1. The first lesson – organizational level

When the WINGATE project was awarded by the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation
mid-April 2020, Europe was just about a month into the chaos, sudden despair, tragic human and
personal loss, paralysed regions and countries caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. News
were all about lockdowns, PPE and hazmat suits, horrifying hospital situations and desperate small
businesses questioning their future fates in almost all industries.
At those times it seemed impossible to realise a successful project that builds on human relations,
trainings, mentoring, networking and international collaboration. We were all trying to manage daily life
when not only the tech-savvy but each every one of us had to suddenly learn to operate parallel online
video calls, web-based collaboration platforms, while we also ordered groceries and food online – so the
delivery service rings the bell just in time when the kids have a lunchbreak in their homeschooling
The challenges were great and there were tragic losses. But as step by step, week by week, month by
month we learnt to live together with the pandemic, we also had the chance to learn something
wonderful: that based on 21 st century technology, we can be closer than ever before. Project meetings
online can take place every week, speeding up our work, compared to the pre-pandemic once-in-a-
couple-of-months personal trips that tired all participants and were unfavourable for the environment
as well. Certain trainings, discussions, conferences can be held online, which does not only open up the
opportunity to tackle the lockdowns but also allows us to invite speakers from all around the globe, and
participants joining our discussions from so many various countries.
Women/Business/Angels Association spent the first half of the WINGATE project trying to learn that
lesson and better it as much as possible. As most of our discussions and content already had English as a
working language, we organised a hybrid international forum in October 2020, an online training test
series in the first half of 2021 and two further hybrid international fora in June and November 2021. We
invited speakers from Norway, Poland, France and several other countries, and we were able to present
the project, present ourselves and the Hungarian innovation ecosystem for so many domestic and
foreign participants at our events.
As time passed and restrictions loosened, we got used to it, we organised hybrid events while we were
working out and testing the training materials designed for the WINGATE project. We knew our project
partners much better by voice than by face (as often due to narrowband internet connections we turned
off cameras during our videocalls) and worked together towards our common goal, but from different
corners of Europe.
2022 has brought a change to our work. As the pandemic seemed to be tamed by the brilliant inventions
of COVID-19 jabs (with enormous efforts included from female scientists and experts) travel, especially
international travel became more manageable and we had a set of lovely consortium meetings, where –
as it turned out – it was also invigorating to meet in person, have small chats, a coffee, a dinner together and allow ideas to spread and grow apart and beyond the core project targets. We made and renewed the human connections and strengthened the collaboration among the partnership. We also reached out to actors, entrepreneurs, business angel investors and policy stakeholders on the personal level aswell, making good use of the opportunities to bring people together, building bridges and networks that can be built into the project and – next to the actual and factual Knowledge Base presented on the online portal – can also result in tacit knowledge and networking capital for the participants. We strongly hope that the WINGATE project has profited from this experience as much as we, Women/Business/Angels have done, and the benefits are transferred to our target groups, our networks of women entrepreneurs and business angel investors in our national and (Central) European innovation ecosystems.


2. The second lesson – business level

The WINGATE project’s consortium is composed of several different partners, each bringing in their own
knowledge, network, stakeholder groups to the common table. Women/Business/Angel has been
responsible for the training series development related to women business angel investors and
preparing as well as testing those trainings, spreading the news, inviting more and more actors and
stakeholders has been our main target throughout project realisation.
One key part of the lessons we learnt was that business angel investors are almost fictional characters in
the eyes of a common entrepreneur. The concept is not well defined and understood, while they are
rare, seldomly seen, more of an urban legend than reality. We aimed to find the reasons and mitigate
the situation by starting our training sessions and contents with explaining the basics and inviting real-
life investors as special guests to our events to help the audience become better acquainted with the
concept and the people as well.
First, in scientific literature there is a significant difference between small business owners and
startuppers – the first are people who set up a legitimate business that caters local demand and
provides breadwinning opportunity to the entrepreneur as well as his/her employees. The second group
are startuppers, who – from day 1 – aim to build a born-global business, well-profitable on the long run
for the founders, scalable – and therefore in most cases IT based. Both types of enterprises are useful
and have their place in the economic landscape, but only the second group is tantalizing enough for
business angel investors (and maybe later on, for venture capitalists) to invest in.
The COVID-19 pandemic had changed the rules of the game for both groups and may also have blurred
the strict line between the two. For small business owners, many were operating in endangered sectors
(tourism, hospitability, etc) and were forced into a situation where they needed to innovate beyond
their comfort zone in order to survive. Many previous employees have lost their jobs and have found
themselves in the shoes of an entrepreneur-to-be. Everyone had picked up very fast the new IT skills
that were needed to work from home, even from remote locations. Physical location was suddenly
much less important, relevant IT technologies were available and used in a much wider circle, therefore
both the global market and scalability became within reach for many who were previously just planning
to open up a small business. This blurring of the line between small businesses and startups have further
been enhanced by the growing up of the born-digital post-millennial generations.

