Women who Inspire with Alexandrine Brami: strengthening female entrepreneurship

Marcello Gonçalves
10 min readFeb 15, 2024
Alexandrine Brami

In the wake of the complexities and promises of the modern world, the landscape of female entrepreneurship in Brazil emerges as an intriguing mosaic of overcome challenges, inspiring achievements, and the constant desire for transformation. As society moves towards gender equality and inclusion, women entrepreneurs have played a pivotal role in this narrative, breaking barriers, paving the way, and reshaping the face of business.

The 2022 Startup Ecosystem Mapping, conducted by the Brazilian Startup Association (Abstartups) in partnership with Deloitte, sheds light on the journey of women who choose to tread the path of autonomy and innovation. The research indicates that only 20% of individuals who founded startups in our country are female. Among the sectors, Edtechs stood out during the period, representing 14.5% of the respondents. These data reflect the lack of support and opportunities for women in entrepreneurship.

Considering this scenario, I invited Alexandrine Brami, who is French, CEO, and co-founder of Lingopass, for an enriching conversation. This innovative startup is dedicated to offering language teaching solutions for global companies through technology. With a focus on English, Spanish, and French, the company guides managers in leveling, developing, and retaining their employees, driving the international expansion of businesses in various spheres.

Now, I invite you to explore the details of this inspiring conversation:

First and foremost, why do women still represent the minority among startup founders?

Alexandrine: One of the main reasons, perhaps, is the legacy of education and career guidance that women have received since childhood. Girls had less encouragement to explore fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, influencing their career choices. When I lived in Paris, I had a teacher who doubted I could pass the entrance exam for the École Normale Supérieure.

This was complex because it mixed humanities with high-level mathematics, but I passed and became a civil servant paid by a kind of French Ministry of Education, receiving a salary, scholarships, and benefits to start a career as a researcher. This allowed me to travel to various countries like Russia and Brazil to attend international conferences and seminars.

I emphasize this point because financial insecurity is a limiting factor for female entrepreneurship in technology, especially in emerging economies like Brazil, where there is little public support for startups and few women in decision-making roles in the venture capital ecosystem.

I say this because there are still unconscious gender biases among venture capital investors. These networks are mostly populated by men with few contacts with women in leadership positions. So, how can we showcase and advocate for our full potential where we are not strongly present?

For this reason, after years of being involved in supporting the development of Brazilian branches of international women’s networks, from Girls in Tech to the Professional Women Network, I joined two angel investor networks. There, I learned how the startup-investor relationship works and demonstrated my value as an entrepreneur-investor.

Being a foreigner, educated in a context where gender equality has been on the public and private agenda for decades, certainly helped me gain more confidence. Today, I seek to encourage other women to advocate for their causes. I believe that female entrepreneurs seeking capital need to start understanding the other side, which is learning how to invest.

“To overthrow a system, one must know its genesis and functioning very well. And to play — and win — the game, you need to explore the flaws in your own rules,” as my economics professor used to say.

If we now add gender, social origin, diploma, age, and culture biases, only an investor with a long-term entrepreneurial vision risks financing a startup founded by a foreign woman, at the age of 45, with a background in Humanities, and who spent 15 years creating a product in bootstrap in the education market.

Here, I am referring to you, Marcello Gonçalves, who was the first to personally respond and schedule a pitch when I announced that I was starting the road show. I contacted 50 funds at the time, most directing the initial contact to a junior professional who analyzed the business fundamentals based on a predefined basic checklist.

Now, you always say that at the early stage, what really makes a difference is the co-founder team and the CEO’s ambidextrous leadership ability because the business will necessarily evolve rapidly and even pivot, especially in an era where technology is becoming a commodity.

Finally, there is a third factor that may explain the underrepresentation of women in the circle of startup founders, which is networking, a fundamental step in the universe we are in, and few women — outside the São Paulo and Rio axis — have access to influential networks. This not only hinders business growth but also obtaining financing opportunities.

Like any immigrant, I felt isolated when I landed in the country in 2002. Thus, I understood very early on the power of “who you know” in Brazil. What helped me in this case is that I love connecting with people, chatting, and exchanging business cards at events where I don’t know anyone.

Perhaps to satisfy my insatiable curiosity, I became a sociologist and researcher in France. This natural inclination to know, understand, and share with others helped me quickly integrate into business forums in Brazil, such as the research center on business innovation at FGV-SP, the committee of young entrepreneurs at FIESP, Chambers of Commerce, among others.

Until I started creating my own networking groups, from the Alumni Art Experience, bringing together alumni from 18 international business schools, to the Wine and Education, bringing together activists and supporters of the education cause. The Lingopass Alumni community on LinkedIn, in turn, already has more than 6,000 members, bringing together alumni seeking opportunities with managers looking for talents proficient in two or three foreign languages.

What have been the biggest challenges — both internal and external — that you have faced on your journey so far?

Alexandrine: To avoid the common challenges faced by every foreigner and entrepreneur in Brazil, I’ll go back in time. After all, it explains a lot about the unconscious strategies of action and overcoming that I mobilized and still mobilize today. This is because I face a “dragon” every week leading an early-stage startup, inserted into a post-pandemic context marked by inflation, regulatory changes, accelerated digital transformation, and increased investor caution.

It all started when my father arrived in Paris as a teenager with his family, emigrating from Tunisia. He married my mother early, both without diplomas, worked at night, had two daughters, and divorced shortly after. After the separation, my father built a new family and had 4 more daughters, still working at night, and my mother had 2 more children, and after suffering a lot of harassment at work, she decided to move to the countryside.

