Vivienne van Eijkelenborg is CEO and owner of Difrax. She was businesswoman of the year in 2016 and has been Chair of the European region of the Entrepreneurs' Organization since 2018. This organization has more than 14,000 members worldwide.
Difrax has become an important player on the international market for baby products. Within the Netherlands, Difrax's baby products are available through specialist baby shops, chemists, pharmacies, department stores and on difrax.com.
Difrax is also working hard on promoting itself abroad. Their baby products are already on the shelves in shops in over twenty countries, such as Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia and France. Difrax was one of the winners of the Oranje Trade Mission Fund. Each year, this fund supports 10 entrepreneurs who are highly likely to succeed abroad.
Your mission is to encourage female entrepreneurship. What would be your most significant advice in this regard?
"Women are generally more cautious than men when it comes to doing business. In order to keep growing as an entrepreneur, women often need a push in the right direction, such as through brainstorming with a mentor or attending a training course. These kinds of things can give female entrepreneurs a bit more nerve and confidence to take the next step."
"Then again, I am convinced that you have to keep investing in yourself. You are your company’s most significant capital. It’s your energy and inspiration that will be the decisive factors for your business's success. I believe that investing in your own development requires three things: daring to ask, daring to decide and daring to share. Ask for help wherever you need it and don't just share your successes; share your setbacks as well."
The proportion of Dutch female entrepreneurs taking part in trade missions is low. What can RVO.nl do to get more women involved in trade missions?
"Participating in a trade mission is a typical example of a one-time investment in yourself. As a female entrepreneur, allow yourself to be helped so you can step up to doing business at an international level. For example, the embassy in the country concerned is a vast source of interesting contacts in my experience. They're willing to assist you, so take advantage of that assistance."
"I'd also like to recommend that RVO.nl should bear in mind the home situation of female entrepreneurs; for example, by communicating sooner the fact that there's a trade mission coming up. It's often the case that women have to sort out a lot at home before they are able to go. Giving them plenty of notice – say, six months – will improve their chances to fit a trade mission into their personal agenda."
"RVO.nl could also be more visible within a number of networks in which female entrepreneurs are active; for example, the Womensbizz network, The Next Women, Vrouwen-Ondernemen.nl or WomenInc. I think it is important for women to be aware that other women are going on trade missions. This definitely has the potential to persuade them. If you know that you'll be the only woman, that's more of an obstacle and will be more likely to put women off."
You yourself went on trade missions to Spain, Turkey and India. What advice would you give to women joining the mission?
"My advice to women going on a trade mission would be to give some proper thought beforehand to what you're hoping to achieve. When I went on the trade mission to Spain, I was specifically looking for a suitable distributor. I told the organisation so in advance. Shortly before the mission, I also checked to make sure that it had been included in the programme. Properly setting your objective in advance and properly briefing the organisation will enable you to get an awful lot out of such a trade mission. I'm still working in Spain with contacts that I met during the trade mission."