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Across all of our programmes, we’re seeing highly innovative and ambitious women coming forwards to seek support. Last week I chaired the selection panel for our GradInvest showcase – an annual opportunity for entrepreneurial graduates from SETsquared universities to raise investment for their ventures. The competition is always intense and there is are always an impressive number of female founders vying for a place. This year’s shortlist includes Nia Simpson who has invented Compact Cane and Hazel McShane, from the University of Bristol, who will soon be equipping festivals with user and planet friendly female urinals! Nia and Hazel are at the start of their entrepreneurial journeys and we are pleased to welcome them to a growing peer group of SETsquared female founders – currently around 20% of the total membership across our five Business Acceleration Centres.
There’s a wealth of evidence out there that shows that business teams with gender diversity are more successful. McKinsey & Co in 2017 found companies with the greatest gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform peers on profitability and 27% more likely to create superior value.
However, recent research by the British Business Bank shows that for every £1 of Venture Capital investment, only 1 pence of that goes to female founders.
Here at SETsquared we work hard to ensure that all of our founders are well equipped to raise investment through our intensive investor readiness training and helping to connect start-up and scale-ups with the right investors at the right time. We also run initiatives that are designed to specifically support women, for example, SETsquared Bristol is running a Back Her Business programme in partnership with NatWest, and in 2019 we ran a programme to support female space entrepreneurs in association with the UK Space Agency. We firmly believe that an ambitious founder with a great proposition, a well-prepared team, a solid business case and good product-market fit should have a runway to success, however smart and timely investment is often the key to take off, and therein lies the challenge.
To explore this further, I spoke to three women about the challenges of starting a business as well as their perspective on investment.
Dr Olivia Champion
CEO & Founder of Biosystems and Entec Nutrition
I used to be the only woman in the room, but things are slowly changing
“Starting my own business has been an absolute gamechanger for me. I love every aspect of it – from raising investment to building the team – growing my two companies has been a world away from academic career.”
“I was on maternity leave with my third child when I started Biosystems, therefore building a strong support network around me was extremely important.”
“In the early days, I was often the only women in the room at investment events. Thankfully things are slowly changing now. Whilst I absolutely believe that the best person, regardless of gender, should get the job or raise the investment, gender stereotypes are so ingrained that initiatives that promote positive discrimination are still very much needed.”
Dr Shakar Jafari
CTO & Founder, TrueInvivo
Being a role model to other female entrepreneurs is incredibly important to inspire others
“I feel a huge responsibility to be a role model to other female tech entrepreneurs, as there are so few. I act as a mentor to women who are looking to grow their business and advise on all aspects including how to balance all areas of your life such as family life. When I started my business, Trueinvivo, I already had children and a job! I worked weekends and evenings, compromising time with my family and husband, but I see now that I could have done things differently so it’s really important that I share my experience with other women.”
“I’m also very conscious of being a good role model to girls back in my home country of Afghanistan. Obviously, it’s a very traditional society but more recently women are seeing that starting their own business can be a viable career option – so I’m very optimistic about that.”
Jenny Tooth OBE
Angel Investor and CEO, UK Business Angel Association (UKBAA)
A cultural shift is needed to encourage more female angel investors
“The UKBAA was an early signatory of HM Treasury’s ‘Investing in Women Code’ and we’re highly committed to not only encouraging more female founders to come forward and seek investment but also increasing the amount of female angel investors out there. To achieve this, we need to see a huge cultural shift. There are many successful women out there, with a good proportion of the UK’s wealth, however angel groups are largely made up of men. We’re working hard to inform women of the benefits of angel investment such as the tax breaks and debug some of the myths.”
“Currently only about 18% of the investment community are female and we know that most women investors have between 30-50% of their investment portfolio in female founders. So, if we can increase the number of women investors then we’ll significantly increase the amount of investment into female led start-ups.”
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