of home (including amenities such as a stocked kitchen and plush bathroom) with the advantages of a shared workspace. “In 2013 I ended up taking my savings and renting a lovely townhouse in Ixelles (a municipality in Brussels),” she says. “I then decorated it with everything I could find in the house, such as family heirlooms and paintings. My husband would come home from work and find another painting missing!”

Anne-Sofie called her business The Library, a name inspired by her childhood. “I grew up on a very small island in the south of Denmark, where my mum was a librarian,” she says. “Every day after school, I’d go to the library. When I was looking for a name for my business this just popped into my head – I love the friendly, calm atmosphere of libraries, which bring different people together to pursue their interests.” Anne-Sofie has since rented 2 other properties in Brussels, and her husband has since left his job and joined the company.

 

Promoting female entrepreneurship with the EU Commission

Making a positive difference

The business venture was challenging at first, in part because the coworking concept was not so well-known in Brussels. Anne-Sofie had to explain the benefits to entrepreneurs who were used to working from home. Nonetheless, all the hard work was worth it. “I remember when a guy told me that his girlfriend had noted how much happier he’d been since he joined,” she said. “This is what I wanted to do – to help people be less lonely, more productive, and happy to go to work as entrepreneurs. We now have 150 members, but I still remember that feeling.”

Anne-Sofie is adamant about the importance of doing something positive. “I think if you are in it just for the money, then the stress will become too difficult to handle. You’ll have a higher success rate if you have a higher purpose,” she says. She’d also advise young entrepreneurs to pace themselves. “My mistake at the beginning was being too immersed in my business,” she says. “Launching something is like having a baby full of needs, and you can’t give in to every need.”

Time to be heard

Anne-Sofie is also active in promoting female entrepreneurship, and hosts workshops on issues such as public speaking at The Library. She believes that confidence is one of the most important qualities in an entrepreneur, and suggests that girls are often shyer at speaking out. As a participant in an initiative to promote entrepreneurship in schools, she noted that girls tended to come up to her afterwards to discuss things; they were often afraid to ask questions in front of their peers. “This is why it is important to have strong role models and to show girls that anything is possible if they are willing to invest their time and work hard,” she says.

 

Did you know that…*

Women make up 52% of the total European population but only 34.4% of the European Union (EU) self-employed and 30% of start-up entrepreneurs.

In 2012, only 29% of active entrepreneurs were women in Europe-37 (28 EU countries, Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Israel, Turkey, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway and Serbia).

In 2012, the top five countries with the highest entrepreneurship rates for women were Greece, Albania, Portugal, Italy and Croatia.

Many blame the low figures on the lack of confidence and fear of failure.

What we know for sure is that when establishing and running a business, women face challenges like access to finance, information, business networks and training, and reconciling business and family. We cannot tackle all of these at the same time, but we want to make sure that women have all the possible support tools at their disposal.

What is WEgate?

A growing and diverse number of stakeholders are engaging to support women entrepreneurs across Europe. The European Gateway for Women’s entrepreneurship WEgate is an e-platform launched by the European Commission to support this network.

Read more about WEgate here.