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Deborah is a serial entrepreneur and currently runs her fourth and fifth businesses concurrently. She was born in Nigeria and grew up in the US where she studied political science before she moved to Germany six years ago. One of her businesses is Bosqueplants, a direct-to-consumer plant company and another one is FOUNDERLAND, a non-profit organization that focuses on supporting underrepresented founders across Europe.
Deborah, what motivated you to start your own business?
I started my first venture when I was at university. And it came at a time when I actually thought that my career path was going to look very different from what it ended up looking like today. With my migrational background, I always thought it would be really important to study hard, go to a good university and get a very traditional and safe job. So, I studied political science with a plan to go to law school. And it was in this period that I literally stumbled into entrepreneurship. On the weekends, I went with my friends to thrift stores and found really cool vintage apparel. And with time, this interest became something that we started to operationalize in the kind of safe space that a university can provide. So, this first business was built out of just “fun”, little did we know that we were essentially building an E-commerce business in the early 2000s. So, this was my first kind of step into entrepreneurship. And what's kept me in this space is the love for going from zero to one. The work of building a business is something for me that is both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
What kind of challenges have you faced you wished you had more help with?
There are always so many different kinds of challenges by nature of being an early-stage founder. However, I am also a woman, a mother, a woman of color setting up a business in a country I was not born or raised in. Especially being a mum and how you show up in the right way each day for your passion and your family was an important topic. There is also something about this intersection of race and gender and navigating the world of entrepreneurship is particularly challenging as a black woman.
What has helped you to overcome these challenges?
I don't feel that I have overcome them. There are moments where I feel resourced, supported, and seen beyond my gender or my race. And then those moments, I do feel that it's been put to the side, and I am able to simply be Deborah, irrespective of my date, my race, or my gender. When I reflect on my career, I found peers on various parts of the table, who are also diverse. And that's been important, and it doesn't necessarily mean that I need to only commune with or connect with other black women. When I connect with other diverse people who faced the challenge of being the minority in a room, I feel the real connection there. And this has also been quite important for me: speaking to the community and interacting with my diverse network.
How did your cultural background influence your career?
I definitely identify myself with Nigerian culture, and specifically Eboe culture, which is the kind of tribe that my family is from, as well as American culture, because I grew up in the US from a very early age. I come from a family of builders, and builders out of necessity. My grandfather was a carpenter, my grandmother would essentially travel from various parts of the region, it's in central Nigeria, to collect goods to then sell on the market. And that's the entrepreneurship part, yet they wouldn't call themselves entrepreneurs. They were just doing something because they need to feed their children. So, people create their profession and create their livelihoods.
And one thing that I took to heart from the American culture was: anyone can make it! There's this feeling in America that if you work hard, then you can make it. I saw that this is a place where my dreams are possible. These two kinds of key parts, for me, are definitely what I see reflected in who I am today.
What would be your personal hint for female founders, especially with a migration background in Germany?
First of all: welcome! Germany needs you. There's absolutely a need for driven people everywhere, and especially here in Germany. And I think that would be my core message. I would also secondarily say: I'm here for you. There are people who hold out a hand and say, let's have a coffee. I want to hear about what you're doing, what's your roadmap, what are you trying to build here. And that helps in getting settled in Germany. You'd be surprised who if you reach out to them on LinkedIn would just say: ‘Yeah, let's have a virtual coffee’. And they would open up their connections and their insight and help someone who's just getting started to find the right kind of meaningful shortcuts in that process.
Thank you very much Deborah!