It's nothing short of incredible that UK businesses raised a record-breaking $3.6bn in venture capital (VC) funding in 2015. The figure represents an increase of more than 70 per cent on the $2.1bn investment raised in 2014, with London-based tech companies responsible for $2.28bn of the 2015 total. And 2016 is off to a cracking start: earlier this week Skyscanner raised £128m for its online travel site from VC giants Artemis (among others). UK startups are going from strength to strength.
But any mention of VC investment should be tempered by statistics over the ratio of male:female-led companies. Just a third of the UK startup ecosystem today is made up of women; just 20 per cent of SMEs in the UK are majority-led by women. In tech - which attracts more than its fair share of VC funding - the statistics are far more alarming. In Silicon Valley, for example, the percentage of women starting tech companies is astronomically low, at a rate around 3 per cent.
And when women do create successful companies, they face far greater difficulties scaling up than their male counterparts. Male entrepreneurs in Britain, for example, are 86 per cent more likely to be VC funded than women entrepreneurs, and 59 per cent more likely to secure angel investment.
Lack of access to finance can be attributed to a number of factors. Many believe, for example, that an "old boys" club exists in VC funding circles, and that women remain grossly underrepresented in the industry. Women are not in the network of venture capitalists, and VCs have no incentive to look outside their own groups.
Of course, not everyone aspires to create the next Google, and some women do set up companies to fit around school hours so may not want venture backing. But those women who do should have the same opportunities as men - yet little has been done to tackle the issue.
It's positive that groups like Girls in Tech have been created in recent years to support the visibility of women in innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as run mentoring programmes with key figures in the industry. But I often find myself frustrated by some of the websites promoting the women in entrepreneurship cause - not least because they are more often than not splashed in shades of pink (which call to mind Harriet Harman's patronising, pre-election pink bus..why wasn't it red? Isn't that the Labour colour?). Where is the evidence that these organisations are tackling specific issues informed by academic research?
It was out of such frustration that we decided to team up with Barclays to create our own women's entrepreneurship group. Our Female Founders Forum is a group of some of the UK's most inspirational entrepreneurs - including Kathryn Parsons (Decoded), Sara Murray (Buddi), Rita Sharma OBE (Best at Travel), Laura Tenison MBE (JoJo Maman Bebe), and Julie Meyer MBE (Ariadne Capital). We will be connecting these successful business leaders with senior figures from within the finance industry, politicians, journalists and aspiring female entrepreneurs on the cusp of rapid growth.
Through roundtables, reports and larger events, we will bridge the gap between future gazelles and the venture community. We will give angel investors, banks and venture capitalists reason to look outside their own, male-led groups. And, importantly, there won't be a pink banner in sight.
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