The result? At the age of 14, I had to live alone in a working-class neighborhood in Paris with a younger sister. I took on the responsibility of the house, in the shadow of an unfamiliar nucleus and the decisions of my life. I rarely tell the whole story, and I bet you didn’t even know it. Because I am not a fan of victimization, and compared to situations I see in Brazil, I consider myself very lucky.

I have no doubt that school saved me, providing structure, connections, and access to valuable diplomas. And that was a real passport to change my reality. I decided to open this chapter here because I understand that these events explain a lot about my determination, independence, and work ethic.

In 2002, I came to Brazil, but the decision to stay was only made in 2007. I had to abandon what I had built in France, like my university career in Political Sciences and even connections with Russia — the terrain of my Ph.D. I confess it was very difficult, and at that time, like many other entrepreneurs, I started my first business literally out of necessity. At this point, the startup fever had not yet exploded.

Faced with all this, I could draw an important lesson in humility. Being a “normalienne” or an academic in the Brazilian entrepreneurial environment did not give me any advantage. However, like any form of cultural capital, I had a great resource to leverage: the ability to learn quickly.

As a person who has already explored the world, how do you see Brazil? Tell us a bit about your journey here.

Alexandrine: Brazil is a country with enormous potential. A young and highly resilient population, a gigantic consumer market, creative professionals eager to learn, abundant natural resources, and an innate entrepreneurial spirit with a strong appetite for innovation. On the other hand, I observe the waste of Brazil’s greatest asset: its talents. Many are left in the peripheries within and outside organizations, with few opportunities for development and mobility within companies.

In fact, this was one of the reasons why I entered the corporate education market through languages. When we empower a woman or a young person from a community in three languages, including French, we immediately highlight a resume that becomes more valuable in the eyes of recruiters and managers. The research recently published by the Robert Half consultancy points out how proficiency in English and other languages increases the attractiveness and value of professionals, measured by entry-level salary.

The corporate education field and the timing were perfect. Here, companies, to operate, end up having to train, capacitate, and educate, as talents arrive without qualifications, unprepared for the job market. I have been observing this for twenty years, and the recent changes in the world of work only reinforce this trend. Today, managers need to identify those who possess determination, resilience, creativity, and the potential to learn very rapidly.

That’s exactly what we deliver with Lingopass; we go beyond language program management and control solutions because we cross-reference user profile data with their interactions on the platform and in the classroom, thereby identifying profiles with the highest potential for learning within organizations. Our work also includes selecting from the unemployed, those starting out, or transitioning careers from minority groups, who integrate our Empowering Talents scholarship program.

Those who stand out with greater affinity for the culture and needs of companies, performing matchmaking that is independent of resumes and interview situations prone to self-sabotage. Therefore, my role in the education sector in Brazil is not accidental. It’s a matter of life mission that involves much more than building a profitable and sustainable business. I’m contributing to transforming reality in our beloved homeland, empowering invisible talents within and outside organizations, and boosting their employability and internal mobility.

I speak with purpose because today I do what I have always wanted to do in my life: impact people’s lives with the most powerful weapon in the world, education. I chose the startup medium to materialize this because technology reduces effort and expands reach, without borders. Moreover, it’s the space where visibility is currently found. By investing in Lingopass, Domo has provided us with access to investment, expertise, networks, credibility seals, and brilliance. That’s fantastic!

The market needs investors like you, who believe in impactful entrepreneurs, and open doors to access the market, with private and public organizations valuing and hiring solutions from Brazilian companies designed to address the specific, real, and structural pains faced by the country for decades.

Lastly, who are your female references, and why are they examples to be followed?

Alexandrine: My female references are diverse and inspiring, spanning different eras and spheres of life. I greatly admire historical figures like Joan of Arc, Diane de Poitiers, and Queen Elizabeth I of England. These women from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance played crucial roles in the construction of states and stood out in a male-dominated world. They demonstrated strength, leadership, and influence, changing the course of history.

I also appreciate figures from the 20th century like Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, and Virginia Woolf. These philosophers and writers not only showed intelligence and courage but also passionately defended their ideas, influencing generations of women. Their works and thoughts continue to be a model of engagement and pursuit of equality.

However, it’s not only public figures that inspire me. In my daily life, I find inspiration in the women around me — my collaborators, starting with my partner, Suzana Lordelo, my logistics partners at home, the teachers and educators at the school where my daughters study. They are the invisible but fundamental support that allows me to move forward with my professional and personal responsibilities. They are true business partners, whose action and support are indispensable.

And above all, my husband, who is not a woman, but is the person I admire the most. He has a sensitivity, empathy, intuition, and emotional intelligence — qualities some would associate with feminine energy — that complement my own qualities. He has been my partner in every moment, a mentor, a beacon, and a pillar of stability. Without him, I wouldn’t be the entrepreneur I am today. We’ve known each other for 12 years, at a networking event for Alumni that I organized, proving that a diploma can lead to love.

Now that you’ve given us voice, along with light, as women, we still have much to share. But I’ll leave that for the next editions, thanking you repeatedly and eternally for the trust and partnership!

Challenges, reflections, and progress

It’s amazing how delving into the stories and experiences of people like Alexandrine reveals facets of female entrepreneurship and the challenges that still persist in our ecosystem. These narratives not only inspire but also stimulate us to closely examine the barriers that women face and the importance of creating environments where diversity can thrive.

I invite everyone to reflect on what they’ve absorbed from this conversation. How can we pave the way and create opportunities? And how can the stories of women like Alexandrine inspire us to move forward? If you have something to share or perspectives to add, feel free to speak up. After all, dialogue is the seed of progress.

In the next edition, we’ll continue exploring the voices shaping our world, challenging us to think, learn, and act. Until then, remember that our individual stories, when shared, can become a collective force for transformation.

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Marcello Gonçalves

Managing Partner at Domo Invest and Kauffman Fellow Class 26.