Jackie Waring: Angels resolve to tap women's potential

Was 2016, as some have claimed, the worst year ever? Depending on your views, political events might have made it a time for optimism or a year that you'd rather forget. Most of us may have united in sadness at the loss of icons such as David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Muhammad Ali, and been appalled at continuing suffering in conflict zones such as Syria.

Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon bring Britain to heel. Photograph: Lesley Martin/Getty

Women continued to experience steady progression in terms of equality and opportunities in parts of the world, but I fear many might consider last year a disappointment. While a woman became UK prime minister and we saw the number of female board directors on FTSE 100 companies pass the 25 per cent mark, new research showing women are paid 18 per cent less than their male counterparts reminds us of how far there is to travel.

Perhaps a more symbolic setback was the decision of voters in the world’s most powerful nation not to elect its first ever female Commander in Chief. But it’s important that the rejection of Hillary Clinton as US president should not discourage women in believing they can achieve success at virtually anything.

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No more so is this the case than in the field of entrepreneurialism where we have seen a significant growth in female-led new business start-ups. In the past year alone our all-female angel investment group, Investing Women, has seen a significant rise in women-led businesses seeking and securing investment; and that’s also been greatly boosted by our colleagues in other Scottish angel groups.

The inaugural AccelerateHER Awards, last March, celebrated and recognised this growth in female entrepreneurship. We also helped promote greater awareness of some thriving businesses with four of the six finalists raising over £2m investment between them to fund international growth.

These awards return in March, when participants will showcase their companies before an audience of angel investors, commercial advisers and fellow entrepreneurs. The competition, open to applicants until the end of January, also provides an ideal platform for attracting business angel investment, with at least two finalists securing a market-building trip to California next April.

Initiatives like this one play an important role in helping female entrepreneurs, but 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.

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. The US business angel community provides a clear illustration of how more female entrepreneurs can access finance. They’ve recorded a clear effect charting how the rise of female angel investors has been echoed by an increase in women pitching high growth companies for investment.

While we have some way to go before we match the rate of US women angels – currently making up more than 25 per cent of its community compared with around five per cent in Scotland – we continue to make progress.

The success of female entrepreneurs is vital, not only in terms of promoting gender equality but also to benefit the wider economy. Women’s Enterprise Scotland research shows that if we could increase the number of female-led businesses to the same level of those run by men we’d see a five per cent boost to our economy, equivalent to a rise of £7.6bn.

Regardless of how we perceived events in 2016, it’s now time to look forward and consider the potential that lies in this new year. By continuing to develop and promote opportunities for entrepreneurial women we can make this a year like no other, for all the right reasons.

Jackie Waring is CEO of Investing Women. For further information on the 2017 AccelerateHER Awards visit: www.investingwomen.co.uk/2017entries