Female Angel Investor Numbers Are Low Because Of A Lack Of Female Leaders And A Macho Environment

Women are generating more wealth than ever before, but when it comes to passing it forward and investing in the next generation, it seems sisters are more interested in just doing it for themselves.

Angel investment has become big business in the UK as struggling start ups look to alternative financiers; but there is a stark difference between the number of men and the number of women offering their cash for investment.

Current estimates suggest as few as 5% of regular angel investors are women. That figure doesn't rise much even in the US, where investing is culturally more a way of life - in the States it's somewhere between 16% and 18% of all angels.

Recent stats from Barclays revealed self-made women make more money than self made men, and women who own businesses earn nearly 17% more than men in the same position.

Female entrepreneurs have an average annual income of £382,000, 16.8% higher than the average of £327,000 for men. So why aren't they looking to invest some of that wealth in the next generation?

What is an angel?

An angel investor or angel (also known as a business angel or informal investor) is an affluent individual who provides capital for a business start-up, usually in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity.

A small but increasing number of angel investors organise themselves into angel groups or angel networks to share research and pool their investment capital, as well as to provide advice to their portfolio companies.

Unlike venture capitalists, they usually only invest their own money.

Bev James, business mentor and founder of the Entrepreneurs’ Business Academy, said she wasn't surprised at the small number of female angels.

"All you have to do is look at the number of women setting up businesses compared to men. Percentage wise you need to get to a place in business where you've been successful and have enough money to invest if you’re going to be an angel," she explained.

"There's an imbalance in men and women setting up businesses, and while this imbalance continues we'll always have an fewer female angel investors than male ones. Also by nature I think women tend to be more risk adverse and perhaps they prefer to invest in safer opportunities."

This secondary point is something which divides opinion massively - convention says women are more risk averse and will therefore a) be less likely to want to become an angel b) if they do become angels they'll take much longer over their decision-making and c) will typically invest smaller amounts of money than their male counterparts.

But not everyone agrees.

"I wouldn’t say women were more risk averse, but they do calculate risk very well," said Modwenna Rees-Mogg, chief executive of Angel News. "Men tend to be a bit more gung ho (with their decision making); entrepreneurs should look for a backer who truly understands their business."

Often, it's the women's advisers who put them off investing as angels, according to Julie Meyer, founder of Ariadne Capital an investment and advisory firm which helps match start-ups to financiers.

"There's a problem with wealth managers and private wealth banks in that they don't put money into high risk, but high growth businesses. Private banks are actually dissuading their clients from investing," she told HuffPost UK.

For some women, they're happy to invest with some risk, provided they're not facing that risk all on their own. Anna Sofat, founder and director of Addidi Wealth, found that when she transformed her advisory business into one which focussed on female clients that sharing risk was just one of several ways in which she could encourage more angels to come forward.

"When I spoke to my female clients about investing several key themes kept emerging – they didn't want to risk too much of their wealth, but they were interested in investing, and they didn't have the time to pour over lots of business plans. Many were also put off by the perceived 'my pocket's bigger than your pocket' bravado of male angels," said Sofat.

Almost all of the people HuffPost UK spoke to also shared concerns about the 'blokey' environment of many angel networks, and how it can be discouraging for new angels to walk into. Anti-social hours of some networks - which tend to only meet in the evenings - can put off potential investors.

The number of angel investors who are women in the UK stands at just 5%

Addidi Wealth started to offer training, but out of a room of 20 women, maybe two would invest afterwards.

"So I developed a model where we said if we all put our money in we can share the risk – and if we invest together we can build up a decent sized portfolio quickly," Sofat continued.

"Addidi filters the businesses to the angels see a select few once every few months – then we pool the money together and use our investment committee."

Many of the angel investment experts we spoke to also blamed an education and knowledge gap for the lack of female entrants.

Gita Patel is an active business angel who has been investing her money in start ups for the past 10 years. She believes many women are not aware of how to invest, or that the biggest risk is only with the early stage companies.

"The previous government put together the Enterprise Investment Scheme tax relief scheme – it is complicated but it's the best thing that government ever did," she told HuffPost UK.

"Women who aren't from a financial background are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting across the information – the government needs to push it further, and IFAs need to make sure they're comfortable with discussing angel investing with their clients. I think this is a failure of the IFA community currently."

Dale Murray, one of the best known female angels in the UK, added that she wanted to reassure women that there was nothing intellectually difficult about investing through an angel network.

"There is a lot to learn but you just have to get on with it and get started. Ideally you should be investing in around 10 to 12 companies, start of slowly with small amounts of money and build up gradually. It's not difficult or complicated, it's just a series of processes," she said.

