The story of female entrepreneurship in Britain in 2022 is one of enthusiasm, drive and purpose – only slightly tempered by the financial barriers that can still exist.
WealthiHer’s latest research shows that, while women aged 25 to 44 show higher intent to start businesses than men of the same age, 74 per cent of female founders are concerned about bias in the funding process. Investment in female founded businesses has stayed stubbornly below two per cent for most of the past decade.
What is needed to overcome this is stubbornness, not taking “no” for an answer and thinking differently about how to go around the problem. But this cannot be a one-sided fight.
Each one of us in our areas of influence within the funding community, must work together to share knowledge about where and how to access funding, how to connect progressive funders to female founders and how to proactively give female founders a hand-up. As investor Daina Spedding at BGF says: “If everyone took personal responsibility and helped just three female founders, it would accelerate the pace of change.”
I have had the privilege to learn from some formidable entrepreneurs, investors and leaders. Here’s what I know…
Expand your hidden network
I’ve found investors in unexpected places – via personal trainers, through friends, even at the Cop26 climate change conference. Be open to having conversations in weird and wonderful places. And if that investor connection is not the right fit, ask them to recommend you to someone who might be.
Treat every knock back as an opportunity
Whitney Bromberg Hawkings, founder of FlowerBx, taught me to come back stronger when facing funding setbacks. I always think of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she retorts “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” after being refused service. I use these rejections to strengthen my resolve and show them what they missed out on.
I have been told numerous times by male investors: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.” They didn’t understand the need for my business, despite the reams of data and my conviction.
This is not helped by the fact you often only have minutes to pitch and pages of material to help investors believe in the opportunity they do not inherently have a feel for. But while you can use setbacks to spur you on, you can also control how many you experience through research. Start by considering investors who have made investments in people and businesses like yours. Next, put your shoulder pads on. As entrepreneur Trinny Woodall says, you’ll metaphorically need them to hold your value – and win.
look after yourself
Angela Luger, a former FTSE250 CEO and angel investor, told me fundraising is a fulltime job – and she’s right. You’re running a company at pace through an emerging, complicated economic backdrop. Not only that, but you’ll be doing so on top of your current fulltime job – and for me, single motherhood.
Tiffany Pham, CEO of Mogul, a global diversity recruitment company, advises entrepreneurs to treat fundraising as an endurance sport. As a founder, she says, your belief and drive will stand out and can inspire others. But you need to take breaks to recharge that belief and look after your health. Fundraising is also an enormous distraction. It takes you away from running the company. So, make sure you have a strategy in place to ensure that business goes on. The process will almost always take a lot longer than you think it will – so mitigate and plan accordingly.
Surround yourself with difference
Calum Brewster, of wealth managers Brown Shipley, once said to me: “You are a reflection of the people you surround yourself with.” He noted that a strong predictor of success was the board that sits around a founder, to help fuel them with different perspectives.
By the time we had this conversation, I’d been told by a number of potential investors that I wasn’t right for them. I started to think about this problem differently, and in a more collaborative way. Attracting investors should not be a one-woman or one-man show. It’s about great management teams and networks, with complementary skill sets.
Perfect the art of confidence, even when you don’t feel it
People buy people. When pitching, you need to at least appear confident and be able to hold your own, especially in the face of difficult questions (which we know women are more likely to be asked).
Nicole Soames, founder of coaching company Diadem, taught me about relentless confidence. She explains that women tend to negotiate against themselves when pitching. “Let the other side do that. Negotiators need to be appropriately ambitious throughout the process if they want to secure the best possible outcome,” she advises. Go for gold in the ask and hold your line on your value.