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    Serial Entrepreneur Sarah Dusek Shares The Biggest Challenge Female Business Owners Face: Playing It Safe

    Serial Entrepreneur Sarah Dusek Shares The Biggest Challenge Female Business Owners Face: Playing It Safe

    Sarah Dusek is a managing partner and co-founder of Enygma Ventures, a private investment fund that supports and invests in African women-led businesses.

    Since Enygma’s inception in 2019, over 5,000 entrepreneurs have gone through Enygma’s investor-ready programs to learn how to build valuable companies.

    Sarah aims to demystify the complicated and often inaccessible world of funding. Making capital accessible for women helps them deliver outstanding business outcomes and drive economic and social progressive change. Her new book, Thinking Bigger: A Pitch-Deck Formula for Women Who Want to Change the World (Georgetown University Press, September 2, 2024), positions women to get the financing they need to scale their endeavors and change the world.

    In 2009, she founded the leading upscale outdoor hospitality brand Under Canvas, which sold in 2018 for over $100 million. Under Canvas received a spot on the coveted Inc. 5000 list in 2017, and in the same year, Sarah was also named to Ernst & Young’s EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women list as a forward-thinker and changemaker. In 2022, Sarah launched a $600 million capital vehicle to drive conservation efforts globally, one of the largest investment vehicles of its kind in the world. Her latest venture is the sustainable eco-lodging Few and Far Collection.

    Sarah believes in the power of leveraging challenging circumstances to propel forward change. At the helm of Enygma Ventures, she led the development of a special program in 2020 to help redefine systemic issues for female leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company selected 11 female entrepreneurs from a pool of 9000 applicants, ultimately investing $10 million in women-led startups in the Southern African Development Community region.

    Sarah contributes to Forbes, The Telegraph, and TRT World. She is chairwoman of the Women’s Giving Circle for The Global Good Fund, a social entrepreneurship leadership development program. She sits on the board of 10 and rising startup companies in Africa, as well as Under Canvas. Sarah has a Bachelor of Laws from Exeter U.K., and a master’s degree in missiology from the University of Manchester. She divides her time between the U.S. and South Africa with her husband, Jacob Dusek, and their two children. In her free time, Sarah enjoys traveling and spending time in nature.

    Learn about Sarah’s early entrepreneurial journey, advice for women in business, and her latest ventures.

    Tell us a bit about you. Where is home?  

    I live in Cape Town, South Africa, with my husband, Jacob, and our two sons. We split our time between South Africa and the United States.

    Has business or entrepreneurship always been your career plan? 

    Not exactly – In fact, when we started Under Canvas in 2008, my understanding of growing and scaling a business was quite minimal. We launched with just a small gift from my husband’s family and a big idea—recreating the safari experience in the United States. Back then, it was more about passion and a belief in our idea than a calculated career path.

    One of the fondest memories from those early days, which also stands as a significant lesson, was the realization that not knowing everything at the beginning can actually be a strength rather than a weakness. It allowed us to approach problems with a fresh perspective and innovate our way through challenges. We literally started by putting one foot in front of the other, learning from each misstep, and slowly figuring out what worked. This hands-on, trial-and-error approach was instrumental in Under Canvas becoming the largest glamping company in the US.

    I also learned to value failures. In the early stages, we faced numerous challenges—things weren’t working out as planned, sales were not picking up, and progress was slow. It was during these times that I learned how crucial it is to embrace these failures. Each setback taught us something valuable, helping us refine our approach and propel our business forward.

    So, in retrospect, this journey into entrepreneurship was shaped by embracing the unknown, valuing the lessons learned from failures, and steadily pushing forward. These experiences have shaped my business acumen and ingrained a resilience and adaptability that define my leadership style today.

    What inspired your co-founding of Enygma Ventures? What’s a day in your life like for you? 

    The inspiration for co-founding Enygma Ventures was deeply personal and stemmed from my experiences as a female founder. I understood firsthand how challenging it could be for women to raise capital and build large companies. Throughout my journey, I encountered a scarcity of supportive investors committed to backing female entrepreneurs. After selling my previous company in 2018, I seized the opportunity to become the kind of investor I once needed, leading to the launch of Enygma Ventures in 2019.

    Our mission at Enygma Ventures is to level the playing field by investing in ambitious female entrepreneurs who are often overlooked. We’re not just funding businesses; we’re building a movement to create equality for women in the business world. This commitment empowers women to rise, build big, and contribute significantly to our society. I believe that enabling more women to take on roles as influencers and leaders can make the world a better place for everyone.

    A day in my life as a managing partner at Enygma Ventures is driven by this mission. Each day is about more than just financial transactions; it’s about mentoring, strategizing, and pushing boundaries. What motivates me daily is the potential to effect real change—seeing a woman entrepreneur take her seat at the table, watching her company grow and disrupt the market, and knowing that we played a part in that. This vision of a more inclusive and equitable business landscape is what fuels my passion and dedication as a managing partner.

    What prompted your interest in investing in women-led businesses?

    My interest in investing in women-led businesses was prompted by my experiences as a female founder facing significant capital-raising challenges. I discovered a passion for closing inequality gaps for women when I realized how difficult it was for women to secure large sums of capital and build substantial businesses. This realization came during my entrepreneurial journey, where I often felt the lack of support and mentorship that could have propelled my ventures further.

