Meet a Founder: Maria Pennanen


Our guest today, Maria Pennanen, was nominated in 2017 and 2018 as the leading FinTech Influencer in the German-speaking world, and in 2019 and 2020, was elected as one of the EU’s top 50 influential women in Startups and VC’s. During the past ten years, she advised over a hundred startups. In 2015 she co-founded Accelerator Frankfurt that focuses on early-stage Fintech and blockchain companies. and currently, she is realizing her long-term vision and building Mindclip™ Behaviour. Discover this and much more below.

How did you become Maria Pennanen — a Serial entrepreneur, influencer and business angel?

By making many mistakes and learning from them. I was educated in a typical way, as a chemical engineer and an MBA, and did a regular career in large corporations. I believed in bringing results in a very hierarchical structure, meaning “do as I tell you”. Then I started wondering at around the age of 40 “is this really what i want to do?”. I came across a program at INSEAD called “coaching for change and challenge” and realized the importance of psychology and actually motivating people. This program changed my life. I left the corporate world and started living. I became a more empathic person and use my passion for learning to help entrepreneurs perform their best.

At the moment I have recently started my own startup dealing with team building a team development tool. How can we operate in this new remote work and improve the effectiveness of our communication? How can corporates become top employers offering a joyful working environment? My Masters at INSEAD was deep into these topics but I realized that not everybody can afford a 50.000 Euros course. So I built a software where teams can get the same benefits of such a life-changing experience. It all starts with a few micro-habits.

What role does technology play in the future of the workforce?

I think technology will of course play a very important role. It should not, of course, define what you do, but it should be an aid, a tool to support the company and whatever they want to do. Technology is an excellent support system and we will always need it. The future of machine learning will make it even easier for us to work with these tools.

What are the big issues that you and Accelerator Frankfurt are addressing and what value do you bring to your partners?

We are very much looking into blockchain technologies. Accelerator Frankfurt’s Wave7 last spring was solely dedicated to blockchain startups and we run it as part of our Blockchain Labs. We are currently into our Wave8 program, which is only solely for Female Founders. We have four great teams and the biggest value we can bring to our startups is to surround them with other passionate people. When we select the teams for each program, we do not only look at the startup idea. We also make sure that all teams bring enough diversity and potential synergies between each other. This has been our “secret sauce” for success. In each program, all startups became like family. You get further by working together.

Can you highlight some, examples of recent projects you have been working on close by?

One of the most energizing projects has been working with a Finnish startup called Valega Chain Analytics. The founding team is actually Swedish, but they set up the company in Finland due to favorable government support. Valega is a company that analyzes and prevents illegal activities in crypto and blockchain related transactions. The reason this project is so fascinating is because we work closely with law enforcement agencies. We are the ‘good guys’ going after the ‘bad guys’. Last summer, we saw a large hack on Twitter, in which the hackers took control of some celebrity twitter accounts like that of Barak Obama or Elon Musk. Those accounts twitted a request for donations in cryptocurrencies. Valega was the first company to uncover these accounts and was able to trace the chain of transactions before they could vanish or be converted into cash. All the information was provided to the police and also made it into Forbes news.

As an international expert, what is your opinion of the development and diversity in the Startup ecosystem in Frankfurt?

I am still disappointed by the lack of support from the city / state in collaborating and encouraging more private players in the ecosystem. This could have accelerated the startup ecosystem in so many ways. However, Accelerator Frankfurt, was the first accelerator in Frankfurt back in 2016. Since our launch, I am very glad to see a healthy startup ecosystem being built and more accelerators and similar programs starting to take hold. The more the better. Accelerator Frankfurt sees hundreds of applications every season and this is a testimony that Frankfurt does have an appeal for startups. Accelerator Frankfurt only works with about 1% of the startups that we see, so it is good that other programs can open their doors for those startups that do not make it into our program.

When it comes to diversity, we still have a long way to go and therefore, we have launched this spring our Female Founders Program. Hopefully, more such programs will encourage more female founders to take the first steps into entrepreneurship.

A curiosity, was your industry or clients affected by Corona?

Our program was affected by the Corona pandemic since we cannot meet face to face, have our demo days and investor meetings. However, on a positive note, the accelerator runs fully online with weekly livestreams on our YouTube channel (#AccFM). You can catch up Wave8 livestream nowadays, which is fully dedicated to only female founders. During Corona times, many of our startups actually saw an increase in their businesses. We promote only software and scalable startups, and these times force people to think and work online. Investments still continues well, but valuations may have suffered somewhat.

Finally, personal goals for 2021?
Commercialize my new startup, Mindclip Behaviour, and further promote my book titled “How to F*ck Up Your Startup”. The book is about my personal experiences with startups, entrepreneurs, and the crazy times during the ICO bull-run.

Meet a Founder: Maria Pennanen was originally published in FrankfurtValley on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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