As economic perspectives darkened with the pandemic, investors run ahead – and looked for every idea
that may be interesting to be picked up, financed, supported and they were encouraged by the
significant amount of recovery funds allocated by the various national governments as well as by the EU
for revitalising economy.
This unique composition of new actors in the innovation ecosystem has made the WINGATE project
even more important than as planned years before at the time of proposal formulation. The first steps
to be taken as an entrepreneur, the mature guidance to entrepreneurs planning to grow and the
introduction of business angel investors into the picture was just at the right place at the right time in
order to add its inputs supporting these businesses not only to survive but to be reformed, re-thought,
adapted to new, post-Covid business practices and become more resilient.
Our network of entrepreneurs and potential business angels have confirmed that our discussions,
trainings and networking have helped them take the necessary steps forward, and we hope the project
contributed to the rebuilding of businesses and supporting female entrepreneurs/investors in our


3. The third lesson – economy-level

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are critical to economic development. The United Nations
confirmed that women’s economic equality is good for business as it fuels economies, benefiting
everyone 1 . Women entrepreneurs can make substantial contributions to innovation, job creation, and
economic growth.
A Boston Consulting Group study found that businesses founded by women delivered higher
revenue—more than twice as much per dollar invested—than those founded by men, making women-
owned companies better investments for financial backers 2 . Nevertheless, female entrepreneurs still
face considerable challenges, including lower access to finance. According to a report by the European
Institute for Gender Equality, in 2018, women-led businesses represented only around 30% of all
entrepreneurs in the European Union 3 .
Angel investors play a crucial role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem by providing much-needed early-
stage capital. However, the gender disparity in this field is striking. A 2020 report by the British Business
Bank indicated that for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams
received less than 1 pence 4 . Given that women-led startups perform as well, if not better, than those led
by men, increasing the number of women angel investors would not only advance gender equality but
also drive better returns and foster innovation.
The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected women, yet it also offers an opportunity for a
gender-responsive recovery. A research conducted in the iFEMpower project has found that 63% of
female entrepreneurs spent less time on their business during the quarantine period, on average they
spent almost 2 hours less on their business on a usual weekday and spent 2 hours more on caring
responsibilities. 5 Yet, the European Institute for Gender Equality highlighted that investing in the care
economy, digitalization, and green economy, where women are prominently engaged, can be key for
Europe’s economic revival post-COVID-19.

In order to support the strengthening of existing women-led businesses, to increase their adaptability
and resilience, more targeted efforts are needed to support women entrepreneurs, such as dedicated
funding, mentorship programs, and gender-inclusive policies, could help tap into the full potential of
women’s entrepreneurship in Central Europe and across the continent.
In conclusion, increasing the role of women in the economy and society can yield substantial economic,
societal, and environmental benefits. Women’s entrepreneurship and involvement in angel investing
should be encouraged and supported, particularly in the post-COVID recovery period and in regions like
Central Europe where the potential for growth is significant. Economic growth must be fueled by all the
power our engine has, and that includes a fair share of women’s capacities and potential as well.


4. Post scriptum

…And towards the end of the third year of WINGATE, when we realised that the project is almost over,
we wished if it could continute, to be able to reap the benefits of the efforts, to see all ends to meet,
entrepreneurs and angels collaborating towards a greater good. And our wishes became true, one more
semester was added to our joint activities. Our final event on 8 November 2023, represented what we
stand for: women entrepreneurs, business angels and impact managers collaborated in discussing how
to create more impact-generating, social innovation based enterprises that benefits us all.