    After selling my company in 2018, I was determined to change this landscape for other women. In 2019, we launched Enygma Ventures to invest in and support female entrepreneurs. This initiative wasn’t just about providing financial backing and the mentorship and network support I found lacking during my early days. I am driven by the belief that empowering women to build big and successful businesses can create a more equitable and thriving economic environment for everyone. By investing in women-led businesses, I aim to bridge the gender gap in entrepreneurship and ensure that women have the opportunity to become influential leaders and innovators in their industries.

    Any unique perspective on imposter syndrome? 

    Imposter syndrome is a universal experience many women face in personal and professional settings. In fact, it was something I struggled with myself at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey.

    Imposter syndrome significantly impacts women entrepreneurs by embedding deep-seated doubts about their skills and achievements, particularly in male-dominated sectors like technology. This syndrome extends beyond personal insecurity, acting as a systemic issue that stifles a woman’s ability to assert her authority and claim space in her industry.

    For women leading startups, imposter syndrome can lead to minimizing their accomplishments and hesitating to set ambitious goals, impacting business growth through hesitance in seeking funding or forming strategic partnerships. The continuous self-doubt, often fueled by being frequently the only woman in the room, can make these entrepreneurs question their worth and the uniqueness of their ideas.

    Addressing imposter syndrome requires a dual approach…

    personally, women need to recognize these feelings, challenge their negative self-talk with positive affirmations, and celebrate every win, big or small.

    Structurally, the entrepreneurial ecosystem must evolve to support women better, offering more mentorship opportunities and showcasing successful female entrepreneurs as integral figures in the industry.

    Ultimately, combating imposter syndrome isn’t just about individual women overcoming barriers; it’s about transforming the entrepreneurial landscape to foster an environment where women can thrive confidently and visibly, enriching the entire community by ensuring diverse perspectives are valued and elevated.

    What’s your top advice for women looking to get into business ownership?

    Pace Yourself: Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and be mindful of how you expend your energy. Early on, I wish someone had told me just how successful I could be, which might have eased the pressure and allowed me to focus more on steady progress rather than immediate results.

    Believe in Yourself and Dream Big: Confidence is crucial. Had I believed I would succeed from the start, it would have alleviated much of the stress and tension. Believing in your success is not just about optimism; it’s a foundational aspect of enduring the journey and overcoming obstacles with less strain.

    Enjoy the Journey: Entrepreneurship is not only about reaching milestones or the pinnacle moments of success. These peaks are brief, and before you know it, you’re onto the next challenge. Learn to find joy in the process—the daily grind, the small victories, and even the setbacks. Each phase teaches you something valuable.

    Know When to Let Go: A critical business skill is knowing when to move on from what’s not working. Whether it’s a strategy, a product, or even a business partnership, the ability to let go and pivot is essential for long-term success. Being adaptable and responsive to change can make all the difference.

    Accept the Emotional Rollercoaster: Finally, understand that the entrepreneurial journey is filled with highs and lows. You will face days of discouragement but also moments of great triumph. Know that these emotional fluctuations are a normal part of the process. Don’t hesitate to seek help; reaching out for support is a strength, not a weakness.

    By embracing these principles, women can more effectively navigate the complexities of business ownership and enjoy a more fulfilling entrepreneurial journey. Remember, each step, whether forward or backward, is part of your growth and learning in this exciting path of entrepreneurship.

    The Fox Magazine is all about inspiration. What or who inspired you the most?

    So many people have inspired me throughout my life, and many African women I am working with now inspire me daily with their tenacity, vision, and determination to help Africa leap forward. Ultimately, we must see role models in the world to help us believe what is possible. Seeing people who look like us doing big things in the world helps us dream bigger, think bigger, and imagine that the impossible could be possible.

    As a young girl, I imagined myself as Princess Leia, who was not the stereotypical princess waiting for a prince to save her. Princess Leia was a swashbuckling warrior who was not afraid to take on big fights, take on the empire, and win. Her determination inspired me as a child so that I, too, could fight the evils in our world and triumph.

    Ultimately, my faith inspires my actions in the world and gives me the courage to take on fights that are bigger than me. My faith pushes me to fight for change and to build a better world for all of us.

    What would people be surprised to learn about you then and now?

    I started my career working for non-profit organizations, first in Zimbabwe and later in the Far East. During my time in the Far East, I learned to speak reasonably good Mandarin Chinese—although it’s pretty rusty these days! I still love learning new languages and immersing myself in other cultures. These experiences in non-Western cultures have made my life richer and quite the adventure!

    Share more about your upcoming project, Few and Far Collection.

    As we embark on this new journey, we are driven by a mission to transform our world for good. Through Few & Far, we aim not just to help travelers explore but to preserve and protect. The heart of our vision is to connect deeply with nature to inspire the same level of respect and awe that guides all our experiences.

    Few and Far was not created to be simply another travel company; it’s a passion project aimed at redefining how we explore the world while making a positive impact. Each trip will be carbon neutral, and we partner with local communities and organizations to ensure that our adventures support conservation initiatives and empower local economies.

    Imagine traversing through breathtaking landscapes, diving into vibrant ecosystems, and immersing yourself in diverse cultures—all while knowing your travel dollars actively contribute to conservation efforts worldwide.

    What is your favorite motto, quote, or words to live by?

    One of my favorite quotes, which captures the essence of self-belief and personal potential, comes from an unexpectedly profound source, the animated film Kung Fu Panda:

    “There are no secret ingredients in life. You shouldn’t wait for any kind of magic or miracle or approval from anyone. Everything there is lies already within you.

    You can achieve anything you want, turn every dream into reality if you just believe in yourself. You just have to believe.”


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