Zineb Bensaid, Vice President - Head of Market Intelligence, ISFIN

Zineb Bensaïd is an international woman entrepreneur and an expert in emerging markets and international trade. She is co-founder of the tech investment matching platform Dealfox in Luxembourg.
She has been the Head of the Intelligence Economic/Market Department of ISFIN for 10 years, a strategic advisory company active in over 80 countries. She advises corporations, banks, and public agencies in successful business with emerging markets while passionately guiding women entrepreneurs. Additionally, she is the country director in Luxembourg for WIT. She is a board member at OWIT. She is also a member of the French Founders a network of c-suite French-speaking professionals.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Zineb shared her professional trajectory, her most favorite aspect of her current role, insights on the biggest challenges faced by women in tech and how to overcome them, her secret to striking a work-life balance, hobbies and interests, future plans, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Zineb. Please tell us about your background and areas of interest.

I lived in Morocco until I was 18 years old. After obtaining my high school diploma with a specialization in Mathematics at a Moroccan French high school, I decided to move to France to continue my studies. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics & Finance and a master’s degree in International Economics and Management. I chose to specialize in Competitive Intelligence & Strategy. I have always been interested in discovering new cultures, exploring different sectors, and socializing with people. Utilizing my diverse expertise, I joined a public agency in Belgium that assists Belgian companies in their international expansion, primarily focusing on emerging markets. I worked with Belgian companies in various sectors such as food, pharmaceuticals, and services in the Southeast Asian region. Additionally, I gained valuable insights into the participative finance sector, which led me to engage with an advisory company called ISFIN, specializing in emerging markets. I am actively involved in numerous associations and networks as a volunteer, sharing my experiences as a mentor and exchanging views and knowledge across different fields. This involvement allows me to be part of international networks and benefit from the experiences of other professionals I meet, contributing to more impactful work. I firmly believe that sharing successful or failure experiences with others is essential for growth and learning from the resilience of others. I am also deeply committed to ‘He for She’ and ‘She for She’ mentoring initiatives. Psychology and personal development are areas of keen interest for me as they are crucial for my entrepreneurial and personal journey.

What is your most favorite aspect of your role as Vice President – Head of Market Intelligence at ISFIN?

I have worked on numerous advisory projects as an external consultant for public authorities in the trade sector, conducting strategic studies for them. Additionally, I have been involved in operational tasks, facilitating B2B matchmaking between Belgian companies and foreign counterparts during missions in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia regions. As an external consultant, I have also managed government-to-government relations.

To accomplish these objectives, we established a one-stop shop of services, including a network of law firms, accounting firms, investors, and service providers, enabling us to implement global/local strategies by leveraging the expertise of the best professionals in the field. Furthermore, I was responsible for facilitating deals between clients seeking financing and potential investors.

My favorite aspect of my job is collaborating with others, exchanging ideas, learning from each individual, and creating successful investment stories through negotiations while bringing my international strategic knowledge to my clients. The cornerstone of my work lies in the relationships I build with professionals, rooted in trust and mutual growth!

You are the Chief Knowledge Officer at DealFox Pro. Can you please tell us about this platform and your role in it?

I am one of the co-founders of Dealfox Pro and also hold a position on the executive board of the company in Luxembourg. Luxembourg has only 6% of female founders among approximately 550 startups identified in the country, and I am one of them! I worked with my business partner, Laurent MARLIERE, in the advisory sector for over 10 years before we decided to create this new company. At Dealfox, we specialize in deal origination for regulated professionals and investors. DealFox™ is a digital platform facilitating matchmaking among 80,000 professionals seeking or offering investment opportunities. Before deals are finalized, they must be originated. Unlike the structured process of deal making, deal origination often occurs in an unstructured and intuitive manner among professionals. DealFox™ transforms this stage by professionalizing and structuring deal origination, significantly enhancing the entire commercial process of your company. As for my role, I oversee all aspects of the company’s operations, from administrative tasks to digital marketing expertise, data management, and more. I have always been a fast learner and utilized my multitasking skills extensively to achieve my entrepreneurial goals. I prefer to stay well-informed about all aspects of the company to maintain a comprehensive view that enables me to make informed decisions. My strength within the company lies in the trust relationships I build with each client and strategic partner.

How do you determine what technology to invest in, and where to build in-house? How do you keep track of the technology trends at the moment? Do you have the flexibility that you need to explore various tech options out there?

We decided to draw inspiration from existing technologies in the matchmaking sector that were present on the market and adapt them to our model. We created our own algorithm instead of using existing third-party structures to build our matchmaking deals tech platform. We have an internal CTO, Santiago Malter-Terrada, who manages all technical aspects of the platform and also possesses strong business expertise in the digital sector, enabling him to have a global view and strong technological expertise.

Having a proficient technologist audit expert can help assess whether the technology is worth investing in or not. I strongly believe that while technology is essential in the tech sector, what truly drives your business is making good or bad decisions, building trust relationships internally and externally, your ability to react to changes, and most importantly, your network and your ability to identify collaboration opportunities with each person you meet.

As a competitive intelligence expert, it gives me the capacity to monitor and benchmark different technologies that can complement our business, as well as have a good understanding of the international tech market. Curiosity about new tools and fast learning capacity remain key components that can help determine if the technology is good or not.

How do you interpret buzzwords like Big Data, digital transformation and artificial intelligence? Do you think buzzwords create some sort of outside value in creating greater awareness with the general public?

I believe that Big Data, Digital Transformation, and Artificial Intelligence are no longer just buzzwords; they are fully integrated into the market. Failing to integrate them into your business strategy now could lead to failure, akin to ignoring the current market trends. To effectively compete against your competitors, you must recognize the necessity of integration and the competitive advantage it offers within your existing processes.

