Interviews with women entrepreneurs (Materahub)

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As part of the WP2 the consortium has performed a series of interviews with women enetrepreneurs. Their summary is available in this document.

 

7. Materahub

 

First interviewee Stefania Giovannini from Italy, with five years of experience running a successful bed and breakfast in Pitigliano, Tuscany, Italy, she’s embarking on a new venture by expanding her business to the beautiful island of Sardinia. Stefania is not alone in her endeavors; she collaborates with a team of talented and entrepreneurial women located in various regions of Italy.

 

Currently, Stefania’s business website is undergoing a transformation, with a dedicated team of software engineers and graphic designers at work. This redesign is in response to the significant changes happening within her business. Instead of focusing solely on short-term rentals, Stefania is shifting her focus towards promoting sustainable and slow tourism. She aims to create a unique co-living experience that encourages a closer connection to nature. To bring this vision to life, Stefania is partnering with local organizations in the Maremma Tuscany region.

 

With extensive experience as a sales professional, Stefania’s core strengths lie in including negotiation, relationship building and persuasive communication, but also active listening, problem-solving, and the ability to adapt to various client needs. In addition to her entrepreneurial pursuits, Stefania is deeply passionate about environmental sustainability and the cultivation of a healthy lifestyle that encompasses physical and mental well-being, as well as mindful nutrition. Currently, she is actively engaged in projects that align with these passions.

 

The decision to conduct the interview in Italian was intentional, as it allowed for more comprehensive and expressive responses from the interviewee. Furthermore, given that all participants were Italian, the natural flow of the conversation was spontaneous.

 

  1. What inspired you to start your own business?
    I was inspired by a desire for personal achievement and economic independence. After a lot of things happened in my life, I inherited the house of my family and I suddenly felt the need to create something on my own, to build a business from the ground up. Starting a business not only offered economic potential but also the chance to express my creativity and passion for my territory, my origins, my roots.

 

  1. How long have you been running your business?
    I’ve been running my business for five years. It has been a very exciting journey… filled with both challenges and successes!
  2. What has been your biggest achievement as an entrepreneur so far?
    One of my most significant achievements has been the consistently positive feedback from our guests. It’s immensely gratifying to know that our guests have had enjoyable and memorable experiences in our accommodations, in my town, where I have memories of my childhood. Another milestone is achieving and maintaining the status of Superhost on platforms like Airbnb, which underscores our commitment to exceptional service… after all the hard word!
  3. How do you keep your business competitive in the face of technological progress, digitalization, and innovation?
    In today’s digital age, staying competitive in the hospitality sector requires embracing technology. We provide Wi-Fi connectivity for our guests, ensuring they stay connected during their stay. We have also integrated Alexa for added convenience and we are preparing for upcoming digital challenges in the realm of home automation.
  4. Would you like to share some tips for growing the business and making it profitable?
    Absolutely, I can give some in the field for women entrepreneurs in my field:
  • Love what you do!! Passion is contagious and can resonate with your guests.
  • Be welcoming and always maintain a positive attitude toward all guests. Personalized hospitality can make a significant difference.
  • Pay meticulous attention to details; it’s the little things that guests often remember and appreciate.
  • Stay connected and readily available to assist guests with their needs. Responsive communication can enhance the guest experience.

[Stefania is thinking… ] In every field it is important to love what you do.

 

  1. What makes it particularly difficult to open or run a business in your country? How do you face it?
    Opening and running a business in Italy comes with some unique challenges. Bureaucratic processes can be complex and, at times, tricky. Additionally, laws and regulations can vary from region to region, even down to the municipal level, which can be bewildering. To overcome these challenges, I have found that networking and leveraging the latest information technologies can be invaluable. Networking provides access to valuable insights and support from others who have navigated similar challenges. Additionally, technology can streamline administrative processes, making compliance more manageable.

 

  1. What are the changes that you would like to make? How long is it going to take to make them? What prevents you from making them?
    One of the significant changes we have in our sights is a transition from our current focus on short-term rentals to medium-term accommodations. This shift is driven by a desire to better cater to a different audience, including digital nomads and those who seek extended stays, embracing a new and immersive style of traveling. We’re actively working to make this transformation happen within the next 6 to 9 months. To support this shift, we’ve initiated several collaborations with various entities and are actively engaged in relevant projects. However, it’s important to acknowledge that we anticipate potential obstacles in this endeavor. Increased competition in the medium-term accommodation segment is a key challenge we’re preparing to tackle, and it’s crucial that our new approach aligns precisely with our target audience’s preferences. This strategic shift underscores our commitment to providing more immersive and meaningful travel experiences.
  2. Have you faced any challenges or barriers in your entrepreneurial journey that you attribute to gender bias or discrimination, and how have you dealt with those challenges? Have those challenges influenced your business strategy?
    I have been fortunate in that I have not encountered gender bias or discrimination in my industry. However, it’s important to acknowledge that these issues do persist in various sectors and regions. Such challenges can be profound and have influenced the business strategies of many female entrepreneurs. It is essential to address these challenges head-on, seek support from networks, and advocate for equality.

