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When you go to a kid’s birthday party, you might expect to meet a magician or a balloon modeller and head home with some chocolate cake wrapped in a napkin. You wouldn’t expect to meet a business partner. But that’s what happened to Dahlia Dajani, brand manager and mum of three, and Elena Rogari, commercial analyst and mum of one.

Together, they co-founded DE Startup Lab, through which they run events, e-courses and an online community for women who want to start a business. They use Starling to manage their finances.

“We realised that there was a real need to help women and especially mums get into business,” says Elena, 38. “After having a baby, your whole world changes and confidence is the one big thing that goes straight through the floor. We want women to believe in themselves. They have amazing products and ideas and we want to help them gain the confidence and know-how to start with simple steps.”

Starting out in business

Even when you’ve bucked up the courage to start working on your business, there are lots of easy (and expensive) mistakes that many people make. “We spoke to several women who had all spent a ridiculous amount of money on websites, logos and products they hadn’t tested and they regretted it,” says Dahlia, 40. “Your business idea could change so much - a website isn’t what you need right at the beginning.”

What you do need is customer feedback, a business plan and a network. “Talk to people - not family and friends because they’ll give you positive reviews. Ask strangers,” says Elena.

Dahlia and Elena smile in a portrait
Dahlia (left) and Elena (right), co-founders of De Startup Lab

“We met one woman who spent all her savings on an app that wasn’t tested properly and didn’t work out,” explains Dahlia. The lesson that she learned is one that Dahlia and Elena want to pass on to others: “Always start lean, do a business plan of the minimum viable product and get out networking. When you go to an event, you’ll always come back having learned something.”

Community and accessibility

A common problem for mothers who want to start a business is that they need to find time and childcare to attend those networking events. But DE Startup Lab wants to change that. “Our events are child-friendly,” says Elena.

Their recent event, Mama Starts, covered rights on maternity leave, tips for starting a business or going freelance and what the transition into motherhood could mean for your mental health. “We always advocate self-care in our programmes - do your journaling, go for a walk, meditate, whatever works for you,” she says.

“We talk about looking after yourself so that people don’t get burned out,” says Dahlia, who knows how gruelling running a business can be. In 2016, she set up a co-working space and nursery in Shoreditch while raising three young children.

“Social media has given lots of people the courage to start their own business. But the caveat is that it’s not always as sexy as it seems. You don’t start and then the next day you have thousands rolling into your bank account. It takes hard work and grit. And when it’s really tough, we want people to know what makes them feel better so that they can bounce back relatively quickly,” she says.

Something that they both find hugely helpful is surrounding themselves with other women who understand their struggles. “Women shouldn’t be competing against each other, they should be supporting one another,” says Elena.

A business born of necessity

She began her career as an auditor, before becoming a commercial analyst. “When I had my little boy, I decided as lots of mums do, that I didn’t want to go back to work full-time but there was nothing in my field that enabled me to go part-time.”

Dahlia and Elena smile in a portrait
DE Startup Lab runs courses and events for women

Dahlia had a similar experience in brand management. “I found it really hard to get back into work after taking a two-year break to have my family. I got a freelance job working from home but I felt really isolated. I set up a co-working space in my local church and arranged for nannies to be there so it became a pop-up nursery as well.” The business developed into a stand-alone nursery but came to an end when the building was being demolished.

DE Startup Lab is not only their way of working in a fulfilling, flexible way, it’s how they help other women do the same. “We give women concise information and a community of experts to save them time sifting through everything on the internet. We’ve had a whole host of women come our way. We’ve seen everything from a foreign exchange business to pasta making classes,” Dahlia explains.

Female-led banking

As an analyst, Elena did a lot of research before choosing to bank with Starling. “I looked at all the business bank accounts out there against lots of criteria - having a debit card, low fees, ease of opening, taking out and depositing money at the Post Office,” she says. Starling ticked all the boxes.

“We also like how you can create your own pockets of money in Goals and that invoicing integrates really well,” adds Dahlia. For them, Starling being the first UK bank to be founded by a woman was another bonus. “We always want to support female-led businesses.”

Find out more about DE Startup Lab.

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