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Pilar Manchon has plenty of reasons to smile. The life of this San Francisco-based Sevillian woman took a U-turn when Intel acquired Indisys, a Spanish startup which she founded that focuses on the development of virtual assistants. This change has not been a matter of luck, but the result of her and her colleagues’ effort and dedication.
Pilar Manchon is an example for all those European women who have caught the entrepreneurship bug. This Computational Linguist has not let success go to her head, as suggested by the humility of her voice at the other end of the line.
“In many of the talks I give, I explain that our project was bound to fail. We have been through situations where I would say 99.9% of companies would have failed.”
Indisys, the project that has survived all these obstacles, is based on an idea that the research team she worked with at the University of Seville had in 2003. The development of virtual assistants capable of recognising natural language —the way in which people normally communicate— with the help of artificial intelligence, attracted several well-known Spanish companies.
Over a decade later, current Intel COO explains that the key to her success has not been but insistence and determination. These are the requirements that, in her opinion, every female entrepreneur should have.
“Those who really know how to strongly follow a passion or a dream —betting everything they have, working their hearts out—, those are the ones who have a greater chance for success,” she asserts. “Of course there are many important qualities in an entrepreneur, but if I had to highlight one, I would say passion, patience, and determination.”
In September it will be a year since Intel’s purchase was announced. This acquisition was generally expected as the American multinational already owned 40% of the company. At that time, the investment brought about 3.2 Million Euros, and hope for the project’s continuation.
It is precisely that, financing, what has given Manchon and her team more than a headache, and where being a woman seems to have had repercussions. “When I was looking for funds, I was also going through a divorce. When they asked me about my personal life, I told them about this situation and explained that there would be no husband around. Their answer was: ‘How can we invest in a woman who is getting a divorce?’”
According to the latest data from the European Commission, only 10% of women in the continent engage in entrepreneurship. Moreover, several studies also cited by the institution, point to the fact that there are significant differences between male and female entrepreneurs, for example that women tend to be reluctant to taking risks.
This idea is shared by Carmen Bermejo, CEO at the Tetuan Valley Startup School. She states that “women are normally in the background, setting up things behind the scenes, and I think it is something cultural. Men are normally the ones who are looking to be in the front line.”
“You do not live the same was as men do”, Manchon reaffirms. “You find other types of challenges. I guess you also encounter different types of advantages, but there are significant differences that have been proved by facts and circumstances.”
Her strength has enabled her to overcome such challenges and learn a few things on the way. The main one, “that you learn who you are. You learn a lot about yourself and about the people that are part of your team.”
Being entrepreneur is a challenge that could have found further complications with being a mother. Proud of her “handsome” eight-year-old son, instead of complicating the situation, “it has been quite the opposite. It helps you to focus, to work harder, to not give up, and to become, if possible, a pride for your son or daughter to look back at, and know who you are in the future.”
No matter if you are married, single, divorced, or mother of three. What matters, according to Manchon, is vocation. If you are one of those thousands of European women who have an idea and are afraid of setting it off, fight away all of your fears. “If there is something that you will regret before dying, as explained by those who have had near-death experiences, it will be all the things that you did not do.”
European initiatives to break the gap
Since 2008, the European Commission has launched several projects to help any woman who has an idea to put it forward. Among the initiatives, the European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs and the European Network of Female Entrepreneurship Ambassadors (ENFEA), or the Women’s Entrepreneurship Portal (WES), where one can find events, contacts and networking opportunities.
Prizes are another resource to support female entrepreneurship. The last one, the Prize for Women Innovators 2014, was awarded to women who have combined science and entrepreneurship to set up the most innovative businesses.