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Success & Missteps
Funding for founders was down across the board last year compared to 2021. We know. We lived it, read about it and commiserated at cocktails and dinners. But we all had to accept that despite market drops, massive tech layoffs and a crypto collapse - the comparatively smaller pot of $445 billion (in 2022) of global venture funding didn’t look so bad. We were after all, looking at the highest funding numbers than any year since 2013, sans 2021.
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But put those numbers aside for a minute, because with all the uncertainties swirling around the world — 2023 is going to be as tough a year, if not tougher for founders looking to raise money, in any round. It is going to hard if you have a mixed founding team and near impossible if you’re a woman-only founder/founding team.
When the economy gets squeezed, it is usually the “all women” teams that get hit the worst. Per Pitchbook data on US Fundraising - In 2022 start-ups with all-women teams received 1.9% in venture capital allocated. That was a pretty noticeable fall from the 2.4% they raised in 2021.
In Europe, numbers from Atomico/Lazard’s bible on the topic - State of European Tech in 2022 were just as depressing.
87% of all VC funding in Europe is still raised by men-only founding teams, while the proportion of funding raised by women-only teams has dropped from 3% to 1% since 2018.
Even when women-only teams successfully raise a round, they are likely to receive less – Looking at mixed teams, these captured only 10% of all rounds raised in 2022 - down from 12% in 21. However, their share of total funding has slightly increased to 12%, despite amount of funding per deal improving.
And God forbid you start looking at the data when it comes to diverse female founders! I’ll leave you to decide when you to crack open a bottle of wine, and ugly cry at their findings!
This week, students at the London School of Economics (LSE) decided to help themselves - specifically female students who wanted to learn the in’s and outs of becoming entrepreneurs. Turns out, there are no classes, student groups or any actual support at the vaunted institution, to help teach the next generation of female entrepreneurs how they can navigate a complex world outside a rather gorgeous campus. If there are any LSE administrators/lecturers/staff reading this – it’s time to help these go-getting students of yours!
Enter Victoria Waterboehr, Corin Roberts, Nayantika Chaudary, Tamira Buttner, Ida Norgaard and their fellow students — They put together a Female Founders Night at LSE, to change perceptions and give some tools and networks to the next tech giant amongst them! AND they did it on their own time and expense!
We talked, laughed, answered questions and heard each other. But most importantly, the fabulous founders who joined me in sharing their time, experiences and know-how about ‘demystifying entrepreneurship’ and ‘how to get started’ made real connections with the students.
This was Lesson 1 for the young ladies in the room: The importance of networks.
Lesson 2? Be present in the room, every room when you’re just starting out!
Lesson 3? Really think about entrepreneurship like you would a relationship - whether it’s a co-founder or an investor. Would you want to live with them for the many tough years ahead? Do they share your values? Do they help you be a better version of you, or change who you are, fundamentally? If the answer was in the negative for any of those questions — no business idea or check, per all our founders was important enough to get in bed with those person/persons.
Then came the tips and tricks to help avoid some of the mine field they’d face. One that stood out — VC money isn’t the only money you should be chasing! There’s plenty of smart money out there! Any lack of funding for female founders has never been a pipeline problem. It has inevitably been a bias problem.
The united experience of all our founders? That investors are still uncomfortable with women founders who have businesses outside of fashion or femtech. They still talk to a male co-founder (if one is on the team) if it’s about “the numbers”. The micro-aggression game is still strong. And we all agreed there needs to be a global dictionary of “what a VC says Vs. What they mean?” No amount of time in a school prepares you for that reality.
The Founders who floored me this week are women at various stages of building their businesses. Do reach out to them if you’re interested in investing in their amazing ideas, or if you want to expand their network so we build the female unicorn universe, quickly. It’s currently a really dismal number. Amongst unicorn company founders in 2022 —in the UK just 6% were founded by women, 8% in Europe and 14% globally.
That is simply not good enough. Why you ask?
Because women led start-ups make more money
Female LPs make more profitable investments
Companies led by women are better for the economy.
The above reasons are all backed by data and you can read more about the ‘Why’s’ at Forbes.
