female leader, women leading the way

While the UK is leading the way in the startup and tech world, the under-representation of women is even more marked in this sector of the economy than others.

Research from the British Business Bank shows that all female founding startup teams get just 1p for every £1 of investment.

We would all benefit from having more female entrepreneurs and business founders. It’s not just about doing the right thing morally, important as it is. Recent research from the Boston Consulting Group found that diverse teams produce 19% more revenue. Diageo has been ranked 1st in the UK in Equileap’s Gender Equality Ranking. It has also been rated one of the most dynamic companies in polls by competitors, while seeing impressive profitability. So we can all agree having more women making decisions makes great commercial sense.

Therefore it is vital to get seed funding to women in the most dynamic part of the economy – the startup sector. In supporting more female-led businesses we can create more role models and provide a pathway for others to follow. Here are four steps that need to be taken to start to change the picture.

  1. Develop networking: The oldest cliche in business is it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. It’s a truism that has actively disadvantaged women, with men having more networks to tap into than women. It starts with education, boys’ schools have a lot more old networks than girls’ schools, and this is reinforced throughout our lives. Women need to build their own networks to redress the balance. The great news is that there are more organisations than ever dedicated to addressing this with opportunities to meet like-minded and connected people who can take your business idea to the next level. It is something my organisation SeedTribe is actively looking to do in showcasing a curated list of the best events for people involved in working in, or wanting to support, impactful start-ups.
  2. Attract more female investors: One of the biggest challenges for women looking for funding is the lack of women as investors. Angel investment is the lifeblood of early stage start-ups and a greater flow of capital into female start-ups at this stage would have a game-changing impact. However the investor community on Angel Investment Network in the UK has less than 10% women and is something we are determined to change. Although men can back female businesses, the evidence shows women investors will have an added insight and empathy for businesses led by women. If we look at products designed around financial inclusion, they will bring a fresh perspective on how women may think about investment compared to men, and so enable access to the largest under-served market in the world: women. This includes products like Tumelo, SmartPurse or Bippit. It’s not just financial investment. Finding the right female angel who has led a business themselves, who can help support, advise and back your business can be invaluable.
  3. Be more confident in pitching There are a number of tweaks women can make to their pitch, in order to increase their chances of investment. Sometimes it’s just a question of being bold and putting ourselves in the shoes of the listener. Learning to switch perspective to put the most pertinent argument forward is one of the simple steps we can do to increase our chances of investment if fundraising for a start-up. My experience of launching my old start-up GrubClub was critical in helping me understand how important it is to think of different angles, adapting my pitch according to the investor I was speaking to, so I would research each investor carefully and highlight a different reason for them to invest, based on their background and interests – while always making sure I was staying true to the soul and values of GrubClub. It’s important to be flexible and open to other approaches, but never to the detriment of what is fundamental to your company.
  4. Give other women a hand up I’m a big believer in paying it forward. Women can challenge an entrenched system by ensuring they offer a hand up to other women who are looking to develop their own business. Having launched and sold my own business, I dedicate my time to supporting impactful entrepreneurs to grow in more holistic, sustainable ways. This involves not just fundraising but also opportunities to connect with professionals who can collaborate with them to help them grow along the way. The individual power we all have is immense and far greater than we perhaps realise. Let’s use it meaningfully.

Olivia SibonyAbout the author

Liv is an award-winning entrepreneur (Awarded Top 10 UK Women Entrepreneurs 2019 — Wise100 Top Women in Social Business) and trailblazing ethical investment champion who left a career at Goldman Sachs to launch her foodtech startup, GrubClub, which she sold to Eatwith in 2017. She joined Angel Investment Network (having raised money for Grub Club through them) to launch and grow SeedTribe, a spinoff platform focused specifically on connecting “impactful” businesses with investors.

Most recently she has launched a ‘Female Founders’ community on the platform to champion female start ups and encourage female investors. This was in response to discovering just 10% of investors on the AIN platform are women, something she is determined to change.She is also a Board member of UCL’s Fast Forward 2030, which aims to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to launch businesses that address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).