Fixing Risk Capital Gender Inequality

By siobhan
Tuesday, 24th September 2019
Filed under: Year2019

The issue of gender equality in the business world is not a new one but in recent times we have started to see constructive debate gaining traction. While it is sadly still not uncommon to hear stories of successful, qualified women being paid less or being overlooked for promotions, such cases are now at least being called out and given prominence rather than swept under the carpet and accepted as the norm.

But we can’t stop at simply shining a spotlight on inequality, there needs to be action at all levels if meaningful change is to be achieved, and this is as true in the start-up world in which the HBAN network operates as it is in the boardrooms of the world’s biggest companies.

Northern Ireland has some fantastic female entrepreneurs, such as Tyrone’s Sarah Friar, current CEO of NextDoor and former CFO and Operations Director of mobile payments company Square. But when it comes to women launching and growing their own businesses, there are still additional hurdles to overcome. Chief among them is raising investment.

Figures released earlier this year from the UK VC & Female Founders report, showed that less than one per cent of venture capital funds in the UK go to start-ups run entirely by women.  It was revealed that for every £1 of VC investment, all-female founder teams get less than 1p while all-male founder teams receive 89p.

As startling as those figures are, they are not surprising. Traditionally, the majority of start-ups – particularly those in the tech space – have been started by men in their 20s and 30s who have developed a core product that appeals to investors looking to back a business with high growth potential. The make up of start up teams tends to reflect the industries they come from.

And if there are fewer female founders, it’s unsurprising then that the stats show men pitch for investment twice as much as women.

A look at the investor side draws further discouragement, as only 14% of business angels in the UK are women. You can understand then why the thought of pitching to an investment panel likely made up of men can be a daunting task for some female founders.

Jenny Tooth, CEO of the trade body for angel and early stage investing, UK Business Angels Association is on a mission to change this. Jenny worked as an angel investor for 15 years and believes change is unrealistic unless more women become investors in early stage businesses.

One solution to this has been the creation of female only VC teams such as Jane VC which wants to transform the tech world. Based in London and Cleveland, Jane VC is bucking the trend and asking female entrepreneurs to email them their pitch. No awkward introductions, no calling in favours. If the idea is good enough then it is investable.

Other VC firms have adopted a blind pitch test where investors are presented with pitch decks that don’t reveal the gender of the business owner. The unfavourable VC model could finally be changing and that is good news for female business owners.

It’s a small step in the right direction but there must be more done to combat inequality in the investment process. Angel investment is an essential option for cash injection at an early stage but it is not solely about the money. It is important for the business owner to build a relationship with the investor, utilising their contacts and knowledge to further grow their business.

I firmly believe there has never been a better time for female entrepreneurs to start their own business and there are many successful businesswomen to look up to across the UK and Ireland. There has been an increase in venture investment in the UK over the past decade and we're starting to see a lot more successful exits being achieved, including here in Northern Ireland.

There are business angels out there who are keen to invest in more female-led businesses and we’ve seen it ourselves with local haircare brand, We Are Paradoxx, an all-female team, going through several successful funding rounds. Venture capitalists must be more open to investing in women. If the product is right, gender should not be another obstacle for female entrepreneurs to overcome.

HBAN’s next pitch event takes place on 25th September at Glandore and I’d love to see more women in the room both pitching and willing to invest in our entrepreneurs. Please email to attend

This article was originally published in the Belfast Telegraph and is reprinted here with permission.