 

  1. Based on research, the fear of failure is very heavy on women’s shoulders, especially in the business environment. What does failure mean to you? How do you deal with it?
    The concept of “failure” does not exist in my vocabulary. Instead, I view every event, even if it doesn’t go as planned, as a valuable learning experience. When something doesn’t go as expected, I approach it as an opportunity to analyze what happened, extract meaningful lessons from the experience, and make necessary adjustments. This perspective allows me to embrace challenges as stepping stones toward improvement.
  2. How do you differentiate your business from competitors and create a unique value proposition for your customers?
    Our unique value proposition is a multi-faceted blend of distinctive elements that set us apart. Firstly, our decor… as we’ve chosen a vintage look from the 1950s and 1960s, in contrast to the traditional style of the other b&bs in the territory. This style reflects the authentic history of Pitigliano, offering a glimpse into the village’s past. We’ve also made our accommodation family-friendly, with integrated children’s games and vibrant colors in a dedicated corner for our young guests. Our extensive collection of books is another unique feature, creating a serene reading environment, with historical books about the town and accompanying historical photos. In response to our guests’ evolving needs, we’ve created a dedicated workspace for those who wish to work remotely. Equipped with Wi-Fi, comfortable chairs, and tables, it caters to professionals seeking a peaceful and productive setting. Furthermore, we’ve embarked on unique projects such as hosting exhibitions within our bnb, featuring rotating displays every two months. This initiative adds an artistic and cultural dimension to our offering, reflecting our commitment to culture and intellectual engagement. In addition to these features, we’ve fostered partnerships with many local businesses to support the local community and enhance the overall experience for our guests. Our approach to hospitality goes beyond the conventional concept of providing a place to stay; it’s about meticulously curating an enriching experience. We believe that the key lies in engaging the local community and paying close attention to our guests’ desires and reasons for visiting, ensuring their time with us is truly memorable and fulfilling.
  3. Have your priorities changed from when you first started? If yes, how?
    Yes, my priorities have changed since I embarked on this entrepreneurial journey. Initially, my primary focus was on establishing and sustaining the business, ensuring its growth and profitability. However, as time has passed and the business has evolved, my priorities have shifted. Today, I’ve come to appreciate the broader impact my business can have. It’s no longer solely about financial success; it’s about contributing to a different style of traveling, positively impacting the local community, and fostering cultural and intellectual engagement among our guests. I see our space as more than just accommodation; it’s a gateway to immersive experiences. I’ve recognized the value of forging partnerships with local businesses, supporting the community, and promoting a sustainable approach to tourism. These aspects have become integral to my priorities. So, while the core goal remains profitability, my priorities have expanded to encompass a more holistic and community-oriented approach, emphasizing culture, sustainability and empowerment.
  4. What role do you think mentorship plays in helping women succeed in business?
    I believe that women have reached a point where they are more than capable of mentoring themselves. However, what I find particularly interesting is the concept of “reverse mentoring.” In this practice, younger members become mentors to those with more experience within a company or organization. This exchange of knowledge, skills, and perspectives bridges generational gaps and keeps everyone up to date with the rapid advancement of technology, new social media trends, and shifts in the market. It’s a way to ensure that collective knowledge and experience continue to flourish.
  5. How do you manage your free time as an entrepreneur (family, children, housekeeping)?
    Managing free time as an entrepreneur can be a challenging task. To effectively manage this, I have learned to delegate some of the more complex aspects to my business partner. This collaborative approach allows us to share the responsibilities and ensure that our personal lives remain in harmony with our professional commitments. It’s about finding a balance that works for us and our family.
  6. What advice would you give to other women who want to start their own business?
    To other women considering embarking on their entrepreneurial journey, I want to emphasize the importance of understanding that throughout the different seasons of a woman’s life, we may face challenges stemming from societal, psychological or physical constraints. These hurdles can sometimes be overwhelming. However, it’s vital to realize that these challenges aren’t weaknesses; they are, in fact, our greatest strengths. Embrace your potential, your passions and view each obstacle as a valuable lesson. You are fully capable of transforming your dreams into reality. With unwavering determination, dedication, and the support of networks and mentors, you can create a thriving business aligned with your aspirations.

 

Second interviewee: Ramona Bavassano from Italy is an entrepreneur and a freelancer. In the last 28 years her mission consists in helping people to work better, developing themselves and their ability to create synergies and proficient relationships with other groups and organizations.

