Impact-led entrepreneurship is alive, thriving and female

Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 29 September 2019

Jumping in at the deep end for my second week back after maternity leave – I agreed to host my first ever business roundtable!

When I received an email from Alex at Mustard Seed (an impact Venture Capital firm in the UK) about hosting their first ever female founder roundtable in front of 150 people.

It was thought-provoking, inspiring and truly insightful to spend an evening with these women - all of whom have founded commercially attractive businesses that are also addressing big issues such as disease prevention, ethical fashion, mental health challenges and food waste.

David Watts
David Watts

Learning is one part of my job that I really love. The more events I say yes to, the more I learn about the changing face of business and the challenges faced by entrepreneurs today. 

During my research for the panel, two things really struck me. The first is the disparity in funding between women founded businesses and male founded businesses. In the US, only 2.2 per cent of start-up funding goes to female founders and in the UK it sits at around 9 per cent. I was aware that there was a gender gap, both in funding of and in the number of female investors in the venture capital game, I just wasn’t aware it was this big.

While this figure is concerning, the panel filled me with hope. Cue Sarah Hesz, co-founder of Mush, a brilliant app for new mothers. Sarah spoke passionately about how we can increase the number of women investors and encourage financial institutions to look at the gender balance in their investment teams. Nicky Lynch, from the sustainable fashion brand Beulah, fervently agreed. Nicky told the room how a more equitable split of male and female investors in the room, especially during pitches, would benefit impact-led ‘lifestyle’ businesses that tend to be led by women. For the record, only around 13 per cent of venture capital decision makers are women in Britain. 

David Watts
David Watts

My second discovery came from a Harvard Business Review article discussing how investors questioned female founders different to their male counterparts. With women, the questions concentrated on potential losses and with men they concentrated on potential gains. Men were asked positive questions about their hopes, achievements, advancement and ideals. Women were asked more cautious questions focused on safety, responsibility, security and risk.

By this point, the panel members and the women in the audience were fiercely nodding in agreement. Saasha and Alicia, who’s businesses both tackle food waste, shared stories of being grilled about the financial risks of their ‘hobby’ businesses. Both companies are trailblazers in the food waste sector – a £1 trillion market opportunity. Quite the hobby!

It was shocking to hear, but these obstacles certainly made the success of these women all the sweeter.

Image from David Watts
Image from David Watts

The range of businesses represented in the panel and the generosity of the founders in sharing their experiences, was as heartwarming as it was fascinating. 

Jennifer Rohn, a top scientist from AtoCap, has developed a new form of antibiotic delivery to treat disease and infections such as Urinary Tract Infections. Despite the complicated subject matter, Jennifer shared insight in a way that was easy to understand and even had the audience laughing! Madalena Hoye, from Winnow Solutions, talked about everything from scaling a three person business to going global in just three years, eliminating commercial food waste and keeping true to your original vision. 

Laura Lambert, founder of Fenton & Co, shared her experience of shaking up the luxury jewelry market by introducing an ethical, responsible and beautiful product line to a sector that is rife with human rights issues.

Image from David Watts
Image from David Watts

I was buzzing by the end of the evening and it left me so excited about the growing success of impact-led businesses in both the UK and globally. I was so inspired by this group of women who are growing successful commercial businesses, while making a positive impact on our society and the planet.

Later in the week I'll share some tips from these women on how to build a responsible business. Stay tuned!