The challenge for the general public lies in democratizing the understanding of these buzzwords. This understanding is influenced by factors such as generational differences, access to digital markets, and availability of information. However, I believe the most crucial aspect for the general public is recognizing the necessity of policy changes and understanding their impact on the current market.

What was the wisest advice you received from a mentor? What would you pass on to your mentees?

Having mentored interns and mentees for a long time during my free time, I always emphasize the importance of working on oneself, building self-confidence, and fostering a curiosity for learning. These aspects are essential for developing both personal and professional skills. I am a proponent of personal development and emotional intelligence. Ultimately, effective leadership and people management are the key factors for growth. Understanding each individual’s strengths, weaknesses, and cultural backgrounds, and supporting their growth while promoting a flexible work environment that balances personal and professional life, is how you can build a strong team.

I also stress the importance of embracing failure. While failure may seem daunting, it is an integral part of the entrepreneurial journey. You often learn and gain valuable experiences more from failure than from success.

Additionally, I emphasize the significance of networking. Building and nurturing connections with others is crucial for success. Creating and fostering links between people is paramount in both personal and professional endeavors.

You are also Country Director – Luxembourg at WOMEN IN TECH. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest addressing this?

To amplify my industry voice and contribute to reducing gender gaps, I joined the Women in Tech (WIT) Global movement. Being involved in startups and collaborating with various stakeholders in Luxembourg, it was important for me to support existing initiatives in the sector. Local associations and initiatives such as WIDE (Women in Digital Empowerment) are already active and making significant strides in the Luxembourg market. Luxinnovation and the Luxembourg government are also implementing numerous policies to address the gender gap index.

By participating in Women in Tech as an international and global movement, my goal was to showcase and promote Luxembourg initiatives on a global scale.

In my experience working in sectors such as tech, international trade, and finance, I’ve observed numerous barriers that women face, not only in these industries but in others as well. These barriers include the absence of female role models, lack of familial support to step out of their comfort zones, limited access to training or education (which can be exacerbated when there are no role models within their families), and a lack of trust and self-confidence to pursue strategic positions. Additionally, there’s often a misconception that women will not succeed in male-dominated sectors.

Addressing these challenges requires collaboration between the private and public sectors to create policies and initiatives that support women’s professional and personal growth. This can include coaching and mentoring programs in universities and schools, promoting role models in educational settings, fostering open discussions about issues women face in the workplace, and establishing labs and incubators for women entrepreneurs seeking to start their own businesses, especially when they are considering career redirection.

On the public side, supporting women facing difficulties such as divorce or other personal issues, providing grants to cover childcare expenses to enable women to pursue their entrepreneurial projects, and creating support systems tailored to women’s needs are crucial.

It’s essential to view this as a comprehensive system that requires ongoing review and improvement. Supporting associations that execute public policies, providing free access to knowledge and support services, and establishing helplines for women to address their concerns and receive guidance are fundamental steps in ensuring women feel supported and empowered to navigate their professional journeys.

The meaning of leadership can change from one era to the other, how would you define the meaning of leadership today?

To cultivate effective leadership, it’s crucial to begin with self-awareness and a deep understanding of oneself, encompassing diverse experiences that resonate with a wide range of individuals. Leaders must also comprehend the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, assigning roles and tasks accordingly to prevent frustration. As a leader, it’s essential to listen to concerns without judgment, recognizing that each person has their own unique personality and background. Building trust and fostering open communication through a transparent management style is paramount.

Every individual’s experience can trigger past fears, requiring reassurance, attentive listening, and collaborative problem-solving. Operating within a team is akin to managing a big family, necessitating the facilitation of connections among team members.

Maintaining a diplomatic and impartial stance during conflicts is crucial, allowing individuals to express their needs and concerns freely. Flexibility in managing work-life balance is key, prioritizing results over specific task execution methods.

Additionally, bridging generational gaps requires respect, tolerance, and understanding. Coaching and training on diverse perspectives, including cultural differences, are vital for leveraging the enriching diversity within the team. Open and authentic communication fosters an environment where team members can embrace their true selves without societal constraints.

In this context, theater can be a valuable tool. I recall a theater teacher who once emphasized the importance of self-awareness for actors to remain authentic. Similarly, in leadership, understanding oneself deeply enables genuine connections and authentic growth within the team.

What is your secret to striking a work-life balance?

Achieving a perfect balance between work and personal matters is challenging, if not impossible. I believe the key lies in the quality of your personal relationships, fostering independence, effective communication, and understanding within those relationships. As a single mother managing two companies, I’ve learned to prioritize organization and surround myself with individuals who can assist me with daily personal tasks. My daughter is an integral part of my life, and I communicate with her frequently about my work and its significance. I firmly believe in the importance of quality time and being available for others, ensuring that each aspect of my life has its designated place within my organization.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve developed a strong sense of flexibility that allows me to navigate and balance my personal and professional commitments. While the support of friends and family is invaluable, I refuse to let my work ambitions dictate my family life. It’s essential to carve out time for oneself to remain grounded and available for others. Disconnecting from work is crucial, and practices such as meditation, yoga, or running can facilitate this process. Ultimately, everyone must find their own method of disconnecting to fully focus on their personal lives.

How do you like to spend your time when you are not working?

I love sports activities such as Zumba, yoga, HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training), padel, and running. These activities contribute to maintaining a healthy mindset and provide me with ample energy.

I find joy in painting, reading books, traveling, and spending time with friends.

Where would you like to be in the next 5 years?

I want to grow my company and have people of different nationalities and genders join me on this adventure!

I also aim to set impactful goals with my company and the various associations, volunteer organizations, and causes that I’m part of and passionate about.

I believe you cannot stop learning, and I look forward to discovering more and improving my skills!

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