Meet Martina Neef - our first Hamburg Geekette of the Month in 2014. Martina is a Business Angel, an Entrepreneur, a Mom, an Engineer, and much more! Thank you very much Martina, for doing this interview with us!
1. Martina, you hold degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Management. When and how did you discover your passion for engineering and entrepreneurship?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial household, my parents built and owned together a business. My father told me from a very young age, that it is important as a woman to earn your living yourself to be independent from a husband or someone else, even if you have kids. Since both my parents worked, I was free to roam around, to try different things until I mastered them, which allowed me to grow up without fear of failure. I think this is what originally sparked both my interest in engineering as well as entrepreneurship. For many years I worked as an employee for several companies in the San Francisco Bay Area in an environment that supported this mindset and allowed me as a young adult to grow professionally in ways that would have not been possible in Germany. Coming back to Berlin I missed the work ethic of self-responsibility, freedom and opportunity for personal growth in my job. In order to have that, I decided to start my first company.
2. You founded Rock It Biz – a non-profit organization that wants to bring entrepreneurship to students and schools. Why do you think this is important?
I do believe that everyone especially tomorrow’s adults require an entrepreneurial mindset and as well as the skills, no matter what career one might choose. It is important that kids make the experience, which demonstrates to them, that they indeed have the capability to take charge of their own life. There are several aspects why this is important. One of them being the changing work environment that might no longer offer long-term employment but will turn people through various changes for example the sharing-economy to „people entrepreneurs“ and freelancers.
Rock it Biz offers a program that takes kids grade 6-9 through the process of a start-up with in a project week or over the course of a school year. Kids learn by doing, thus making the experience, which I would compare to jumping of that 10 meter tower at the pool. You could listen to theoretical information about diving into the water for numerous times, as long as you don’t take action, you won’t know that you actually have the courage and capability. However once you did it, you will know and feel that you can and your mind will be open for additional information on how to do.
This is what I believe is important: Giving kids the experience of working in a team, developing a idea (in our case a product), convincing others (by raising money needed), turning their idea into reality by producing it themselves, selling it and being successful after working through frustrations and mistakes as a team. Kids can apply this experience to all sorts of areas, which makes this experience so valuable.
3. Before starting Rock It Biz you did other great things. Can you please tell us a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey?
My first company was active both in Germany and Latin America. I did work with Governmental agencies such as FONATUR and ministries of economy and tourism on the development infrastructure projects. My favorite project was Formula One, which was very exciting. We did develop projects both from a business as well as a marketing aspect and helped to secure financing of those. Returning to Germany, I started investing in Start-Ups and worked with several of those very close. While I was doing this, I saw the need for change in our German education system and built Rock it Biz, which is a non-profit supported by many great entrepreneurs and business people. Additionally I am working on something new, which I will tell you about in our next conversation…
4. Learning is an important part of entrepreneurship. What are the most important things you learned in the last few years?
Lessons are usually very personal and so are mine. Previously my choice of business partners may not have been the best one. In the future I will work first with someone on a project to see if we complement each other, share the same values and ethics before becoming a partner. Second I would be not built a company with a husband, boyfriend or life partner. If the relationship turns sour, so might your business collaboration. Having both your personal and your professional life fall apart at the same time is quite exhausting emotionally as well as financially. I am starting fresh, which I experience as an amazing opportunity that I am enjoying immensely. For someone else this might feel scary though.
5. You are not only an entrepreneur but also a business angel. What do business angels do? Which kinds of startups do you support?
Business angels gap the funding of ventures between the initial founder, friends and family investment and the first round of venture capital. In addition they lend experience, network, reputation and access to various partner to a start-up. In a nutshell I support start-up’s that have a team, which I believe is capable to achieve something great and that do have a product which provides a valuable solution to big enough audience of users. The product can be physical product, a service or a digital product or technology.
6. It was not so easy for us to find a female business angel for an interview. Why do you think are there so few female investors?
Generally I believe there are more men with the required capital needed to invest in a start-up. Women, who might have the funds to do so, may be more risk averse or look for other types of investments. One should not forget that investing as a business angel is very high risk with some of those investments potentially being a loss. One other reason could be the perception and communication as well. It may be, that be that men talk about it more than women. In my case for example people automatically assumed it is my ex-husband who is the one who is investing - not me. That may hold true for other couples as well.
7. What advice would you give to women who are hesitating to start their own businesses?
If you choose to start your own business, please make sure to follow your passion. If you do, you will not be „working“. You will have fun instead - every single moment. It feels great and turns challenges into opportunities. Listen to your heart. Get advice, get different forms of advice, pro and con and make your decision yourself. Don’t let others convince you. Do what feels right to you, not to others. Inside I am sure you know very well what is good for you and what not... And no worries about being a mom or a single mom like me. If you run your own business, you have lots of flexibility with your schedule, which makes raising kids a lot more easier.
8. Anything else you would like to share with the Hamburg Geekettes?
I do mentor and I am happy to offer that to a Geekette that would like to start her own business. Further I would like to encourage all readers to mentor as well. It is great to give back and to see someone growing. Some of you might not think so, but your advice is valuable to others.
We are looking to engage ambassadors for Rock it Biz, which is my non-profit for teaching entrepreneurship to children that I had mentioned before. We are looking for people that like to help spreading the entrepreneurial mindset to kids in German schools. If you are interested in doing so, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please help us to reach out to the kids.