Case study: Brynne Herbert, chief executive of Move Guides, a start-up business which offers relocation services, and was invested in by female angels

"I've only got good things to say about female angel investors – I'd say I'm gender agnostic, it just so happened that two of the best angels on the market were women.

"Dale Murray and I were introduced through the London Business School network, and Sherry Coutu I'd read about a lot in the press, so I reached out to her through the same network.

"I'm not sure there's a difference between the sexes at all, but the women who have built successfully businesses are uniquely impressive relative to the others in the community because they are balancing so much and have very high standards.

"I think it's actually okay that there's not as many women investors – a lot of women don't want to put in the hours necessary to have a successful venture.

"Education in this sector in the UK is a problem – there aren't as many female angels as there are in the US as a percentage, and I think part of that is due to the cultural differences between the two countries. In the UK lots of men exit their businesses and don’t reinvest either

"It's also because there are fewer female founders, which means there are fewer female run businesses, fewer females exiting their business and taking the money, and therefore fewer women available to invest."

Does it matter that there are fewer female angels?

Given the difficulty angel networks face in getting women to the floor, does it really matter what sex your angel is? Our research suggests that while the answer to that question is a resounding 'no', it was crucial to attract more women to the sector to help bolster the angel pool.

"It does matter that there are only 5% female investors because the numbers mean that 52% of wealth, which is owned by women, isn't being invested," said Addidi Wealth's Sofat.

"Secondly, it's a known fact that female owned businesses are less well-financed because they borrow less and are invested in less. A way to improve that is to increase the number of female angels – this widens the pool of potential investors and provides some who have a better understanding of female businesses."

Neeta Patel, chief executive of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, agreed, adding: "We do need more female angels for two reasons – one, there aren't enough angels out there full stop and two, what sort of message do we send if it's only men investing? That entrepreneurship is only for men?"

Another key reason for encouraging more women to the front is because, according to Ariadne Capital's Meyer, the business world is becoming more feminine

"By that I meant there's a greater understanding of feminine qualities such as trust building, working collaboratively, working in networks, using emotional intelligence," she expanded.

"It's not about being a woman necessarily, but as one you have the innate qualities which puts women at a natural advantage."

And being an angel can even lead to a better work/life balance, allowing you to pick your hours and spend more time at home with the family.

"When I started I had three kids and didn't want to go through the whole thing of starting a company up all over again," said Murray.

"Through being an angel investor I was able to stay in business without having to be a founding entrepreneur. You can be as involved as you want, and do as little or as much as you want, as well as run it alongside your other interests – I think it's tailor-made for women."

It's not just about getting the bodies in though - many of our correspondents said getting more women on board was just the beginning.

"All teams work better with diversification – I'd also like to see more ethnic minorities in the angel community – at the moment they're nearly all white men," said Rees-Mogg.

How do we encourage more women on board?

There were several key takeaways from HuffPost UK's discussions with entrepreneurs and angels about how to make the investment world more attractive to women.

Firstly, the education gap has to be filled - wealth advisors and entrepreneur networks need to be more proactive in explaining how angel investments work, and what the risks and rewards are. Buddying up or mentoring by existing angels was also suggested by many of the people HuffPost UK spoke to.

Secondly, the mechanics of the angel networks need to change to reflect women who have families, and women who's backgrounds are not in financial services.

A more collaborative environment and one with longer time scales, and an appreciation that you're investing for the longer term - not a fast-moving investment that you plan to get out of the following month - would help women feel more comfortable.

The introduction and adoption of crowd funding sites was also cited by many - these can offer a less scary way in for women to test the water with smaller investment amounts, and help them build the confidence to go it alone later.

The incoming regulation for the lending side of crowd funding ventures has offered a ray of hope that the investment sites which use crowd funding could be close behind, adding another layer of security for nervous investors.

Finally, simply waiting a bit longer will naturally see the number of female angels increase - as more business women see their businesses reach maturity and get to the point where they want to exit, the number of wealthy female investors will grow.

From the mouths of angels...

Dale Murray, entrepreneur and angel investor:

"I get annoyed at how low the figures are for female investors. I think the structural mechanics of investing are working against women – with the angel networks they tend to meet a couple of times a month and always in the evening, which can be really anti social for women with families.

"I'd like to see more female investors. Although I invest in a broad range of companies, I do have a skew towards female entrepreneurs because sometimes men just don't get their ideas. And wouldn't it be more fun if there were more women?"

Gita Patel an active business angel and the co-founder of Stargate Capital:

"Female angels are needed because female businesses asking for help are looked on as weak by male angels, but female angels see it as a sign that the company is being transparent with them.

"Crowd funding is popular in the US and if regulators were to allow the concept here for investment to be regulated that would cause a paradigm shift for the whole industry."

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