Workshop: Tech for Non-Technical Founders event in london

Male-founded start-ups have a near monopoly on venture capitalist funding. Less than 1% of total venture capital funds in the UK are invested in female-founded start-ups, and the situation in the USA is very similar.

Although this statistic has been in the market for a few months now, I still find it staggering.

As a woman in the venture capital industry, I know how it feels to be in the minority; just 18% of investment professionals in the UK VC industry are women with even fewer (13%) holding the role of decision maker.

The good news is, with the issue firmly under the spotlight, change will come…eventually. But despite all the Government incentives and reports, it is ultimately up to those operating in the VC industry to put this right and, like most change, it is unlikely to come overnight.

In the meanwhile, we need to manage the status quo. Given the statistic I referenced above, it is likely that, at least 85% of the time, female founders will be pitching to male decision makers. Therefore, I have put together some top tips to equip female founders to navigate this environment and ultimately, to make it very difficult for the investor to decline the opportunity you are presenting to them.

Present the best-case scenario

Too many of us present our businesses conservatively. At start-up stage, investors want to leave the meeting with a sense of excitement. They want to feel in awe of what they’ve just been presented with. Of course, transparency and risk aversion are important characteristics, so you need to balance your pitch with some well thought out assumptions. But remember, ultimately, it’s the VC’s job to assess the risk profile of the investment and to evaluate whether the opportunity is still attractive to them even if ‘best-case’ is not quite achieved. Don’t undersell the potential of your business.

Approach the pitch with confidence and be affirmative

Women tend to hold back when they present to investors and sometimes fail to convey their conviction in what they are doing. Some top tips are to pitch to friends, advisers and colleagues who you know will give you honest feedback. Do your research about the investor you are pitching to – understand what their investment criteria is and be sure to adapt your pitch to fit their priorities. Practice, practice and practice your pitch and be clear about how your product/technology is solving a big problem. Finally, video yourself pitching. This will make you more conscious of the language you are using and help you use words or phrases that are more affirmative.

Remember, you don’t have to have all of the answers!

In my experience, female founders are insistent on perfection versus their male counterparts who will improvise a bit more. This means that while female founders are perfecting their business and swotting up on responses to every potential question that the investor could possibly ask, male founders are out there having meetings, learning lessons and receiving capital.

No one expects you to have all the answers, the perfect product/ solution or go-to-market strategy. The only caveat to this is being able to talk confidently about the addressable market size, which is essential. But ultimately, you will never be able to prepare for every eventuality and in fact, investors like to ask far ranging questions simply to understand your thought process. They don’t expect perfect responses. Also remember that VC investors often play an active role in the development of their portfolio companies’ businesses; they may have new ideas which could benefit your business, so it’s best to go to them early, even without all the answers, so that you can profit from their helicopter view of the sector.

Lead by example

Most VCs are interested in backing businesses which inspire, break the mould and represent ‘firms of the future’. We back visionaries with great ideas which demonstrate clear commercial potential, and we embrace change and progress. Investors increasingly understand that businesses with a clear and positive purpose generally deliver stronger returns, so have a diverse team with policies that inspire, cultivate and nurture diversity within your organisation.

Look for female investment partners

As a female founder, it is likely that you are in a good position to develop a repour with a female investor. So, seek out the 13% of decision makers out there, particularly if you have a product targeting women. They are likely to understand your product and target market much more quickly than a male investor might.

There are lots of great accelerator programmes, female founder office hours and other initiatives catered to female founders with the aim of helping female founders access funding. Aim to leverage these as much as you can to help you access the right investors.

Take rejection on the chin

Finally, rejection is part and parcel of fundraising. Therefore, it is important to try and not take this too personally and treat pitching as a numbers game. The more investors you pitch to, the better you get at pitching and the more likely you will be to find one investor who wants to invest in your business.

And finally, in reality, most of these pointers are applicable to all founders, female or male. But, as a female VC investor, who has sat in hundreds of pitches and has backed multiple female founded businesses myself, I hope these takeaways will arm you with confidence in order to rebalance the current reality. Remember, be visionary, have a good handle on your numbers and present with confidence.

About the author

Isabelle O'KeefeIsabelle is a Principal at Sure Valley Ventures where she focuses on identifying and evaluating investment opportunities in areas including AR/VR, IoT and Fintech. Her previous experience has been working across the telco, technology and media sectors in London, Madrid and the Nordics.

Immediately before joining Sure Valley she worked at the Barclays Fintech Accelerator Programme powered by Techstars, working closely with start-ups and helping them to build and grow their businesses. During her career she’s been involved in numerous deals and investment decisions helping to identify potential investee companies.


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