With the gender pay gap at the forefront of today’s women’s rights discussion, female investors are taking matters into their own hands.
The slogan of International Women’s Day is “#BalanceforBetter.” According to the official International Women’s Day website, “a balanced world is a better world.” Unfortunately, the gender pay gap continues to exist with no real overhaul in sight. According to The Broadsheet, “while 37% of men apparently don’t think the gender pay gap is real, the government — and numerous non-partisan research groups — disagree. Depending on how it’s measured and who’s doing the measuring, the gap is between 18% and 20%.” Female business ownership and stewardship enables direct opportunities for other women to not only earn the salary they deserve, but to embark on their own business ventures.
While balance can (and must) be manifested in many different ways to make a global impact, investment is one of the most direct ways women can support others in the business world — even more than rising through the ranks to executive positions. Data even shows that “as women in tech gain experience, their pay gap with men gets worse.”
At the end of the day, in the spirit of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” movement, we need more female executives, board members and CEO’s in the global business ecosystem. Unfortunately, women still greatly trail men, not only terms of wage equality, but in securing financing for their ventures, and this has an enormous negative impact on the prevalence of female founders and CEO’s today. According to The Guardian, the simple truth is that in 2019, “the vast majority of fund managers are male. Nearly all the bosses of the big banks are male. About 26,000 of the 31,000 individuals regulated to give financial advice are male.” Men tend to invest in men, despite ample evidence showing that women tend to deliver higher returns on investments than their male counterparts.
We spoke to some female investors and founders to better understand the ways financial investment from women, in women, can have an impact on the advancement of female entrepreneurship worldwide. From venturing into uncharted territories to creating opportunities for their fellow women in the ecosystem, women are leading us into a new era of investment and financial liberation.
Anya Navidski is the Founding Partner at Voulez Capital, Europe’s First VC for Female Founders. She was originally inspired to found Voulez Capital after reading about the struggles a fellow female founder experienced when looking to secure funding for her venture. After researching the current state of investment opportunities for women, she saw that Europe was trailing behind the United States in terms of the percentage of VC capital being allocated to female-led companies. “I did some research and learned that there were a few funds in the US focused on female founders and doing well and that data was indicating that more gender balanced and female-led companies performed better than the market. At the same time, there were no such VC funds in Europe and the potential investment opportunity available was vast. With about only 1% of VC capital going to a female-run business, that means there are plenty of amazing companies to choose from.”
Voulez Capital launched in May of 2018, and has now completed its first investments. The VC runs a monthly Pitch Clinic for Female Founders at the Google for Startups in London and offers an Investment Readiness Programme for its partners. Throughout the first months of the VC, Anya says “we learned two things. One — we can add the most value in this market by specialising in late Seed and Series A investments, effectively bridging the gap between angel and growth capital. Two — we are re-imagining venture capital, getting back to the fundamentals of investment. By that I mean: getting rid of complex instruments and language, focusing on appropriate risk and reward allocation between founders and investors on each specific transaction, focusing on the value being created by each of our companies, rather than valuations, and focusing on developing a strong, trusted relationship with our founders.”
Anya says that we still have a long way to go in terms of achieving gender parity when it comes to investment, but that maintaining mindfulness and promoting opportunities for women will have an enormous impact on the way we look at leadership and entrepreneurship in the future. “For me, the biggest challenge ahead of us is to re-define what good leadership looks like. That it is inclusive. That it is mindful. That it is aware and questioning the status quo. That is is about seeking support and expert advice where we do have blind spots. And this shift will take a while to complete.”
In the meantime, Voulez Capital is continuing to build “a venture capital firm with a difference.” The VC has invested in companies like Medivrse, Femedic and SciApps and is changing the way that VC’s approach companies. In 2019, Anya will focus on challenging the status quo, offering business planning workshops for mothers on maternity leave or with small children, and growing Voulez’ capital base.
In Silicon Valley, Shelly Kapoor Collins is promoting female founders through her VC, The Shatter Fund, which “exclusively invests in high potential disruptive technology companies led by female entrepreneurs.” She reminds us that data has shown that companies with women on their founding team perform 66% better than those with exclusively male founders. They see the potential for return on female investment, but understand that women are seldom given such opportunities. This is why The Shatter Fund also offers distribution, resources, mentorship and access to their network of operators and investors to each partner. It’s in their best interests to give their partners as many resources and opportunities as possible so they succeed — and thereby pave the way for their female peers.
According to The Shatter Fund website, “Women should be building solutions ‘for’ women. Many issues that concern millions of women still lack innovative solutions because women fight an uphill battle as entrepreneurs.” Through focusing on changing the game when it comes to investment, Shatter fund is focusing on bringing together the people who have the potential to change the status quo and change the world.
“Without access to the capital required to start, grow and scale companies, women cannot become 100% participants in the innovation economy… and are effectively cut out of the entrepreneurial opportunity America is famous for.”
Victoria Yampolsky is the Founder and President of The Startup Station, which offers services and courses for early stage startups. Victoria saw that many of her clients struggled with securing investing and financing, especially when they were new to the business world. Her website offers courses and advice on everything from how to evaluate the financial feasibility of their business, how to create thorough financial projections and credibly value their company to how to select a financing vehicle and negotiate a term sheet with investors.
Oftentimes, women come from the tech space but don’t “think of” themselves as entrepreneurs. “When I began advising startups in 2013, I quickly realized that they had a problem, because a lot of them had product or technical expertise but didn’t really have the business acumen to figure out all of the monetization strategies or how they were going to make money from their venture. When I initially created The Startup Station, I focused on both aspects of the gap, which was strategy and finance. However, over time I realized that finance represented an even bigger need, because fewer people had that expertise in the startup space — especially when it came to companies with no financial history.”
Financial literacy is integral for any woman looking to start a business, but especially for those who intend on pitching to VC’s and investors. Data shows that less than “3 percent of venture-capital-funded companies had female CEOs,” thus women need to work much harder to prove their worth to investors. It’s extremely important that the founding team is as prepared as possible with valuation data and credible financial assumptions, and that they have an understanding of accounting and financing basics. Such knowledge is integral for making smart investment decisions. All these concepts are covered in the Startup Station’s courses.
Victoria says that offering such courses and services seemed second-nature. “Very organically I started helping companies at a very early stage and I developed a lot of knowledge and I began teaching entrepreneurs how to do it themselves, because obviously not everybody can afford to hire a consultant and yet everybody needs to learn finance in order to get funded and in order to build a successful and profitable business.”
In 2018, women made strides in the tech, entrepreneurial, and investment space. In 2019, it’s time to hold ourselves — and our peers- to higher standards of how we invest in the great potential of female entrepreneurship. And finally, let’s take a piece of advice from Anya Navidski: “I am often confronted with arguments such as ‘we have done it this way for twenty years’. In my view, that doesn’t make it the right way.”
Jill Beytin is an American print and radio journalist based in Berlin.
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Happy International Women’s Day 2019, from Team LAMA