California’s motto “eureka” is likely a nod to the discovery of gold, but the phrase also seems a suitably triumphant summary of the visit by a group of Scottish-based entrepreneurs to the state earlier this year.
Jackie Waring describes the week in San Francisco to present their wares and make key connections as “enormously impactful” for participants. “The feedback we were getting from Silicon Valley was ‘your entrepreneurs have got serious international potential and we like what we see’.”
Among those capitalising on the all-expenses-paid trip were AccelerateHer winners Rebecca Pick of personal alarm specialist Pick Protection, Heather McDonald of beer firm WooHa Brewing and Polly Van Alstyne of Scottish Bioenergy, which produces an extract from algae used in natural blue food colourant.
“Everybody came back with investment interest,” says Waring, who notes that Pick managed to get a connection into taxi-hailing giant Uber to showcase the potential of her product for lone workers.
The group was given the opportunity to pitch to about 60 top angel and venture-capital investors from the Bay Area and beyond, securing a private session with Ron Weissman, who worked closely with Apple’s Steve Jobs, plus advice from Bob Bozeman, who backed Google at start-up stage.
The trip came after the second AccelerateHer Awards in March, with Skyscanner as lead sponsor, and they aim to give female-led businesses in Scotland a platform to promote themselves and potentially attract business angel investment.
The winners were revealed as part of the Ambition & Growth conference run by Scotland’s only all-female business angel group Investing Women (IW), based in Edinburgh and where Waring is founder and chief executive.
While capital-generating is inevitably an essential part of its activity, she stresses that it is about more than the money, looking to create support networks and market opportunities with a view to achieving “dynamic parity” rather than power.
Consequently, the aim is for the event, which this year featured broadcaster Kate Adie providing an insight into her career and praise for the businesswomen present, to run every year. “We do want to see it bigger and better, we do want to see more opportunities coming out for the women entrepreneurs not just participating in the conference – but actually on the AccelerateHer competition side.”
IW was set up to tackle a dearth of female angel investors in Scotland, and it started investing in 2015. It now has 25 “and growing” individuals on its books who to qualify as an angel must be either a high-net-worth individual or a “sophisticated” investor.
Looking to boost the ranks, she is keen to bat away preconceptions that angel investing takes place in a Dragons’ Den-style set-up or is the domain of multimillionaires. Positioning the average investment at around £5,000 to £10,000, Waring, who has made five investments herself through its activity, says “it’s the sum of the parts that’s important… we’re not competing on how big our chequebook is”.
Women have been shown to take a more cautious approach than their male counterparts, with Waring stressing that this is risk awareness or management rather than risk-aversion.
She also points out that very few women choose a hands-off approach when they invest, and most are seeking to actively support the entrepreneurs. “Those make the best investors because they are sharing their knowledge.”
IW is keen to tap into the growing resource of female entrepreneurship, and it has been noted that Scotland’s economy would receive a £7.6 billion boost if the rates of women-led business equalled those of men. “Why wouldn’t you want to maximise the resource?” Waring asks. “It’s clearly not been engaged anything like to the level of possibility. A very overt part of our agenda is to maximise that female participation to the benefit of the business community and the economy.”
As for the contrast between the fast-moving, digitally savvy new generation of entrepreneurs seeking investment and some of the more traditional backgrounds of investors, she insists that the angels can very much bring transferable knowledge.
“All of us, myself included, have invested in companies where in no way are we experts in those sectors, but we sure know what a good business model looks like, what looks scalable, when someone really understands the market and they’ve analysed the competition.”
There is also a bid to broaden the sectors it covers, which already include traditionally male-dominated fields such as oil and software. One of IW’s early investments was in biotech, when in 2015 it led the £1.2 million equity and grant funding enabling Lanarkshire-based TC Biopharm (TCB) to start its first treatment of UK patients with melanoma, lung and kidney cancers. The firm is now going international, Waring says.
In that case IW contributed £680,000, backed by the likes of the Scottish Investment Bank, and it also works with other angel groups in Scotland such as Kelvin Capital and Equity Gap, looking to grow such collaborative efforts.
But one challenge Waring highlights is from the female entrepreneurs themselves. “Sometimes we have conversations where we say ‘You need to ask for more’ in terms of what you need to get the company to the growth stage you want to get to.”
However, she also cites evidence of increased return on capital where a female founder is involved, “so arguably, if more money went in in the first place, you might actually see more coming out the other side”.
Backing this up, a study published earlier this year by The Entrepreneurs Network and Barclays found that women entrepreneurs bring in 20 per cent more revenue with 50 per cent less money invested. However, other findings from the survey make for less heartening reading. Male entrepreneurs were 86 per cent more likely than women-led businesses to be funded by venture capital, 56 per cent more likely to secure angel investment, and in 2016, 91 per cent of investment was directed into companies without a single female founder.
Crediting IW with increasing the number of female angels in Scotland from a near-standing start, Waring states: “At some lovely point in the future there won’t be a need for the group to be wholly female – but at this point in time, to create the change that’s necessary, there is.”
The businesswoman has extensive experience in the UK enterprise sector, and aged 25 was the UK’s youngest chief executive at the time in the field when working at the Gordon Enterprise Trust. She credits this role as being her biggest influence in the early stages of becoming an entrepreneur, saying that she started out “green as anything” and reporting to a board of directors running huge companies. They had a genuine desire to back other entrepreneurs, because they had “already made it – they didn’t have to prove themselves. That was massively influential on me to this day.”
She has run three companies, including Blue Horizons, a development and leadership consultancy, and has been named Scottish Young Career Woman of the Year. She also led the Access to Finance for Women Agenda for the UK government as an external advisor, which prompted her passion to increase the UK’s level of female angels, and she was appointed the UK’s first advisory board member to the Global Banking Alliance for Women, based in Washington DC.
“I started to look at and track the change in the US,” she points out, highlighting that a quarter of business angels Stateside are female.
As for the numbers now taking part in IW, “I’d love to see them double within the next year – that would be ideal. It’s not easy to achieve that – even for the groups that are not solely female-focused – but we feel we should be aiming for that at least.”