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Female Founders and the Equity Gap

Interview by Zoya Malik (Managing Editor)

Female founders are struggling to access investment funding with just 1 percent of Venture Capital funding in the UK going to women. Speaking to Zoya Malik, millennial ‘femalepreneur’, Helena Murphy, CEO Raising Partners offers female founders her views and some practical tips on how to access investment finance.

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Helena Murphy, CEO Raising Partners

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss reiterated it was “incredible” that in 2019 men had a “virtual monopoly on venture capital.” It seems not only are women entrepreneurs not achieving their funding targets, there is also a serious lack of female investors, perpetuating a vicious circle, especially when it comes to accessing equity for female-focused products (investors tend to back products or services they intuitively ‘get.’)

With this backdrop of struggles, Helena Murphy is taking the finance world by storm, having raised over £18 million in just two years for entrepreneurs and businesses with her innovative investment consultancy, Raising Partners.

ZM: What are the objectives of Raising Partners?

HM: Raising Partners was formed to demystify the investment landscape for SMEs and level the playing field for people raising investment. Our aim is to become the go-to destination for entrepreneurs looking to raise investment and grow their business.

ZM:  What’s your view on women founders in fintech?

HM: Female founders in fintech are greatly under-represented and arguably more so than in fields such as investment banking, primarily because this sector hasn’t had time to develop ways to increase and promote diversity. Even though fintech is relatively new, it is still built around a banking system which has long standing male dominated traditions. This status quo is the same in the world of equity raising and VCs. It is an old boy’s club and has a reputation for not being female friendly.

Raising Partners was formed to demystify the investment landscape for SMEs and level the playing field for people raising investment

People don’t tend to want to go to a party that they’ve pointedly not been invited to or where they will be in the minority. Saying that however, there are female founders doing great things in the industry and we see hundreds of female founders, across a diverse range of sectors, ready for investment. The issue is, as the recent UK VC & Female Founders report for the Treasury discovered, that female founders are not accessing equity capital in general and there are fewer opportunities for women to get in front of investors.

ZM:  Which women in fintech and business life have inspired you?

HM: I think what Anne Boden has done with Starling Bank is amazing! She’s empowering people to take control of their finances and understand their money in a way that is very user-friendly and easy. The same for Romi Savova at Pension Bee. I love how she is turning traditionally boring “life-admin” into something that is engaging.

Even though fintech is relatively new, it is still built around a banking system which has long standing male dominated traditions.

Finance and managing money in general gets such a bad rap and so many people write it off as “too complicated,” or they assume it’s much harder to take control of than it actually is. Anne and Romi are both doing a great job at changing that perception. The interesting thing to consider is that for decades the algorithms and profit models widely used in finance may reflect its historic lack of diversity. By offering a fresh approach, a woman’s take on traditional banking models can add to fintech’s challenger and transformative role and identity.

ZM: What’s stopping women receiving funding for business?

HM: I’ve seen the block faced by female founders first-hand in accessing finance for their business. This is largely caused by a lack of female investors and the inherent sexism of the sector.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss reiterated it was “incredible” that in 2019 men had a “virtual monopoly on venture capital.”

The issue does seem to be self-perpetuating – a lack of female investors means there is less likelihood of investing in a female founder, especially if the business proposition is aimed at women. Investors are attracted to concepts that they know and understand. This is potentially why female-focused businesses and products are not getting the investment they need. It is a vicious cycle that isn’t going to change overnight, but we’ve seen signs that it can be broken. We’ve helped raise £18 million in just over two years since I co-founded the business, with my partner Duncan Di Biase, and many of our clients are female founded start-ups.

ZM: What are the barriers from VC / banking points of view? And why?

HM: VCs traditionally claim that deal flow is the problem.In fintech in particular, dealflow isn’t the problem, there are hundreds of female founders in the industry. What’s more of a problem is an inherent gender-bias that makes it more difficult for female founders to secure finance. I’ve been to several board and investor meetings at investment and law firms across the City, and on more than one occasion, people assumed I was there as the PA or the stand-in receptionist. Not the person presenting in the boardroom to the partners of the firm. Melinda Gates wrote in ReCode back in 2017: 

We like to think that venture capital is driven by the power of good ideas. But by the numbers, it’s men who have the keys.” 

Frustratingly this has nothing to do with investability.

ZM: What is the perception of women founders?

HM: Overall, we know that businesses largely led by women do better than male dominated ones. And this isn’t a new discovery. Multiple studies have shown this, and just recently, a report from US accelerator Mass investmentChallenge found that for every dollar invested, a company founded by men generated 31 cents – compared to 78 cents produced by start-ups with women on the board. So it seems incredible that as Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury said, men have a “virtual monopoly on venture capital.”

However, perception of women founders is often based, not on economic factors or business prowess, but on endemic sexism tied to outdated gender roles. Our personal experiences as women working in the industry shows this when confronted by investors on issues such as childcare, female founders often face  inappropriate grilling on whether the growth of their business comes first and are met with looks of horror if asking for investment when pregnant. This balance around childcare and women’s roles is something that has to change if women are ever going to be on a level playing field.

ZM: What qualities should young women nurture in themselves to lead / found new businesses?

HM:

1/ Confidence

It is critical to back yourself first and believe in your business. Women can often be less confident than men and be more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome. In equity raising, men tend to ask for more money and provide more optimistic forecasts. A confident attitude is important and persuasive.

2/ Knowledgeable

One of the ways to grow your confidence is to become more knowledgeable about your industry. Find other female-founders in the same sector who have gone before you and start to create your own network of business leaders who can help and inspire you. Good advice is invaluable.

And when it comes to raising investment specifically…

1/ Focus on the figures

This is even more important when pitching a female-focused product to male investors. Give them the bottom line – potential market share, opportunity and margins.

2/ Ask for what you need

It’s important to ask for the right amount of money. Women tend to ask for less than they actually need but this will cause problems in the long term. It’s almost as bad as not going after investment at all.

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