Time is the most valuable asset you have, use it wisely. Your team is deserving of this time, they are the people lifting your vision off the ground.
Don’t close the door on people. This is not to say you need to say “yes” all the time. But giving people the chance to share their ideas can lead to exciting new propositions that can take you and your business to places of unexpected opportunity.
Take care of yourself! With all the pressure that comes with starting and running a business, it is easy to backbench your well-being. Looking after your body is looking after your mind, and that’s your key to success!
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Niina Hopper.
Born and raised in Finland, Niina grew up loving to spend time in the outdoors, breathing clean air and enjoying the four seasons her country had to offer. After having completed her Ph.D. in Surgery at the University of Cambridge and a successful career in stem cell research which took her all over the world, she founded her first company EVA Global.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I come from an entrepreneurial family, my parents had a small transportation company, making deliveries across Finland. Growing up around this spirit, it certainly rubbed off on me and I have always had an eye and interest for business. But I have also always had a passion for healthcare and improving lives. I studied biotechnology and cell biology, and this led to my postgraduate studies in the University of Cambridge where I attained a Ph.D. in Surgery. I spent many years in academic research focused on stem cell activity and function in relation to tissue healing after injury.
Climate change and its impact on our environment and health became a growing concern for me, most particularly in relation to poor air quality. This was initially what brought my attention to the great possibilities of the electric car. After becoming a mother of two children I became determined to think of the ways in which we can all make a change and become a part of the solution to the climate crisis.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
At the very beginning when establishing EVA Global, I had to make a few business trips to set up the branches in the United Kingdom and the south of Europe, whilst also meeting with suppliers and potential business partners. My business associate during the early stages was my 12-month-old daughter Ella, and together we built the company from scratch, taking one baby-step at a time.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
After the first six months of working fully with my new business idea, I made the mistake of asking for some help from my husband Donald, who at the time was working in the energy & utility sector. But I must admit, this so-called “mistake” turned out to be the best decision ever! My husband ended up joining EVA Global full-time and we are now growing a family company together.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would not have been able to get through the start-up journey of launching my company without the continuous help from my entire family. Having such a strong support team behind me on the home front is one of the strongest assets there can be. I am also very grateful to my father-in-law Laurie, who ditched his sunny retirement plans and rolled up his sleeves to oversee the quality of the operations at EVA Global.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
What we could probably agree on is that geographical, political, ethnic, economic and social dimensions all interact in some measure to either work against or for women finding their place in the business world. The various barriers to the opportunity of becoming a female founder are different for different groups of women around the world. Personally, having opened offices in several countries around Europe, my experience as a female entrepreneur in each of these was really quite different from each other. To put it delicately, some were far more pleasant than others.
Although, as mentioned, a lot of progress has been achieved over the years, the reality is that there is a profound historical and power-ridden structure of inequality and prejudice that aspiring female founders have to overcome. Undoubtedly, what occurs to me as one of the most significant, concrete and measurable examples of such behaviors is access to investment. Women have proven to produce higher returns on investments, but men continue to raise more than 50 times the investment capital women do. You’re right, this doesn’t make sense. How can it be that a group showing a higher success rate is so under-represented? Can our society afford what is simply lost opportunity and, in economic terms, lost assets as a result of restricting access to financial support? This is effectively shutting down innovation and the potential that women can offer our communities around the world.
As a society, we also must acknowledge and address the overexposure of perceived male qualities dominating the perception of “good business”. In general, we have desensitized risk as an accepted downside of men doing business, whilst undervaluing the potential of perceived female qualities of security. Amongst the concrete examples in numbers and fact, there are also many abstract or hidden biases that intrinsically act as a gate shutting women out from entrepreneurship. What this comes down to is a pressure and expectation on women to outperform their male counterparts for the same prize.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
On an individual level, I would say one of the most powerful tools we have is educating our children to respect and enjoy what difference offers, whether this be those between genders or otherwise. Moving in the direction of equality is reliant on breaking down empty and unfounded biases and stereotyped gender roles and professions by making sure we embrace diversity in all its power and beauty.
Culturally, I would say it is essential to focus a spotlight on women who are making a difference in the world. To do so is to normalize seeing women in power, as decision-makers. Also important for the ‘here and now’ is women empowering women and men empowering women in any capacity they can that will lead to a fairer and more lucrative playing field for us all.
