Inclusive entrepreneurship: Alina Bassi and the genesis of Founderland

Alina Bassi, Founderland

by Tammi L. Coles

In episode 27 of Campus 10178, the ESMT Berlin podcast, I speak with Alina Bassi, co-founder and CEO of Kleiderly, and one of the entrepreneurial women behind Founderland. This groundbreaking non-profit organization, co-founded by Bassi, Deborah Choi, and Stephanie von Behr, caters specifically to women of color entrepreneurs across Europe. Our in-depth conversation provides a penetrating look into the unique challenges faced by these women, and the innovative, targeted solutions that Founderland has developed.

Alina Bassi, Founderland

The entrepreneurial landscape, as it currently stands, often presents women of color with unique barriers, including a lack of representation, limited access to funding, and an absence of a supportive community. The outcomes of these barriers can be detrimental to both the individuals facing them and the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem. Without equal access to resources such as funding and networks, many women of color entrepreneurs struggle to scale their new businesses. When only a subset of the population – white, male, and well-off – can build successful businesses, wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a grossly small few and economic inequality is perpetuated. Moreover, the products and services developed can reflect a narrow set of experiences and needs, resulting in market gaps and missed opportunities for businesses that could serve a broader range of consumers. Worse, the cycle of underrepresentation is perpetuated in each subsequent generation, because lacking examples of successful entrepreneurs who look like them can discourage young women of color from embarking on their own ventures.

That is, when diverse groups are not represented in entrepreneurship, society misses out on a broad range of innovative ideas that could address various challenges and improve quality of life for all citizens.

Recognizing this gap, Alina Bassi, Deborah Choi, and Stephanie von Behr came together to launch Founderland. Through Founderland, they have created a platform that not only acknowledges the unique challenges faced by these entrepreneurs but also provides innovative solutions to overcome these hurdles.

Bassi’s experiences as a migrant entrepreneur in Berlin encapsulate many of the struggles faced by women of color in the entrepreneurial realm. In the interview, she discusses her encounters with isolation, the difficulties of striking a cultural balance, and the challenges of building a business in a new environment.

These firsthand experiences, echoed by other women in the Founderland community, starkly show the need for an inclusive and supportive platform that provides resources and opportunities to entrepreneurs outside traditional industry networks.

The mission of Founderland is ambitious and multifaceted. One of the pivotal elements of Founderland’s mission is to connect these “out-of-network” entrepreneurs, as Bassi calls them, with potential investors, mentors, and collaborators. By fostering these connections, Founderland provides an alternative to the traditional “friends, family, and fools” funding round, an avenue that is inherently exclusive for those without pre-existing privileged networks.

Earlier this year, Founderland published “Rise & Thrive,” an in-depth research report of the experiences and challenges encountered by women of color entrepreneurs in Germany. This report serves not only as a valuable resource to the entrepreneurs themselves but also as an educational tool for corporations, allies, and investors. It illustrates the existing gaps in the system and offers tangible steps to support this underrepresented community, thus laying the groundwork for systemic changes.

Founderland’s initiatives extend beyond research and networking to include practical support. One such program is “Compass,” an investor readiness accelerator that has been run twice so far with great success. This six-week program aids entrepreneurs preparing for fundraising by refining their pitches and providing them with tools to navigate negotiations with investors effectively. This hands-on approach equips the entrepreneurs with practical skills to secure much-needed funding for their ventures.

As Bassi looks to the future, she envisions a world where the term “entrepreneur” is synonymous with a woman of color confidently pitching her business on a grand stage. In this vision, the women of Founderland are not just participants but leading figures in significant startup conferences, visibly making their mark on the entrepreneurial landscape.

Bassi’s experiences and the ongoing efforts of Founderland also serve as a roadmap for aspiring entrepreneurs. Her advice to ESMT students to gain industry experience, find supportive communities, and seek mentors reflects the philosophy that guides Founderland. This balanced approach of practical experience, network building, and peer mentorship can empower students to venture confidently on their own entrepreneurial journeys.

With more than 600 entrepreneurs in the Founderland network and growing, Bassi and her co-founders are working tirelessly towards their mission. As they connect entrepreneurs with investors, generate insightful research in other EU countries, and offer practical programs, they are moving closer to creating an entrepreneurial landscape that is truly inclusive and representative. Founderland’s journey is a testament to the power of a business landscape that ensures women of color entrepreneurs not only survive but thrive in their entrepreneurial endeavors.