THE BLOG

Why Entrepreneurs Need Good Networks

28/01/2016 16:34 GMT | Updated 27/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Another week, another conference to celebrate entrepreneurs - this time in the Rosewood Hotel's lavish ballroom for a discussion on "Wonderwomen in Business" featuring jewellery designer Carolina Bucci, Nadia Danhash of the Royal College of Arts, Toucan Ventures founder Rasha Khawaja, and Saïd Business School's Kathy Harvey. (Interesting side note: it was Khawaja's father, Wafic Saïd, who established the Business School at the University of Oxford in 1996.)

This was one of many events taking place during the two-day conference, which covered as much as you would expect in 48 hours: leadership, compliance, social enterprise, fundraising - all aimed at supporting entrepreneurs. The event was hosted by Khawaja, whose business, Toucan, is an online portal for entrepreneurs to pitch ideas and gain advice from industry professionals.

I approached the event with a certain degree of trepidation, unsure how such a discussion could offer concrete benefits to female entrepreneurs. And many of the familiar lines were indeed hashed out - female entrepreneurs lack confidence, women shouldn't be afraid to "lean in," there's no such thing as an "overnight success".

But some important, fresher points were raised, too. Harvey addressed what the MBA can offer future entrepreneurs. The course has traditionally been viewed as a gateway into lucrative careers in investment banking, consulting firms or large corporations. But it can also give entrepreneurs a moment of reflection, she said, time for them to consider how they might want to build a career and to hone their ideas in a safe environment.

Further, MBAs give students access to a wide alumni network. These people could be future advisers, investors, supporters or even partners. Harvey herself put a former female alumnus in touch with a tech entrepreneur who had also previously studied at Saïd. The pair have just raised £5m, and Harvey has since learnt that two more members of that cohort are involved in their business.

Reference was made to an interesting Insead study, which found that women exploit networks differently (women are good at forming "deep" relationships; men tend to build a broader group of "shallower" connections). Networks, as any entrepreneur will attest, are vital: they can shape career trajectories, create influence and reputation, and provide opportunity to meet potential future investors. The wider they are, the better.

And Danhash discussed the scale-up puzzle: why so few women-led businesses reach the same economic scale as their male counterparts. She said: "I've been told by many investors that female entrepreneurs under-promise and over-deliver. And I've seen many companies with mixed founders where the man is the CEO. That is not always the right way around." Her thoughts are particularly interesting in light of a recent MSCI report, which found that companies with "strong women leadership" (those with either a female CEO and one female board member, or with three women on the board), perform better. They generated a return on equity of 10.1 per cent per year, versus 7.4 per cent for those without, the study found.

When author Amy Jo Martin first wrote about this research, she suggested that the solution lay with mentorship. If she's right, then mentoring organisations like mentorsme.co.uk, even Toucan, could be a sensible place to start. For aspiring entrepreneurs, some of whom find themselves in situations where they "don't know what they don't know", such platforms could mean the difference between success and failure.