Entrepreneurship and leadership: From dancer to director

Entrepreneurs have previously tended to downgrade the connection between good leadership and the chance of success, which is why Copenhagen Business School (CBS) in collaboration with the Industry Foundation now offer a special leadership development programme.


Foto af Isabella Agdestein

Growing up, Isabella Agdestein’s primary concern was the position of her feet. She wanted to be a professional dancer. But aged twenty, she had to acknowledge that her hips could not withstand the strain. 

Today, she is an entrepreneur and CEO of the two-year-old company, Focalx, where she continues to focus on time and position. Figuratively speaking, that is. Because as CEO, she has to make sure that her employees move to the same choreography. 

Something she has not tried before. Which was why, in the spring, she, alongside twenty-three other participants, signed up for the leadership development programme “Founder to Leader” at CBS, which they have recently completed. 

The programme is aimed at newly established entrepreneurs who are now hiring employees. The goal is to provide companies with a better chance of survival and better utilisation of their growth potential. Because several studies show that lack of leadership and a working culture with long days and indistinct assignments are some of the reasons why many new start-ups quickly fold. 

Being more assertive 

Even though Isabella Agdestein’s title is CEO, she describes herself as more of an all-rounder, focusing on strategy as well as fundraising, sales, HR and administrative assignments. 

Two years ago, she and Pritam Bolenwar co-founded the start-up, Foclax, which offers software that automatically scan and register damages to vehicles. The company is aimed at actors in the car business, and they currently employ eighteen people, some of whom work abroad. 

‘I was also unsure about which type of leader, I’d like to be’

                                                                                      Isabella Agdestein, entrepreneur

“Now, we’re planning to hire even more people, and I sense that I have to be more assertive as a leader. However, in order to do that, I need more knowledge. I was also unsure about which type of leader, I’d like to be,” the entrepreneur explains. 

Having participated in the workshop, where she has exchanged ideas and thoughts with the other participants and received individual coaching, she now has a new perspective on leadership. 

Finding the right format

“I had this idea that I had to be the charismatic leader that you always hear about. But during the programme, I became aware of what suits me. My role is much more about being an inclusive leader, who supports our employees in their development,” says Isabella Agdestein. 

Before she completed “Founder to Leader”, she went down several avenues in an effort to become accessible to her employees. 

“When suddenly, you go from being just a handful of people to being eighteen, it’s about finding the right formats and sectional areas. After all, I’m not supposed to be the direct leader of people who don’t work within my core area,” she says and elaborates:

“During the ‘Founder to Leader’ programme, I’ve gained a better understanding of what strikes a balance in terms of me not becoming a direct leader, but more of an overall leader,” says Isabella Agdestein. 

Different conditions for entrepreneurs   

To Mia Jung, it is not surprising that often, it is quite a leap for entrepreneurs to transform into leaders. 

She is Head of Leadership Development at Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship at CBS and in charge of the leadership development programme, “Founder to Leader”.

“The conditions for leadership as an entrepreneur are markedly different to those of leadership elsewhere. In start-up companies, the founder is the leader, even though, typically, they identify more with the role of an entrepreneur. Often, they will focus on the business side of things as well as strategy, production and customers. Whereas a leader in a well-established company, is hired to fulfil the specific role of an overall leader,” she points out and then adds:

“We want the participants to become aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and how they fulfil the role of leader today. We work with an organisational psychology approach to human resources, and make a point of showing them what’s at stake in interpersonal relations and what a lack of clarity in terms of roles and mandates may result in.” 

Remember to think about the whole iceberg

The twenty-four participants on the leadership development programme all live in Denmark, but they are originally from Portugal, England, Poland, Egypt and Denmark. 

A significant part of the concept concerns the participants sharing their own experiences, presenting dilemmas from their own company and finding solutions. 

“One issue, which is also of great concern to the participants, is taking up a leadership role in terms of a co-founder. After all, they founded the company together. At some point, it may be convenient to establish some kind of hierarchy and define more specific roles. There may be things that they’ve not had time or opportunity to talk about during in the early stages,” Mia Jung explains. 


‘They should not ignore difficult conversations with old friends’

                                  Mia Jung, in charge of the leadership development programme, “Founder to Leader”.


“But the participants learn that different phases require different things from them. And they should not ignore difficult conversations with old friends. Perhaps the other co-founders also have things that no longer work for them? They learn about the classic iceberg – that it’s not enough to merely deal with what’s happening on the surface. You have to have the courage to acknowledge what’s below, and then deal with it in a professional manner,” she emphasises. 

An eye opener

This is a problem Isabella Agdestein recognises. A couple of years ago, she had completed her BA in Business Economics and Project Management at CBS, and she was doing her Master’s degree, when she and Pritam Bolenwar co-founded Focalx. At a later stage, yet another co-founder joined the two of them, and all three remain part of the company, with Isabella Agdestein as CEO.

“The programme has been an eye opener in terms of my relations to the other co-founders. As partners, we have been through everything together, and so, taking on a leadership role in relation to them has not necessarily been straight forward. However, during this programme, I realised the value of having a constructive and reflecting role,” she explains. 

Among the other things she takes away from the programme, she emphasises:

That she should not try to change herself, but rather utilise her professional skills.

That she has gained input on how to lead employees at a distance. 

That a leader has both an action mode and a reflection mode. 

“You simply have to learn how to reflect, because as an entrepreneur, you’re used to continually being on the go. Personally, I’ve felt pressured in terms of taking quick action, but during this programme, I’ve realised the importance of taking my time in order to make good decisions,” says Isabella Agdestein. 

More Information:

Mia Jung, mj.cse@cbs.dk

The page was last edited by: Sekretariat for Ledelse og Kommunikation // 08/09/2023