Investors: the missing link for female entrepreneurs

Wendy Simpson knows the one thing she would do to raise the number of women in business leadership.


“For all the discussion about the statistics on the number of women on boards (15.7% on the ASX200), and the number of women in senior management, the number that upsets me the most is that only 2% of venture capital money goes into businesses led by women,” the Springboard Australia chief says.


“If we fixed that, think of [how that] will shift our economy, and women’s leadership in general.”


The pressures women face sourcing capital is an issue close to Simpson’s heart, given she experienced them herself back in 2010 while attempting to buy out her partner in the engineering company she part-owned. “It was very difficult, as a women, to raise capital for a manufacturing company in Australia,” she tells StartupSmart from the Dell Women’s Entrepreneurs Network conference in Istanbul. “I didn’t know how to do it. I went around various private equity and venture capital firms, trying to look at how to actually fund the growth of a company.”


At a DWEN conference three years ago, Simpson met a woman who could help.


Kay Koplovitz is the founder and CEO of American cable company Koplovitz & Co. In 2000, Koplovitz founded Springboard Enterprises, an organisation dedicated to teaching women how to pitch for capital.


Simpson, fresh with the memory of her own funding problems, lobbied Koplovitz to bring Springboard to Australia, a vision she achieved a year ago.


Since then, the company has coached its first intake of Australian female entrepreneurs in how to grow million-dollar businesses.


Simpson stresses the fact that they’re million-dollar businesses they’re hoping to assist, rather than women launching successful small businesses. She sees her role as helping big businesses while they’re still small. Through coaching, mock investor presentations and feedback, Springboard helps these business owners position themselves for growth.


To grow large and successful, you need to get your structure and pitch right from the beginning, says Amy Millman, who heads up Springboard in America.


“The actual reason most entrepreneurs can’t get money is usually that there’s something else missing. That absence adds risk to investors.


“Big bankers are very black and white. If you don’t have a certain numbers or structures, they’re not going to even look at you. But the whole process of thinking like an investor is something foreign to most entrepreneurs.


“So we decided to be like Hollywood agents for entrepreneurs. We help them speak ‘investor’.”


Asked whether there are unique constraints in Australia holding female entrepreneurs back, both women say the key issue is remarkably the same across both continents.


“Investors invest in the jockey not the horse. They want to know you’re somebody they can work with. Yes, they care about the business. But if they haven’t established a rapport with you, if you haven’t said why you’re the person they should invest in, you’re at a disadvantage,” Millman says.


“Most women don’t think their personal story is relevant to investors. In Australia, they have an excuse, which is the ‘tall poppy syndrome’. In America, we don’t have that excuse, but it’s the same problem.”


Pitching yourself along with your business would help entrepreneurs avoid another common pitfall: not clearly articulating what differentiates them from the rest.


“Often you get so involved in the intricacies of your product and what you’re doing, you don’t understand what’s different about it. With plenty of startups there are many people doing something similar. You have to stand out from the crowd,” Millman says.


“Honestly, I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve been effective in explaining what their niche is. They’re very involved in explaining their algorithm. That’s not going to work. It’s about what makes you different from the next person who can do the same thing.


“If you’re going to compete with Microsoft, investors need to know what makes you think you in particular will be able to do it.”


Myriam Robin is in Istanbul as a guest of Dell, which paid for her flights and accommodation.


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