How to get investment as a female founder in the UK

Last year Forbes reported that only 2% of all VC funding in the US went to companies started solely by women, and initial British Business Bank analysis suggests the picture is very similar in the UK.

In order to build the first clear picture of the representation of women in the pipelines of UK VC firms, the British Business Bank, Diversity VC and BVCA joined forces this year in an industry-wide initiative to explore this, and many of the major VC firms have been quick to pledge their support in providing data including LocalGlobe and Balderton Capital.

The UK Business Angel Market

As a solo female founder, reportedly up against the worst odds in receiving investment, I recently raised a first round for my startup Yodomo through Seedrs’ equity crowdfunding platform. 92% of our investment came from male angel investors which neatly mirrors the national average of 91%.

There are many reasons why female entrepreneurship should be encouraged in the UK — not least that female led businesses reportedly generate higher revenues.

The Telegraph also reported last month,

“If we removed the barriers to female entrepreneurship, and reversed the stereotypes which hold women back when trying to win funding for startups, forecasts state the UK economy would see a £100 billion boost over the next ten years just from the women currently waiting in the wings to start their own businesses.”

Whilst female founder events are often brilliant for networking, support and inspiration with other women — and sometimes raising investment, we need to be making sure that we’re also getting into the room with the 91% male investors too.

This point was expressed by Katrina Larkin, co-founder at co-working space Fora, when closing the We in Social Tech event at Deutsche Bank last week. She reflected to the nearly all-female audience that is was her male supporters who had been instrumental in helping her in her own startup journey. Certainly this is true of my own experience so far too.

The silver lining of this rather bleak double whammy of ‘low money coming to female entrepreneurs + low number of female investors’ is that is has kickstarted a growing number of initiatives across the UK to not only encourage and support female entrepreneurship but also to grow the number of female investors. Here’s my run down:

  1. Female Founder Office Hours (operated in UK individually by Forward Partners and Founders Factory)

At the September ‘Female Founders Office Hours’ event at Founders Factory in West London, each entrepreneur was set up with one-to-one sessions to get tailored advice about their start-up. For me, this resulted in a meeting with a VC investor from firstminute Capital and a discussion with Founders Factory’s Head of Growth — (both male), both super-useful meetings. We were then invited to hear from other startups already working in the building. This format of one-to-one meetings worked really well for me as I got to understand a bit more about firstminute Capital, the Founders Factory accelerator and got the chance to sense-check some of our approaches to current challenges with experts in their fields.

The format follows a US format used already in the UK by Forward Partners, who ran their first female office hours event in July 2018 and have pledged to be transparent with their own track record in supporting female entrepreneurs. Set up by one of Forward Partners’ female investors, Louise Rix, the initiative aims ‘to encourage and open up the opportunities for Female Entrepreneurs as much as possible’. I spoke with her last week to find out what impact the initiative was having so far.

Louise believes that there are many complex reasons surrounding why female founders attract less VC funding than their male counterparts, but offered that one contributing factor might be that while male founders traditionally come in selling their vision of how they’re going to build the next Facebook, female founders tend to pitch their businesses in ‘a more considered, more reserved’ way. While most investors are pretty good at cutting through the hyperbole, there is a lesson here in that ‘selling the vision’ is imperative when trying to raise investment.

Before Forward Partners ran their first female founder office hours event, around 22% of female founders would approach Forward Partners for investment. Through the initiative, this jumped to 49% of applications received from female founders in the weeks surrounding the event.

The next Forward Partners female founders office hours will be tie in with International Women’s Day next year on 4th March 2019.

2) Women in Innovation (Innovate UK)

Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, is looking to support women in business innovation and working to encourage a greater number of female applications to their grants and loans schemes.

In addition, they recently ran their second Women in Innovation Awards for projects led by female founders that can make a significant contribution to one of the Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges:

  1. Artificial intelligence and data
  2. Ageing society
  3. Clean growth
  4. Future of mobility

Innovate UK will be offering 8 Women in Innovation Awards this year, which will include a £50,000 grant and a bespoke package of mentoring, coaching and business support. This competition has just closed BUT on a broader note, the UK government “is on a mission to encourage female entrepreneurship, and in particular to raise the number of women applying to Innovate UK for grants and business loans.

I was invited to the Innovate UK Building Success event in Cardiff. The day included a number of masterclasses on investor readiness, market validation and more. One great thing about the panellists at this event is that most women were wholly responsible for pitching for investment. This was quite inspiring having been to a couple of female founder events recently where female co-founder speakers admitted that they didn’t have much to do directly with raising investment, or that their male counterparts were doing the pitching.

You can keep abreast of Innovate UK’s activity in this area via their blog or follow the hashtag #WomenInnovate on social.

3) We In Social Tech Accelerator (Nwes and Deutsche Bank)

This month We in Social Tech, a new accelerator programme, was launched with the mission of supporting ‘ambitious women-led social technology businesses’. Spearheaded by Ghislaine Boddington, the accelerator is delivered by Nwes, the largest not-for-private-profit enterprise agency in the UK, in collaboration with founding partner Deutsche Bank, through its social enterprise programme Made for Good.

