Impact-led entrepreneurship is alive, thriving and female

Jumping in at the deep end during my second week back at work after maternity leave – I hosted my first ever business roundtable panel this week!

Holly Branson Roundtable panel discussion - Mustard Seed

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, I pictured an intimate discussion with seven incredible businesswomen. Loving the idea, I said yes immediately.

A few emails later that I realised I would actually be leading a panel in front of an audience of 150 people! I decided to fight my extreme nerves and give it a go – and I’m so glad I did.

Holly Branson Mustard Seed Roundtable panel discussion

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

Holly Branson Mustard Seed roundtable panel discussion

New life goal: learn something new every day

I love meeting new people and setting myself challenges that put me outside my comfort zone. Luckily, learning is the part of my job that I love the most. 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 disproportionate.

While this figure is concerning, the panel filled me with hope. Cue Sarah Hesz, co-founder of Mush, a brilliant app for new mum’s. 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 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.

Holly Branson Mustard Seed roundtable panel discussion

My second discovery came from reading 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 that concentrated on hopes, achievements, advancement and ideals. Women were asked questions that were largely negative and focused on safety, responsibility, security and risk.  

At this point, the panel and the women in the audience, all started nodding and shared a wry smile. Saasha and Alicia, who’s businesses both tackle food waste, shared stories of being grilled about the financial risks of their ‘hobby’ businesse. 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 is all the sweeter.

Holly Branson Mustard Seed roundtable panel discussion

Impact-led business: the new normal

The range of businesses 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 subject matter, Jennifer shared insight in a way that was easy to understand and actually had the audience laughing! Madalena Hoye, from Winnow Solutions, talked 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 a truly ethical, responsible and beautiful product line to a sector that is rife with human rights issues. Oh, and taking on the mining industry while she’s at it!

Holly Branson Mustard Seed roundtable panel discussion

I was buzzing by the end of the evening and so excited about the growing success of impact-led businesses in both the UK and globally.  I was full of new information on so many sectors that I I previously knew little about and, inspired by a group of women who are growing successful commercial businesses, while making a positive impact on our society and the planet.

I’d love to hear your experiences in attaining investments or any inspiring examples of how to turn the negative questions on their head? 

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

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