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Meet the CEOs behind the USA-Central Europe Women in Business Summit

Kafkadesk is a proud partner of the USA-Central Europe Women in Business Summit, organised by Polish-American Women Entrepreneurs and Cultural Vistas, that will take place on October 17 in New York City. By bringing together 350 business leaders, innovators, changemakers and entrepreneurs from across the USA, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Germany, the exciting new initiative promises to be the largest and most important summit of its kind. 

After sitting down with Czech entrepreneur and featured speaker Ivana Hronová, we spoke to the two women spearheading the initiative, Agata Golubiewska, President and CEO of Polish-American Women Entrepreneurs, and Jennifer Clinton, President and CEO of Cultural Vistas, about the upcoming Summit.

You say it’s an event for, not about, women in business. What can participants expect from the USA-Central Europe Women in Business Summit?

Summit attendees can expect a day of invaluable connection and rich dialogue on the critical opportunities and challenges that women in business face in a transatlantic context. We have made it a priority to showcase a wide range of perspectives and will have speakers representing all six of our partnering countries – the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the United States. We will also have a great mix of female founders and representatives, from Fortune 500 companies to small and medium-sized entities and startups. The varied backgrounds of the attendees will provide a 360-degree view of the topics at hand from a wide range of perspectives.

Attendees will also gain a better understanding of the business dynamics and environments in many European countries that may not have been on their radar previously. We know that time is always the most valuable business resource. That is why we have structured the day to include ample opportunities for networking and mentorship through breakout and one-on-one sessions. On top of that, you can expect great views and great food at our spectacular venue, the stunning Tribeca Rooftop in Lower Manhattan!

Agata Golubiewska is the President and CEO of Polish & American Women Entrepreneurs.

You’re heading the two organizations co-organizing the event. What do you hope to achieve through this initiative? What is your goal

Both organizations – Cultural Vistas and the Polish & American Women Entrepreneurs (PAWE) – share a common mission of connecting individuals around the world to develop their knowledge, skills, and careers in a global context. For PAWE, the motivation is to connect and create opportunities for women innovators, professionals, and business owners in both the USA and Poland to develop their international careers and grow their businesses. Cultural Vistas accomplishes this by providing opportunities for young and emerging professionals to live, work, and study abroad.

Our shared goals for developing this full-day Summit are to facilitate engagement where women can identify role models, find mentors, and expand their business opportunities in a transatlantic context. The connection between women’s economic participation and prosperity is undeniable. usa central europe women in business

Through our Summit, we want attendees to hear and learn directly from C-Suite women on both sides of the Atlantic and build deep connections with each other. Our afternoon mentoring sessions and quality discussions will create a space and opportunity for women to go beyond surface-level conversations to engage in meaningful dialogue on how women can advance in their careers, industries, and communities.

Lastly, we view this event as a real opportunity to foster more business, investment, and trade opportunities between the USA and Central Europe, home to several of the EU’s fastest growing economies and emerging startup ecosystems.

Jennifer Clinton is the President and CEO of Cultural Vistas.

How would you describe the current state of economic ties between the USA and Central Europe? What opportunities already exist? What is lacking? What part do women play in it?

The United States and the countries of Central Europe have an enduring and rich history of cooperation on trade, defense, and shared values that dates back over 100 years. This year, we saw an opportunity to showcase the importance of the Central Europe region as a driver of the transatlantic relationship. High growth rates of Central European economies, emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems, and a highly qualified workforce make now the time to accelerate economic and professional ties by connecting women in business from across the USA and Central Europe.

Thanks in part to a burgeoning startup scene, Central Europe is home to many of the EU’s fastest growing economies. In fact, according to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, the highest representation of women business owners in Europe are found in Poland (30.3%), Hungary (28.1%), and Germany (25.3%). The region is particularly friendly for startups, and has a long tradition of producing graduates in STEM fields, coupled with a low-cost base.

These trends are actively being supported by governments and public institutions emphasizing foreign expansion and scaling of companies that, until recently, might have been satisfied with local and regional growth. This shift to a more outward perspective highlights the need to build and grow a transatlantic dialogue among women in business. Our Summit promises to do just that!

The Summit’s aim is to facilitate engagement where women can identify role models, find mentors, and expand their business opportunities in a transatlantic context.

Providing a platform for women is a powerful driver of economic development. Why would you say that is, in your experience? Can you give us a concrete example?

According to CFR, closing the gender gap could add a staggering $28 trillion to the global GDP.At the most basic level, women can be a powerful driver of economic development because they represent slightly more than half our population. Compare a traditional family where only one parent contributes to household finances with a household where both parents contribute. Now, multiply that by all the households across the society and the economic advantages should be clear.

But, as we’ve mentioned, our Summit is not just about emboldening women to merely “contribute.” Our event is about providing a vehicle for women to network and foster relationships that can allow them to advance in their careers, industries, and communities.

More success in business means more success for the society at large – regardless of whether that success is a product of men or women. We can think of many examples of how providing a platform for women can be an economic catalyst. Take Summit speaker Alaina Percival, co-founder and CEO of Women Who Code as one example. After graduating from university in 2002, Alaina landed a year-long fellowship in Germany as part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, a longstanding initiative jointly funded by the German Bundestag and U.S. Department of State.

Alaina’s time in Germany with CBYX proved formative in her future career as an entrepreneur. The fully-funded fellowship brought her to Nürnberg to study and learn German, and provided her with insights into the industry and business practices of the country. This experience led her to intern at Puma, one of the world’s most well-known athletic brands, an opportunity she parlayed into a full-time product management role. Alaina credits the skills she gained through this fellowship with helping her to later create a truly global community of women engineers at Women Who Code.

Dr. Magdalena Kordon has a PhD in cell biophysics from Jagiellonian University in Kraków and is the CEO and Founder of intoDNA.

