Karen Boers : it’s very lonely at the top- a woman who was bashed, thrashed, ignored, laughed at and bullied, but made it on her own terms

What is the reality of being a Business Woman at the top of your game?
Karen Boers  is the co-founder and Managing Director of Startups.be  – a unique organization which supports startups in Belgium. Karen is also a board member and former CEO of the European Startup Network.

Entrepreneurs are known for their desire to lead a meaningful life. Finding the spark of ikigai is key to entrepreneurial fulfilment. What drives you and keeps you motivated and focus when times are tough?

 I thrive on societal purpose – as long as I feel I am contributing to creating a better life for someone (and preferably a lot of people) I can throw myself through a brick wall. Whenever I’m in doubt I try to focus again on the why – or rather the “for whom am I doing this exactly”? As soon as I can visualise the people benefiting from my efforts, I recharge my batteries and keep going.

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Find out why

What ideas come most naturally to you?

I’m a problem solver. Whatever problems people throw at me, I will start looking for solutions, examples of similar problems in another context and how they were solved, who could help fix it… and start testing, failing, learning and improving until I get it right.I’m not a creative in the “artistic” sense of the word but I have become very good at putting pieces of a complicated puzzle together.

What brings you joy in life?

My family & friends, my teams, my learners, my peers… basically people all around me! I feel great when they feel great – enabling their happiness is my life’s mission.

How is your mind hard-wired to deliver a dream, from internal clarity to reality?

I am very goal-oriented. Once I have set myself a target, I can smell it, feel it, sense it and see it – and every move I make will somehow help me get closer to it. Set-backs are OK, as long as you find another route to the target ahead. I try to spend the least possible amount of energy on regrets and negative emotions and keep asking myself: “what is the very next thing I can do to move forward”. Even (or especially) when the goals are big, hairy and audacious, it’s equally important to set out a path of many small steps, each of which are feasible and meaningful and give you gratification.I also try to communicate to my teams on every achievement and win, big and small. They must feel part of the success at all times.

What you can’t get tired of?

Achieving things others told me were impossible…

What are the top challenges you had to overcome?

I want to prove that you can be a social entrepreneur, yet run a healthy, scalable and sustainable business. Combining the purpose of a social mission with zealous business principles, forging public-private partnership to combine the best of both world and building an economic return model to scale and sustain our activities has probably been the biggest professional challenge of my career so far.I’ve also found out it’s very lonely at the top – and especially as a woman. I’ve been bashed, thrashed, ignored, laughed at and bullied. The only way to keep standing in such a continuous and never ending storm is to have someone by your side (in my case my partner) who supports you through the toughest moments and keeps challenging you as well as nurtures you.

What is your best project so far?

The coding school BeCode , since it’s the culmination of all the things I’ve learned from previous projects. We’re building social value, by reskilling job seekers into sought after developers, through an active pedagogy that mostly teaches them how to learn in a technical environment. The training has been certified by the public sector and we work with many industry partners, allowing us to become increasingly independent from philanthropy and subsidies.

What are three top tips for Entrepreneurs who dream big?

1. Stay on target: make sure all your energy and that of your team is being spent on actions that will bring you closer to your goals. Try to eradicate energy-drainers as well as toxic people in your team at all costs.2. Don’t doubt yourself: some will mock you, others will try to scare you out of it and some will even actively sabotage you, especially when you’re becoming successful. You are the only one who can judge yourself: did you dare to dream big? are you truly putting in your best effort? are you getting closer to your goals? Remain authentic and true to yourself and you will get by.3. Hire fast, fire fast. If you’re dreaming big, you will need to experiment, try, test, fail, learn and try again. Your project might change along the way and you will need to shift gear several times. You might make mistakes in hiring and that’s OK. Not everyone in your team is equipped to follow the fast-growth of your project and that’s fine too. Learn to say goodbye when you need to, be transparent and you will be forgiven somewhere down the line…

Would you do what you do without being paid for it?

Probably some of it, although not 70 hours/week – I too have to feed a family (in my case with 5 teenagers) 🙂

What is your wildest dreams? What would you do if you had a magic wand?

I would eradicate the red market from our existence and remind all to focus on achievement and skills rather than mistakes and failure. We would shift around our entire educational framework and upbringing principles.

What is your view on Brexit? How best can Entrepreneurs prepare for it?

I think they will regret it for the rest of their lives. In this global and super-competitive world, we would benefit from building bridges rather than breaking further apart.

You are known for your business mastery. How often do you travel in business? What is your family saying about being away from home?

I used to travel lots more but I cut down on my international involvement to be able to stay close to my family. As I have reached the age my mom had when she died (41), I don’t want to have regrets if ever I would be in the same unfortunate position. I try to love each day so I will not regret it tomorrow (or 10 years from now). 

What is exciting and happening as we speak and is exciting either in your organisation, career or personal life? Can we help you break the news?

We’re trying to raise 2 Mio Euro in working capital to keep scaling the coding school and take it to the next level, adding more advanced training programs on Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity and Cloud development. Which is a challenge as we are a non profit association and therefore cannot provide equity. Stay tuned 🙂

How do you see your vision changing the future, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

I hope we will stop being so scared of all that is different or new. By embracing failure as a lesson learned as well as diversity for a richer perspective, half of the problems on this planet could be resolved!

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Dr Marina Nani
Dr Marina Nani


Dr Nani is the Founder of Sovereign Magazine. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Sovereign's sister publication, Rich Woman Magazine. Passionately advocating for Social Edification, Dr Marina Nani is coining a new industry, MAKE THE NEWS ( MTN) with the aim to diagnose and close the achievement gap globally. Founder of RICH WOMAN SOCIETY™ Marina believes that there is a genius ( Stardust) in each individual, regardless past and present circumstances; "not recognising the talent in each individual, leaves our society at loss. Sharing the good news makes a significant difference on your perception about yourself, your industry and your community."

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