Emily Bernstein, Veronica Fresneau

The saying ‘raise when you can, not when you need to’ has never been more relevant

Interview with Rockstart Agrifood mentor Alexandra Malmberg

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Alexandra Malmberg, a mentor for our Rockstart AgriFood 2020 startups and currently an associate at Haflo AB. Not only does Alexandra have diverse business experience, but she also has a unique perspective to offer as a woman in the startup and VC scene.

According to a report by Unconventional Ventures from 2019 (thanks to Alexandra for the recommended reading!), only 1% of the 2bn Euros of venture capital invested in 2018 in the Nordics went to all-female founder teams. In a separate, Europe-wide report for 2019, 92% of all funds raised by European companies from venture capital firms went to all-male teams. Evidently, there is still room for improvement where diversity is concerned.

We reached out to Alexandra who shared more about her personal experience as a woman in the startup scene, the challenges the pandemic has brought about for remote mentoring, and why a proactive attitude towards fundraising is more important than ever for startups.

Many thanks for joining us. Can you tell us more about yourself?
Absolutely, thanks for having me. My name is Alexandra and I work for a Scandinavian family office, Haflo, where I manage our startup- and VC fund portfolio and work closely with our portfolio companies. I have a modest background in marketing, so helping our portfolio companies reach and talk to their customers is something I especially enjoy. Apart from my job, I love cooking and sweaty workouts!

Being a woman in the startup and VC space can sometimes be challenging. Can you tell us about your experience from this perspective so far?
Hm, I don’t know what else I can say than that the statistics speak for themselves. If anyone doubts the bias for both female and minority founders, I recommend reading “Nordic Startup Funding” by Unconventional Ventures. I believe we need more female investors, above all angel investors, in the ecosystem. (Also, guys, please stop saying that you “didn’t realise the problem until you had a daughter”. It makes you look arrogant, not approachable).

You are one of Rockstart’s mentors. What is mentorship to you and why did you become one?
“Rubber ducking” haha! It’s a method programmers use when debugging code which basically means that they have a rubber duck on their desk to which they explain the entire code out loud to find the bug. I believe good mentorship works the same way. It’s about listening and then asking the right questions to help entrepreneurs make their own decision.

It was really a selfish reason to join as a mentor. I wanted to learn more and get closer to the food and agriculture space, so I couldn’t say no when Rockstart came along.

What has been your experience of mentorship during the pandemic?
To be honest even pre-Covid running an early stage startup is a lot about crisis management and handling the unforeseen. I think the biggest difference is increased frequency of contact with founders.

Has online mentorship changed your approach to teams and startups?
It’s only strengthened my opinion of the importance of meeting and seeing people in real life. Don’t get me wrong,  for the sake of efficiency I’m definitely in favour of reducing meetings to calls or even emails, but there is just something magical that happens when you put great people in the same room together.

What advice would you give to startups looking for a mentor?

It’s easy to get blinded by a person’s accomplishments. Although knowledge sharing is the foundation of mentorship, credentials don’t beat chemistry. If you’re looking for a mentor to spar often with, make sure that person is someone you like and get energy from, but with complementing experiences.

You’re also an associate at Haflo AB, a Scandinavian early stage investor. What inspires you to invest in a startup?
At the pre-seed/seed stage where Haflo invests it’s all about founder-problem fit. We look for ridiculously passionate people who have tons of experience with a big problem that they’re looking to solve. And again – of course chemistry with the founding team.

What lies ahead from your perspective for startups looking to raise during the pandemic?
I believe great founders will always get investments. But prepare for the fundraising process to take longer time as investors are more thorough with due diligence now. The saying “raise when you can, not when you need to” has never been more relevant.

Alexandra’s last point is something of a mantra for our startups, whose mentors consistently urge them to avoid raising capital solely in moments of need. Given the current fundraising climate, a proactive mindset is key to coping with any uncertainty that lies ahead. Equally important, however, and as Alexandra stresses, building strong relationships is essential. A good mentor not only offers the right experience and guidance – they also make the journey more enjoyable.

If you found this interview helpful, you can find our previous interviews from the “Mentors in the Spotlight” series on our blog. Be sure to check back regularly for more interviews in the coming weeks and months so that you don’t miss out on valuable insights from our mentors.

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