Spearheaded by the #MeToo movement, feminism has made significant progress in recent years. How would you describe the women entrepreneurship landscape in the USA and Central Europe today? How has it changed in recent years?

While there certainly continue to be positive trends, the needle is not actually moving as much as we would like to see – particularly in the United States. Statistics show that women are still vastly under-represented at all levels in the corporate sector. Women are still dramatically outnumbered in senior leadership roles. Only about 1 in 5 C-suite leaders is a woman and only 1 in 25 is a woman of color. This dynamic extends to the VC space as well. Venture capital funding has surged in recent years, but it very much remains a boys’ club with the numbers of female founders not keeping pace. In 2018, female founders in the USA received just 2.2% of $130 billion in VC funding in the United States.

We believe opportunities are abound in Central Europe, where in recent years we’ve seen a shift towards a more outward-looking perspective. In addition to established ecosystems in countries like Germany, countries such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland are creating a large number of jobs with plans to hire more in the year ahead (Startup Monitor).

These trends are actively being supported by governments and public institutions emphasizing foreign expansion and scaling of companies that, until recently, were perhaps satisfied with just local and regional growth. This is what is driving us to build and grow this dialogue among leading women in business.

In what areas have goals been reached? Where does work still need to be done?

Awareness is certainly growing around equity. Of course, this didn’t happen spontaneously. Women have proven their capacity to be successful in business and government thereby forcing negative attitudes about them to change. The number of women-led companies has increased exponentially in the last two decades, but women still struggle to gain access to the same opportunities as their male counterparts, particularly when it comes to funding.

The Boston Consulting Group recently found that investments in enterprises founded or co-founded by women averaged around $935,000, less than half of the $2.1 million invested in enterprises founded by men. This is in spite of the fact that, for every dollar of investment raised, female-run enterprises generated 78 cents compared to the 31-cents returned from male-run startups.

Lujza Bunabova is a former professional golfer who has been involved in a number of startup tech ventures, from her native Slovakia to San Francisco.

In your experience, would you say there are significant differences in the way women approach entrepreneurship in the USA and Central Europe?

Women in business share a lot in common regardless of where they come from. While the entrepreneurship culture may differ between countries for a host of reasons, we believe that many of the skills and strategies needed to successfully navigate the complex process of creating and growing one’s own business are quite similar. We are hoping our Summit will draw attention to these many similarities and differences as well as the obstacles and opportunities that women entrepreneurs face as they work to achieve their full potential.

Central Europe continues to be on a strong growth trajectory with Poland, Slovakia and Hungary among the EU’s fastest-growing economies in 2019, with Poland’s economic growth projections among the highest in all of Europe. We believe that with improving gender parity the region will see significant economic dividends. This is about more than a growth opportunity, however. It is a moral imperative. Both the U.S. and many countries in the region have made significant progress towards gender parity in recent years, but there’s still considerable work ahead of us.

Alongside gender issues, societal and environmental considerations are increasingly included when debating business goals, liberalism, and globalization. Will such topics be raised during the Summit?

Though we expect these topics to come up and be discussed to the extent our speakers believe they have an impact on the drivers supporting the advancement of women in the workplace. Our exciting agenda for the day includes five panel discussions, as well as breakout mentoring sessions and one-on-ones with trade and investment representatives from each of our partner countries.

The panels will focus on the following topics:

  • Opportunities for Central European and American entrepreneurs, including a high-level overview of economic trends and insight into growth areas in the region
  • Stories and insights from top women-led startups—how they grew their businesses, unique challenges they encountered, and what they should have done differently
  • An in-depth look at diversity as a tool for organizational growth, with insights from Egon Zehnder’s 2018 study “Mind the Gap: A Global Report
  • Women’s leadership in a transatlantic context; showcasing and discussing the unique challenges and keys to success for women in global leadership
  • Financing your business—i.e. taking a deep dive into funding options for companies at varying stages of growth across multiple sectors
Ivana Hronová - Kafkadesk
Ivana Hronová is the co-founder and CEO of the all-in-one mobile app with integrated digital wallet and AI-based travel agent Travel a la Carte.

In the current economic climate marred by trade wars and protectionism (on both sides of the Atlantic), how important is it to promote transatlantic/transnational commercial and business ties?

Business today is no longer bound by borders but there continues to be real opportunity in establishing meaningful connections and broader cooperation around the world. We hope that our Summit will play a significant role in helping to create and strengthen relationships across public and private sectors on both sides of the Atlantic. That is why we have partnered with several diplomatic missions representing Central European countries in the USA.

For both organizations hosting this event, driving these connections and relationships is central to our mission.

What’s next? How will you evaluate the short-term and long-term impact and success of the Summit?

The importance of connecting and building relationships cannot be overstated. Meaningful, in-person interactions can forever change one’s life and career trajectory. A recent study by the Adler Group and LinkedIn identified that a staggering 85% of all jobs are filled through networking.

Time and again, women are not receiving the same access to opportunities necessary to forge the workplace and business connections needed to succeed. Our Summit aims to be one vehicle to address this, equipping attendees with new ideas and connections they can call upon throughout their careers. We have assembled a diverse range of over 40 expert speakers, including female founders and leaders across the fields of business, government, and social impact that we hope will create an energetic and engaging atmosphere for our attendees.

We also hope that those who make it to the Tribeca Rooftop on October 17 will leave inspired and optimistic – knowing that even though the road ahead won’t be easy, they won’t be going at it alone.

Join Agata Golubiewska, Jennifer Clinton and Kafkadesk at the USA-Central Europe Women in Business Summit on October 17 in New York. Tickets are on sale here

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The USA-Central Europe Women in Business Summit will take place on October 17 in New York.