On a societal level, there is always more space for promoting female leadership through investing in “open to all” as well as customized facilities, training and mentoring programs, workshops, cultural and artistic events that highlight the obstacles women and minorities face in entering the business world and how these barriers should be tackled. This is exactly what the Female Founders First program by Techstars and Barclays has achieved through the six-week mentoring program in 2020.
The role of governments is to quicken the pace of this change whilst being representative of it. Making sure women have equal access to positions of leadership means increasing access for women through direct investment in competitive opportunities as well as all the steps needed to get there, most importantly education.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women are underrepresented in positions of power and business leadership, everywhere. As women, we should find fierce motivation in breaking down outdated perceptions of gender roles by normalizing our presence as decision-makers in every sector out there. As the female founder of EVA Global, I entered the traditionally male-dominated industry of transport in 2017. But I must say I am optimistic and encouraged to see that a great power behind new green mobility is its youth. As a young industry, it is jammed-packed with start-ups that are intent on revolutionizing an industry, not reshaping an old one. Not solely in terms of its mission but also the people making up the teams for change.
Since launching EVA three years ago it is truly wonderful to see the diversity this industry is harnessing for its own purposes, and I myself would say we are fortunate at EVA, to have 80% female managers and our team represent over 20 nationalities.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?
Having all the answers all the time is one of my favorite myths to dispel. As a leader, it is your task to create a pool of talent, motivate and inspire your team to create something amazing together. This leads back to diversifying that group of people as much as possible. A rich team from different backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, cultures and genders will mean you have a much wider perspective on your audience to find novel solutions. The more consciously representative, the bigger the impact your company will have.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
I would have to say no. Many people have fantastic ideas, visions and solutions but do not have what it takes to execute them. It is not that they lack a bright mind or that their ideas are not good enough. It is simply that it takes a huge amount of grit, perseverance, determination, and a huge tolerance for risk to start-up a business. The hurdles of starting a business are often unexpected and reacting to these in an efficient and effective way is what will make or break the business and your spirit. That is why, again, making sure you have a strong team behind you is absolutely essential. The positive side of this is that grit is a conscious decision, a skill that may take time to master but which does not exclude anyone.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Failing is good and makes you grow. There is a lot of stigma around failure, whereas I really believe it is something that should be praised. If you failed, it means you tried. There will be times when it did not go the way you wanted or expected, but the lessons taken from disappointment heighten instinct as well as knowledge. That is incredibly powerful and exactly what you need for the next adventure.
- There will always be people who can’t see the opportunity you do. Don’t let yourself get dragged down and discouraged by others’ skepticism. What can be better than seeing someone you appreciate come round to seeing that you were right all along! Sharing the vision is what it is all about.
- Time is the most valuable asset you have, use it wisely. Your team is deserving of this time, they are the people lifting your vision off the ground.
- Don’t close the door on people. This is not to say you need to say “yes” all the time. But giving people the chance to share their ideas can lead to exciting new propositions that can take you and your business to places of unexpected opportunity.
- Take care of yourself! With all the pressure that comes with starting and running a business, it is easy to backbench your well-being. Looking after your body is looking after your mind, and that’s your key to success!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
The vision behind founding EVA Global in 2017 was to accelerate the transition to zero-emission mobility by delivering the very best electric car experience to drivers. I am proud that through our solution we are able to install trust in clean transport systems every single day of the year, as well as form a part of an ecosystem that is building sustainable solutions for our future generations.
So, in brief, yes, …make the world a better place? That’s what we’re all about at EVA!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Electrification of mobility is a movement in its own right. It has taken a lot of development and exposure to convince the general public that electric cars can provide them with an even better experience than traditional offerings, while also making the best choice for the environment. It is true, purchases have sky-rocketed over the past couple of years but there is still some way to go to make EVs mainstream. Our team attends and speaks at e-mobility events on a regular basis to promote a customer-centric approach to zero-emission mobility.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Cathy Zoi, CEO of EVGo, the US’s largest fast-charging network for electric vehicles. She is the former Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at the U.S. Department of Energy. She is an inspirational female leader, and we share together a passion for zero-emission mobility.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.