Nwes and Deutsche Bank share the following aims to support female founders through We in Social Tech:

  • To accelerate women-led UK tech businesses with a social purpose to make a step-change in their enterprise throughout 2019–20
  • To offer three six-month support programmes over two-years, including business growth plans, investment and finance readiness, peer learning groups and free co-working space
  • To provide an estimated 720-hours of both tech-industry and Deutsche Bank employee mentoring.
  • To create a thriving professional network of tech experts, and provide pathways to develop business relationships.

It was suggested at the accelerator’s launch event last week that the rise of appetite for Tech for Good may bode well, in particular, for female entrepreneurs because many Tech for Good businesses are founded or co-founded by women. Although there is no investment fund attached to it, there is a pledge to get the female founders who are successful in joining the accelerator to ‘investment readiness’.

Initial applications need to be in by 19th November and you can read more here.

4) Show Her the Money: Google Campus (WealthSmart and Campus London)

This relatively new initiative is a simple breakfast meet-up at Google Campus London aimed at bringing together female entrepreneurs who are interested in or building a company. It’s billed as ‘a safe place to share ideas, experiences and meet others on the same journey.’

The speakers — who have included startup founders or investors such as LocalGlobe — are speaking to a very broad range of women, from some who have an initial business idea through to those who are already well along the investment pathway.

Hopefully as this event gets bigger there will be room to segment these events further and target female founders more specifically, with speakers to support the different stages they can be at on their journey.

You can see the speakers they’ve had along so far here.

5) AllBright

AllBright was founded in 2016 by Debbie Wosskow OBE (Founder of LoveHomeSwap) and Anna Jones (former CEO of Hearst), and “supports women at all stages of their careers, with a particular focus on skills, events and space.”

I first came across AllBright at a SheWorx event and the initial excitement was around their new investment fund for female founders. As the fund offer was dissolved, their exclusive London club offer emerged. Good for some, less useful for me as I already have membership to a Central London members club.

However, AllBright’s offer now also includes the AllBright Academy, and their live events programme which includes a monthly Pitch Day, which introduces female founders to funders. AllBright’s annual five-day festival, FoundHER (which takes place in London, Manchester and Glasgow) is a unique curation of workshops, panels and entertainment, providing an opportunity for amazing women to meet and share content.

You can find out more about their membership scheme here.

6) Angel Academe

Angel Academe describes itself as ‘a pro-women and award-winning angel network’. Most (but not all) of its investors are women and it backs tech startup founders with at least one woman on the founding team.

It is trying to solve both problems at the same time — so encouraging female investors and female entrepreneurs — though the organisation does underline that men are welcome, stating:

“We’re helping more women enjoy the benefits of angel investing and, at the same time, helping the best UK tech startups access the capital and “smarts” women bring. We believe that diverse investor and startup teams make better decisions, are more capital efficient and give better return on investment.”

Both experienced and budding angel investors are welcome at our events as well as men who want to be part of a diverse angel network. We want to become (even) better investors by sharing our experience and investing together in a fun and collaborative environment.”

I was invited along to one of their pitch events last year and joined a small group of female founders (around half a dozen of us) who got to meet 5 investors. It was my first introduction to the pitch process and the chance to hear from investors about what they really looked for in a business, and in a pitch presentation, so I found this process very useful.

Angel Academe are building out a great portfolio and their next pitch event is in February 2019 and female founders can apply here.

7) SheWorx

SheWorx is a US initiative that has now expanded into numerous chapters around the world.

It is now a leading global platform and event series communicating to 20,000+ female entrepreneurs to build and scale successful companies around the world.

Founder & CEO Lisa Wang wanted help women draw upon their existing strengths and develop skills to face said challenges head on. As their site states, “this mentality gave rise to SheWorx and our core values called the “Triple A values”: Altruism, Ambition, and Action” — encouraging an inclusive, collaborative community where everyone’s voice is heard.”

The UK chapter hosted a major event at WeWork some years ago, which was a like speed-dating with investors on a hen night, but their breakfasts for smaller groups have been excellent — small groups of around 20 women who get to meet with (male) investors, successful entrepreneurs and more.

Through their events I’ve made excellent contacts, including (male) investors at Forward Partners and Mosaic and investors at Burda. In addition, they’ve hosted inspiring talks from entrepreneurs such Renee Elliott from Planet Organic.

The US chapter is a bit more developed than the UK with an attached accelerator and a programme to ‘match selected founders with investors who are seeking to invest in your particular sector.’

You can find out more about SheWorx here.

I’m sure many more initiatives will be emerging over the coming years and in the meantime keen to see the results of the British Business Bank analysis. If you know of another initiative running then let me know and I’ll add it in here (with a credit of course…)

Sophie Rochester is Founder of Yodomo, a new home for creative learning.