The most interesting part of my job is reading investor decks and business plans from people who are looking for investment. But of the 100 or so we receive every year, they almost exclusively come from men. Men who want investment to launch a new festival; men who want investment for an impossible app; men who want investment for the next sure to be Oscar-winning feature film.
And it’s not just my company: a report from the Entrepreneurs Network in 2017 found that only 9% of funding into start-ups in the UK went to women-run businesses. Men were 86% more likely to be venture-capital funded and 56% more likely to secure angel investment.
It’s widely acknowledged that part of the problem sits at the investor level, where women are still vastly underrepresented in decision-making roles. In UK Venture Capital, only 13% of decision makers are women, and 48% of investment teams have no women on them at all. But women also need to be empowered and encouraged to put themselves forward for investment, to affect change on both sides of the coin.
Believing in yourself, your ability and your business is the absolute key. You’d be amazed how high you can reach if you take that leap.”
I believe there are several factors in play holding women back when it comes to raising investment; one of which stems from the disparity that can exist between men and women’s confidence in the workplace. Several global studies have found that women do not consider themselves as ready for promotion, they believe they’ll do worse on tests, they will typically underestimate their abilities; this stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology. It’s this trend, combined with women being naturally more risk averse and with fewer real-life examples to look to that I think is amplified when it comes to seeking investment.
Receiving investment is usually a pivotal moment in a business’s life, enabling the company to accelerate growth, unlock new revenue streams or launch in to new areas or with new products. If women aren’t receiving investment, it’s another prohibiting factor stopping them from reaching the top of their game. As well as working to support female entrepreneurs within my own company, I wanted to write some advice for women who may have considered seeking investment but didn’t know where to begin.
Investment can come in many shapes and sizes, from an individual angel investor giving £10k to a fund giving upwards of £5m. Find investors or funds who specialise in your subject matter – rejection sucks, so focus your time on those that could be suitable. There are a lot of advantageous government schemes available to help you (such as the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (‘SEIS’), Enterprise Investment Scheme (‘EIS’) and the British Business Bank), so research them to see how they can help. SEIS and EIS were specifically designed to encourage investment in small businesses and can immediately make you more compelling if not an automatic requirement for an investor.
Prepare a concise investor deck.
Set out in words and numbers where the business is today, what you would do with the investment and where the business would go with investment. Your deck may be the tenth an investor has looked at that day, so make their job easier by highlighting key information. Be reasoned in your forecasts, but don’t be so over cautious that you’re afraid to think big. If you truly believe that you can build a global business – make that clear. And don’t worry if there are unknowns – I’ve yet to come across a business that ends up following its plan.
Let go of the misconception of investor meetings being like a nightmare Dragons Den or The Apprentice scenario, where your dreams and character get ripped apart for kicks.
Sure, there will be interrogation of the business plan, but typically this will happen during a due diligence phase and the first meetings will focus on gaining an understanding of the concept and vision. And don’t worry if your plan isn’t fully formed, you don’t have the full team or the answers to everything – a good investor will recognise potential and can step in to provide support and advice.
Plan ahead and put thought into when you want to receive investment.
It’s almost always advisable to start the business and get as much traction as possible before approaching an investor, as it’s a lot more compelling to invest in a business that has a proven model, albeit on a small scale. Bear in mind that the process to investment can take up to 6 months from a first meeting, and so don’t leave it until funding is crucial for survival.
Network as much as you possibly can.
Female entrepreneurs often lack the ready-made networks that men have, so the onus is on you to do whatever you can to build your own. Seeking advice or mentorship from experts in your field and compiling an informal advisory board can build confidence in a lesser experienced business. Meeting potential investors at angel events, investor clubs, or asking for introductions from tenuous connections is equally important as you’d be amazed how many investments are made via personal networks as opposed to blind applications. If it doesn’t work out with an investor initially; don’t despair. Make sure you keep in contact as it’s not uncommon for investors to reject a project and then invest at a later stage or even on a new project.
Finally, but most importantly, have confidence in yourself and your business.
To quote broadcaster Katty Kay in her research on the ‘confidence gap’; the natural result of low confidence is inaction. When women don’t act, when we hesitate because we aren’t sure, we hold ourselves back. But when we do act, even if it’s because we’re forced to, women perform just as well as men.
I have no doubt that it can feel exposing reaching for investment, but investment is all about people. A product may be great, but if there isn’t faith in the management team then an investor will walk away (and conversely: a convincing team but a product that needs work, can still attract investment). Without confidence in yourself and your business, it will be difficult for investors to gain confidence too.
So believing in yourself, your ability and your business is the absolute key. You’d be amazed how high you can reach if you take that leap.
This article was originally posted on Ash Magazine. Click here to visit.