Currently, Ramona’s business  consists in co-creating, designing and implementing solutions to face problems by activating all the different resources available, including the potential or hidden ones. Her methodology consists in analyzing the context, involving all the possible stakeholders, creating shared visions, imagining projects and solutions, defining resources, planning actions, support and activating commitment and then creating a different mix of interventions toward achievable objectives.

Ramona works as a psychologist with every kind of organization, from big corporations or public companies to small family businesses and start-ups, but she gives priority to projects in line with her ethic principles such as sustainability and responsibility, providing a special attention to gender issues.

In the last twenty years she has extended her field of activities beyond Europe, and now she has started working and volunteering in Mexico, Guatemala, India, Argentina, Thailand, Syria, Laos, Cambodia, Japan and mostly in Brazil and Jamaica. In 2010 Ramona created in Brazil an international consulting group (www.responsability.co) for supporting the sustainable development of entire territories through the involvement of all the productive activities and stakeholders, especially minorities, indigenous communities, local associations and women. Since 2012, every winter she moves to Jamaica, where jointly with local partners and according to a fully bottom-up approach, they have been creating Jamadda Perma-Cultural Ecovillage, to support the thriving of the Treasure Beach community in South Coast.

Since September 2015 she has been collaborating with Ernst & Young Financial Business Advisors SPA in delivering training in marketing and communication to the front-liners of the main Italian Railways Company, Trenitalia Spa, in order to revitalize and give new strategic relevance to the national system of local transportation. Ramona has been very active also in Basilicata, where in 2019 she has created a network of cultural associations supporting the candidacy of Matera to be European Capital of Culture. Finally she runs an agro-tourism business near Cagliari, in Sardinia named In our garden https://www.inourgarden.org/

 

  1. What inspired you to start your business?

After many years working as a consultant on human resources management, trainer and expert of local development in Italy, Europe and many countries in the rest of the wonderful planet, I decided that I would create an ethical business activity in order to regenerate the soil, the people and the communities. I started looking for a place in which I could put together all I learned volunteering and working with many organizations around the world. After a lot of planning and research I found a place with a lot of potential in South Sardinia. The goal is to create wellbeing for humans by producing organic food and offering holistic activities and supporting other people wishing to change their life in a more ecological way.

 

  1. How long have you been running your business?

After 4 years of searching and negotiating a diluted financial plan with the owners, I bravely signed to buy the 55 hectares that are now www.inourgarden.org. Me and my partner, which I found while looking for land in Sardinia, entered the property on 15th August 2020. A terrible year for the world and not at all the perfect time to open a farm that’s supposed to do direct sales of products and cultural events. But we offered our spaces right away to people in need for fresh air and reconnection with nature.That helped us to create the initial audience for our vision and products.

 

  1. What has been your biggest achievement so far as an entrepreneur?

Given the conditions, surviving until now has been my biggest achievement. In my business I apply the ethics of Permaculture, a methodology which aims to design thriving ecosystems through people care, earth care and fair share. Since that August in 2020 I have been struggling to find the money that I needed to pay for the property, to transform it into an Agritourism business, to have the opportunity to have guests in 2 apartments and 3 glamping tents, to study, to get the proper license and to create a public that could participate in our events and buy our olives, wine, oranges and almonds to have a cash flow for survival. So, we are alive and kicking but surviving is not our goal, we want to flourish and we are on the path toward becoming owners, as well as reaching out to new partners to develop the potential of the place. So creating the conditions for future abundance is my biggest goal.

 

  1. How do you keep your business competitive in the face of technological progress, digitalization, and innovation?

My business is competitive because we try to be trend setters instead of trend followers. For example, lots of farmers are trying to keep updated with technology and the so called Agribusiness but we are seeing that  many investments are made because of wanting to be “always updated”. So sometimes certain technologies are harmful if they don’t contribute to changing the system but focus only on certain aspects. Therefore using sensors to use less water in a monoculture is nonsense.  We think that agroecology is an appropriate technology because it aims to create ecosystems that don’t need the continuous inputs of the farmers, and in the end it is more economical. We do social innovation for the same reason:  it is better to collaborate instead than to compete, we just need to have the ability to look at things with an open mind and hearts.

 

  1. Would you like to share some tips for growing the business and making it possible?

My biggest advice is to understand the needs of the target group that you want to satisfy while satisfying your needs.Then, try to create connections and relations with the territory around you to gain insights and help while looking for people that have your same vision and can help as volunteers or professionals with compensations coming from something different than cash. Another important tip is to save time for your personal development and wellbeing, because dealing with finding money, understanding laws, interacting with bureaucracy can become overwhelming. Sometimes I lose energy overworking, but even if we are a multifunctional farm we have to remember than the main resource we have is our motivation and we can’t afford to lose it because of fatigue. As I always remember myself: building relations is tiring but it’s a pleasure and the first witness of my values is me, so I cannot look stressed or exhausted while doing so. This itself is already a job!

