In her keynote address to our recent Ambition Nation: Female Leaders Series event, Brenda Trenowden CBE, global chair of the 30% Club, made a clear point: gender balance in leadership is not a social movement, it is about better business. It’s no secret that the future of our economic growth relies on innovation and different ways of thinking. Brenda cited a BCG survey from 2017, demonstrating that the more diverse companies are, the more innovative they are. And the most innovative companies are the most diverse. Diversity of thought requires diversity of thinkers.
That so many female entrepreneurs and founders still struggle to secure the funding and support they need to scale-up their ideas is the simple reason why finnCap continues to convene our increasingly popular Female Leaders Series events. We support and nurture our most ambitious female founders to create a better business future for Britain. It’s a subject at the very core of my beliefs.
‘The more diverse companies are, the more innovative they are’
Building networks builds success
No (wo)man is an island and even the most successful entrepreneurs surround themselves with a support network. For all of us, networking is incredibly important to the success of our businesses. Networking events can introduce budding female entrepreneurs to those who can share their advice and their own personal experiences. It can also help them make connections that increase their chances of finding the funding they need and introduce female founders to new commercial opportunities once their business is up and running.
There is now an array of networking events aimed specifically at female entrepreneurs, including finnCap’s own Female Leaders Series, which apart from giving female entrepreneurs the opportunity to make connections, provides a forum to discuss the specific problems and experiences many of them face.
Mentors offer a wealth of advice
Networking events may also help introduce female entrepreneurs to a mentor.
One of the first actions I undertook after founding finnCap was to identify successful individuals who I believed could mentor me and I greatly benefited from their advice and support.
Research consistently highlights the lack of mentors women have throughout their careers. Only 28pc of women in the workplace say they have ever had a mentor now or in the past compared to one third of men. Men also report having had more mentors than women – 3.7 on average compared to 2.5 for women.
Mentors can play a vital role to anyone’s success. Simply having someone to talk to, who has faced the challenge of balancing career and family life and who has greater business experience is hugely beneficial. While progress has been made and women are creating their own mentoring networks, there is still more we can do to help each other, pass on useful experience and offer advice that will enable other women to enhance their chances of success. It is vital that women help each other.
Demystifying financial jargon
A crucial element of any entrepreneur’s journey is fundraising. Yet, many female entrepreneurs can find the jargon associated with finance off-putting. I was fortunate I had my training as an accountant, so I was financially literate but many there are many other female entrepreneurs who do not have this advantage. We need more effort to demystify finance and place more emphasis on the variety of funding options that are available to female entrepreneurs when they are looking to grow their business.
At our recent Female Leaders Series event, Kim Morrish, director of Ground Control and Debbie Bestwick, founder of Team 17, both spoke of their experiences finding funding for and growing their businesses.
For Kim, the growth of her commercial landscaping business, Ground Control, came through acquisition funded through earnings and taking on additional bank debt.
Meanwhile, Debbie decided an IPO would be the best option to grow Team 17. Her experience was the IPO process was far less complex and daunting than she had expected. She advised solid research and seeking the advice of those that had already been through the IPO process were crucial to her success.
Such an exchange of knowledge is key to demystifying the funding process and helping future business owners understand the options available to them.
Become comfortable taking risks
Risk-taking is integral to successful entrepreneurship. When I moved from heading a company division to founding and becoming the chief executive of a business, I appreciated the risks I was taking and the different order of commitment and responsibly this would involve. But I also believed in my vision and had a passion to carry it through. Some women find risk taking particularly challenging due to a number of factors. Some of this is societal; young girls are less encouraged to take risks from an early age, unlike their male counterparts. Becoming comfortable with risk taking is never an easy thing to do but to some extent it is fundamental to the success of any founder, female or otherwise.
At our Ambition Nation Female Leaders’ Series event Debbie Bestwick also spoke of the importance of taking a calculated risk approach to growth funding. After all, taking a company public involves a number of complex variables not least of which is accepting you will lose a certain amount of control over the business you have created. You also have to persuade new investors of your vision for the business in order to retain enough control to take the business forward, while also delivering on promised returns.
Stay true to yourself
Entrepreneurs that have been the most successful are usually those who have stayed true to their own vision and leadership style. When I became CEO of finnCap, I initially changed my approach: I thought I needed to take a step back from day-to-day contact with my team, reversing how I had worked with my colleagues previously. I soon realised that adopting a culture within my own business which was alien to me was counter-productive and failed to achieve the results I wanted. As a result, I reverted to the more collaborative leadership style that had led me to become CEO in the first place. FinnCap’s growth owes much to the dedication and commitment of its staff but also to our working culture, which encourages people to play a key role in decision making within the firm.
The contribution of female-led businesses is increasing; research published by the Federation of Small Business estimates there has been a 40pc increase in the economic contribution made by female-led businesses in the UK since 2012. Despite this, female founders still have an uphill struggle as they have to grow their business in an economic environment that benefits male entrepreneurs.
Progress may be slow, but it is being made.
Organisations such as our Ambition Nation Female Leaders’ Series aim to drive this work forward, fostering support networks and the flow of ideas and giving budding female founders access to a wealth of advice and knowledge to help them succeed.
Sam Smith is chief executive of finnCap Group