“Behind the strength of the modern entrepreneur lies a significant slice of vulnerability”

Female entrepreneur Femke Helon talks about... female entrepreneurs


There are as many paths to success as there are entrepreneurs. Yet the road taken by some deviates significantly from the norm. Take Femke Helon, for example. Together with her spouse she built up the company 3Motion to be the Belgian market leader in large-scale digital printing. The firm received two nominations for the Trends Gazelles, and Femke won the Womed Award for the best female entrepreneur of 2020. It was only after clocking up this stunning record of achievements that she chose to do a course at Vlerick Business School: the SME Excellence programme. What was there still to learn for someone with such glittering credentials? Fundamental things, explains Femke:

“Of course the programme confirmed things that I had already learned during my business studies degree. But thanks to my experience as an entrepreneur, I was in a position to better understand and frame the information from the programme, and therefore apply it more efficiently. But what the SME Excellence programme made particularly clear were the challenges confronting even the most successful entrepreneurs. Am I on the right path strategically? Am I planning far enough ahead for the long term? Are we sufficiently customer-driven? The programme highlighted the points that needed to be worked on, and so introduced greater structure into my daily work. My concrete to-do list is clear, and that is crucial for every business person.”

Femke is a successful female entrepreneur. Compared to their male counterparts, these are thin on the ground, and that is a shame. The CEO of 3Motion would like to help turn the tide, by inspiring other women to get their own businesses off the ground.

“Ask a hundred people to name a successful entrepreneur, and you’ll get ninety nine male names. We need more role models and stories to inspire confidence in women. We're too quick to think: ‘I’ll never be able to do that’. That’s what I thought too, ten years ago. Yet strategic entrepreneurship is not a male monopoly; us women can do it too, but in our own way. Our emphasis is different, we have other talents, and we're more attuned to various aspects. We have to spread this message by talking about success stories.

Take the speakers at a conference, for example. We often find that, almost automatically, a man has been invited to talk, while there are so many interesting women who are doing amazing things. If they are given the opportunity to talk about that on a stage, other women can identify with this. As a result, they’ll find the strength to bring their own entrepreneurial side to the fore.

Yet telling inspiring stories is merely a first step. We also need to offer practical support to women. It's undeniably the case that we take on more responsibilities in the home. That’s why it’s important to be able to ask for help, to be able to get help, and also to make this help something that can be discussed. My husband and I looked for someone who could not only contribute to our business, but could also support us at home. This allows me to work longer hours two or three days per week, or take an hour to exercise. Thanks to this freedom I feel more comfortable in my own skin, and my children also benefit from this. When I get home, I’m there for them 100%. You can’t be a leading entrepreneur and also be standing at the school gates every day.”

In light of the tsunami of absenteeism and burn-outs, more women starting out as entrepreneurs is an attractive prospect. According to Femke, yesterday’s leadership style is not tolerated in the workplace nowadays:

“People no longer function beneath an alpha CEO who leads their company in a dominant way. Behind the strength of the modern entrepreneur lies a significant slice of vulnerability. It is naturally easier for women to come into their own and simultaneously deploy their soft skills and feeling for connection. We are also better at multitasking, because we're used to organising our family and business at the same time. This is a skill that we can employ in our business.

When my husband and I started up 3Motion we also had two small children, and that was often a real battle. I would sometimes ask myself: it this all really worth it? Is this really something for me? But you learn so much from those toughest moments; in fact, it’s then that you progress the most. What’s more, the satisfaction you feel as a woman is perhaps far greater than for a man. For a woman, the path to successful entrepreneurship is considerably longer. I took a different path and I did it all myself. So the feeling of victory is more intense, and I am more on top of things because I know where I have come from. And that is the case with many female entrepreneurs. We’ve had to work just that little bit harder for it, and that’s what makes the result so strong. I've been able to grow both professionally and personally, and that has filled me with strength and self-confidence. Entrepreneurship has enriched my life, and got me further than I’d ever dared believe possible.”

As an entrepreneur, you do of course need to do your homework. Is there a market for what you are offering? Are your product and your price pitched correctly? Have you worked out the detailed figures? Once this exercise has been completed, then it’s time for the next step. Believe in your own strength and move forward step by step. Don’t wait for everything to be perfectly worked out, because that moment never comes, and in the meantime you’ll be letting opportunities slip through your fingers. It is better to learn from what you do than to do nothing at all.
Femke Helon

Welcome, future female entrepreneurs

Women deserve their place in today’s business community – and by extension, in the Vlerick Entrepreneurship Academy. Here you’ll get the confidence, tools and guidance you need to set up a successful business. What’s more, you can count on the inspiration and support of an impressive network of experienced entrepreneurs – people who, like Femke Helon, not only believe in their own strength, but in yours too.