 

  1. What makes it particularly difficult to open a business in your country?

In Italy for sure the biggest problem is to face bureaucracy and financial institutions which are completely inadequate to support the launch of new activities. Therefore, they invented institutions that are supposed to help new business with good business planning, but most of the time the sensation is that there is more advertising and overall costs than real effectiveness and real possibility to find support from european or national funds. So, in this case it is important to be creative and think about plan b, c and so on. Most importantly, it’s necessary to resist the temptation to give up.

 

  1. What are the changes that you would like to make?

In my area there is a lot of potential for growing businesses working in regeneration and sustainable development, but laws are full of flaws. So, since success is a collective result and not an individual one, in spite of what the propaganda of the Self-made Man has been teaching us for decades, a lot of energy has to be put into creating thriving relationships in our ecosystem. This requires very often to change one’s mentality. This is why I would suggest to all women that wish to solve problems in the society, doing so with an ethical business using their feminine intuition and empathy to understand what can be done to help changing mentality. For example, in my case we are becoming a multifunctional farm and I am continuously organizing events that bring the local community to us to participate in events and movements that are rising in my area. Always remember that a community is not the sum of people living in a certain area, it is the result of the synergies and interdependencies that are created to build connections leading to general empowerment. Since we know that to change a mentality we need more time and energy than to change a rule or a habit, be prepared to be patient. And remember the old ancient wisdom from native americans: “if you want to go fast go by yourself, if you want to reach far away go together with others”. And also remember that we are the people that have been waiting to change the world and nobody else is coming, so we need to act.

 

  1. Have you faced any challenges from gender bias?

I have been facing challenges and problems for being an independent woman since I was a baby wishing to live and self -determinate herself. Now I call myself a born social innovator, before they called me many things. I got used to being the “different one” and learned to live with it because if not I could not live.

I did not maintain the mindset that I had to be super strong and change the world all by myself by standing firm against big waves turning against me. I understood very soon that I had to learn to follow the stream finding ways to move accordingly to the situations. I later understood it better, while living in Brazil. “Achar um jeitinho” means that if you are sure that you are working for the common good, your instinct will suggest you what to do to get your goal by learning how to move in a way in which you surf the big waves instead than try to resist them.

 

  1. Based on research, failure is very heavy on women, how do you deal with it?

I always repeat to myself that there is no failure, only experiences that will make you better and that it is always better to live with remorse for doing something that did not work instead than living with regrets for not having even tried it. When you are in the mood of productive flow because of some purpose you really feel is important, your subconscious aligns with your consciousness and everything that happens is there to help your personal growth and give you hints to overcome the natural resistance to change which lies everywhere.

 

  1. How do you differentiate your business from competitors and create a value proposition for your customers?

With heart and humanity in everything we do. Creating shared values is not something you can avoid in the field of business, so let’s dig into collective value creation having the mindset of a social entrepreneur working for the common good and our mission will become clearer to the customer, which hopefully will become supporters and partners instead of just clients.

 

  1. Have your priorities changed from where you first started? If yes, how?

Starting a business not only change your priorities, it changes the whole of your existence. So, it’s always good to have mental flexibility at all times. This is better than whatever yoga practice you might adopt to gain flexibility, but of course yoga and meditation can help a lot.

  1. What role do you think mentorship plays in helping women succeed?

Mentoring means inspiration and guidance, assets without which it’s almost impossible to succeed. As a female entrepreneur acting in the field of innovation, having the opportunity to know that someone else has been facing the same struggles as you can help to feel that we are never alone. Sisterhood is the secret to overcome patriarchy, and therefore to create ecosystems that can help you and your community to flourish.

 

  1. How do you manage your free time?

What free time? No jokes, free time should be imposed by law as leisure time without which your energies cannot regenerate. So since time out of work is not yet free time because of social issues, such as poor support of welfare system, I use some of my free time to support structural changes by participating in movements and groups, and then I save time just for my regenerative processes. This includes traveling by myself, attending events that can help me to be inspired and to totally disconnect from my daily routine. It is an investment which always brings back good fruits because motivational energy is fundamental and we can actually create it abundantly only if we know how to enjoy our life at the best. This is a critical point because too much propaganda on self sacrifice and determination in the end blinds you instead than shining a light on your inner strength, which is the spot where the hidden secret of infinite energy lives.

 

  1. What advice would you give to other women that want to start their business?

Always enjoy what you are doing knowing that you can make the difference to create a better world. If you change, the entire world changes, and there is always room for improvement, so be happy with every step you take because there is no big achievement without an initial small step toward it.

 

 

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