Silicon Valley roadmap shows way for women in business

A focus on encouraging more American women to become angel investors has seen dramatic results that Scotland is looking replicate, says Perry Gourley.
Finalists at last year's inaugural AccelerateHer awards, which attracted more than 100 entries. Picture: ContributedFinalists at last year's inaugural AccelerateHer awards, which attracted more than 100 entries. Picture: Contributed
Finalists at last year's inaugural AccelerateHer awards, which attracted more than 100 entries. Picture: Contributed

According to Silicon Valley-based businesswoman Gwen Edwards, the drive to encourage more women entrepreneurs isn’t just about promoting gender equality.

“Gender-diverse teams simply outperform those that aren’t and there is now lots of data to support that,” said Edwards, speaking from her San Francisco base.

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The potential benefits for the Scottish ecomony of having more female entrepreneurs is significant. Women’s Enterprise Scotland research estimates that if the number of female-led businesses could be increased to the same level of those run by men there would be a five per cent boost to the economy, equivalent to some £7.6 billion.

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Edwards has over 30 years of experience of leading and developing businesses in high-technology sectors and is an active leader with Golden Seeds, an angel investment network which focuses on female-led businesses.

Next month Edwards, who manages a personal portfolio of 16 early-stage investments, will be speaking at the second Growth & Ambition conference to be staged by Scottish all-female angel investment group Investing Women. For those keen to see more female angels and entrepreneurs emerge in Scotland, her insight will be invaluable.

In the US women currently make up more than 25 per cent of the angel community compared with around five per cent in Scotland and some 23 per cent of US angel-backed firms are female-led. The rise of female angel investors has been echoed by an increase in women pitching high-growth companies for investment.

Edwards believes the foundations are already being put in place for Scotland to replicate that growth and argues that the “echo effect” will have a significant role to play in the years ahead.

“The women who are building their own business now serve as an inspiration to others and that has a really profound effect over time. Some of the women who are backed by angel investors will in turn become investors of the future and help develop a new wave of female entrepreneurs,” said Edwards, who prior to joining Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial ranks in 2000 served as president of Pacific Bell Network Integration and Business Internet Services, a $400m high-growth business unit of SBC Communications (now AT&T).

While Edwards’ appearance at this year’s Investing Women conference is something of a coup for the Scottish organisation’s founder Jackie Waring, her contribution will go far beyond her speech.

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Edwards is currently helping plan a visit to California from a number of finalists in the AccelerateHer awards staged alongside the conference. The visit will be a unique opportunity for female entrepreneurs to meet potential investors and to build connections and networks.

The awards help women showcase their companies before an audience of angel investors, commercial advisers and fellow entrepreneurs and provides a platform for attracting business angel investment.

Last year’s AccelerateHer initiative attracted more than 100 entries with finalists including booking and management specialist Appointedd, patisserie business Mademoiselle Macaron, personal attack alarm designer Pick Protection, online development leadership company InclusIQ, dementia app company MindMate, and Findra, which designs performance lifestyle outdoor clothing.

The conference includes a series of master classes and 1:1 clinics and aims to inspire entrepreneurs and demystify angel investing for prospective new women angels.

Waring acknowledges that although such initiatives play an important role in helping female entrepreneurs, more needs to be done to encourage those with the ideas and ability to succeed in business.

“As well as helping create more female-led start-up companies in Scotland, we must also help those businesses achieve their true growth potential,” she said.

“Businesswomen who have the right ‘CEO mindset’, where they are focused on growth with a scalable business model, will also benefit from having regular interaction with like-minded individuals through appropriate networks as well as accessible role models.

“The critical factor then is securing finance, vital for virtually any business aiming to achieve fast and significant growth,” she argued.

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While the focus of the conference and awards is on start-up and early-stage companies, Edwards pointed out that those women-led companies looking to push on to the next level also face a challenge.

“As more women get funding to build early-stage companies the next question is how to they tap into into the venture capital funding needed to take them to the next stage of business growth. The venture capital sector is still very much male dominated and that hasn’t really changed over the years,” Edwards pointed out.