With her little Nokia 3310 in pocket, nothing predestined Pashû Christensen to a career in technological innovation and the startup ecosystem.
Can you tell us a little more about your career path?
I got a bachelor's degree in international economics at the University of Barcelona and a master's in development economics at Paris-Dauphine and began my career at the French Embassy in Ecuador. I then worked for three years in a consulting firm in Paris before setting up a news website on sustainable development for a company called Reworld. It was so successful that it was bought by a major media group! Then, after several interviews with a subsidiary of Médecins sans Frontières, I was sent as head of mission to Indonesia, after the tsunami, to manage a health education program. A few months later, the government decided to withdraw all NGOs and UN agencies. So we pulled out and I left for San Francisco.
The United States… talk about a contrast! After being surrounded by burkas and madrassas, now it was peace and love, Haight- Ashbury and of course the optimistic, innovative and disruptive tech culture!
Everything was new to me, I had everything to do and learn over again! JI worked for Rebellion Lab and Orange Labs, where we organized learning expeditions for executive committee members from CAC40 companies on current issues: big data, data privacy, the future of banking, Retail 2.0 etc.
Subsequently, I wanted to get to the heart of the matter and I joined a Silicon Valley investment fund that had an innovative concept of setting up big data start-ups on a B2B basis. It was a huge success!
After more than three years in Palo Alto, I decided to move closer to where I was living, taking over as head of PARISOMA, one of the world's longest-established co-working spaces. It's an inspirational place full of life and events for gems in the making.
Before I finally moved back to Europe, I worked for EIT Digital, part of the European Commission, where I developed a network of European companies and entrepreneurs looking to set up overseas, in particular the United States.
In parallel with my career, and bringing up two California-born children under three years old, I founded a start-up with three friends in the food technology sector. Maize is an app for finding street food vendors such as food trucks and home chefs –very popular in the Bay Area- in real time. The app is currently available for IPhone and Android and has hundreds of referenced vendors in the region all in real time!
Today, you work at the thecamp Accelerator in charge of sourcing and outreach…
Yes. One day, when I was still in San Francisco, I saw an article in a French newspaper. The article was about a third place for people – who had never met each other- to get together and discuss, exchange and build a more sustainable and inclusive future together.
thecamp hadn't yet been built last spring, but the vision immediately struck a chord with me. In San Francisco, I was in awe of all the technological advances, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit, but I was also skeptical of a bubble in which everyone looked the same and diversity and opening up to the outside world were not high on the list of priorities.
On the other hand, thecamp provides these dimensions needed to create solutions for a more sustainable and inclusive future. And I also wanted to come back to my home country -which I didn't really know, since I'd left it at the age of six months. I also wanted to introduce my young children to the French language and French culture. Plus, coming to Provence from California, it speaks for itself... the climate, geographical location, the light!
What are the leitmotifs in your life?
I like to help others grow. Having a positive impact on the people I meet is something that gives me energy. At the thecamp Accelerator, I'm in charge –among other things- of sourcing quality start-ups, focusing on Europe, Eastern Europe and Africa. On the other side, I recruit eminent mentors to provide these young start-ups with expert advice to help them grow.
If you had to recommend two speeches to our readers…?
Simon Sinek's "Start with Why". It's one I like to share with entrepreneurs I work with, since they very often tend to talk about their solutions, their products, but forget to make people dream, get them to adhere to their perspective, their vision!
The other one would be one by my friend Nora Poggi, which she gave at the TedX Barcelona, about her documentary She Started It. The aim of the speech is to create models of women entrepreneurs for young girls in order to reinforce their confidence! Brilliant.
What consequences, if any, has your being a women had on your professional career?
I'd say I've been very lucky. In California, I worked with a lot of men (that's the way tech is…). When I arrived at the Hive, the founder promised me the job would allow me to put together an amazing network and to acquire genuine technical and strategic skills for accelerating start-ups into B2B entities. He quickly put his trust in me, put me in the forefront, gave me a portfolio of sponsors to manage and that's how we launched one of the largest data scientist networks in the United States.
When I was pregnant for the first time, he offered me a promotion, a raise and more flexible working hours.
A year later, when I told him I was expecting again, he congratulated me once more and offered me another promotion plus one day off in the week. I've never loved my job, a team, so much and I've given my best to make sure all our actions are successful. In the end, having both a balanced lifestyle and responsibility means I'm efficient in my job and grateful. Still today, few people, especially those managing companies in which both stress levels and expectations are high, understand this approach. But attitudes are slowly starting to change all over the world.
For you, what qualities does a woman entrepreneur need?
Like any entrepreneur, a woman entrepreneur needs tenacity, the ability to create a network and to not hesitate to call on and use that network. We don't get anywhere on our own, networks are vital, since they include influencers, investors and future clients. You always have to listen, accept help and help selflessly.
The karma I've seen in action is a genuine force in Silicon Valley and I really believe in it.
One last thought?
Don’t empower women, just recognize they are powerful :).