Meet the Entrepreneurs
(Right to Left)
Ella Mills is co-founder of Deliciously Ella. She built a $25 Million Plant-Based Empire whose food products are now stocked in more than 6,000 stores across the UK. Deliciously Ella has customers in 2.7 million households in the past 6 months alone. Her first book not only spent eight weeks at #1 on Amazon—across all categories—but became the fastest-selling debut cookbook of all time in the UK.
Darcy Laceby is co-founder of Absolute Collagen. She started the company with her mother Maxine Laceby in their kitchen in 2017 and consciously chose the path of being organically grown Vs. from a ‘VC Factory.’ While her go-getting mother kicked off her entrepreneurial journey in her fifties, Darcy joined her at 20 to be the ‘organised sensible one’! And boy did that combination work. The mother-daughter duo generated £21m in revenue last year and brought private equity investors on board after years of self-funding.
Alice Benham specialises in marketing and business strategy. Her journey began at the tender age of 16 and she is now not just host of a successful podcast ‘Starting the Conversation’ and founder of ‘On Paper’ stationery, she has a burgeoning business helping entrepreneurs grow, scale and pivot their businesses in a sustainable way.
Natalie Enslow (hidden by my big head!) is the founder of Fjör, a brand-new Nordic skincare brand that is rooted in biotech. The young gun began her career at Rolex and swiftly pivoted to doing what was meaningful to her - fjör's objective is to provide a simplified, powerful solution at a more accessible price point.
(Left to Right)
Susan Allen is the co-founder of Here We Flo. The LSE Alumna met her co-founder Tara Chandra while studying at the institution. The two wanted to start a feminist mafia and so began the hunt for organic feminine hygiene products. So was born Here We Flow - the affordable and eco-friendly feminine hygiene firm in 2017. The brand has a strong community building ethos, is stocked in Boots and WHSmiths and has publications like Glamour, ELLE, Popsugar and the Independent all wow’ ed.
Julie Sane-Pezet is co-founder of Ally by Ila (yes, we all noticed the Ally game was strong amongst the group!). She met her co-founder Net Supatravanij at LSE too and began a start-up that works with businesses who want to foster inclusive workplaces. Their philosophy? Putting human-centred design at the heart of their innovation strategy targeting Equity, Diversity & Inclusion with a focus on gender-based violence.
Kelly Klifa is the co-founder of Ally Health. She is on her second business having already created a success during Covid with ‘Testing for All.” That company was scaled to becoming a leading Covid-19 test provider, with £29m turnover. Kelly’s latest venture Ally Health is a high tech/high touch solution that makes in-person care accessible to your patients, wherever they are.
Emily Carter is the founder of the eponymous design brand Emily Carter. An award-winning designer, specialising in hand illustrated silk accessories and interiors, she’s bootstrapped a business that now sells at prestigious stores like Liberties and Selfridges. Emily is also a guest lecturer at London College of Fashion, where she studied and member of the British Fashion Council.
A lot of the conversations I’m having these days (with not just leadership teams in business and policymaking, but also with friends and family) seem to come back to perceptions of success and failure. How do we define it? What does it look like. And oft-times I am left a little disappointed how much in the early 2000’s we still seem to be. Our gathered founders though, did get to the heart of the issue.
When it comes to women and their relationship with failure - well lets agree that deserves a whole thesis paper on its own. But once again, this group was unanimous that perhaps it was time to stop using the word ‘failure’ with all its negative connotations. A delightful world that was suggested as a replacement was ‘misstep.’ I frankly quite like the sound of that!
The definition of success though they all agreed is personal. But for this group it definitely wasn’t a title, a job, or association with a large brand name. Those things were good they agreed to help learn the ropes, before diving into whatever it was that drove them. It made me remember this article (based on her book) by Carrie Kerpen back in 2019 in Forbes about how some of the most successful women in the world define success.
But if success does have a more traditional definition for you, this next section calls for a cheerleading squad, because the women I’m going to talk about are smashing it!
Moving the corporate needle
The needle moved a tiny little bit this week for female leadership in our global C-Suites. Considering that per S&P Global, women are still significantly underrepresented as CEOs globally, but slightly increased their share to 5.4% in 2022, compared with 5% in 2021 — It’s been a good week for women in British C-suites.
Diageo maybe losing its female Chief Operating Officer, but it is for a good reason. Debra Crew was just named the booze maker’s new CEO. She also becomes the 10th FTSE 100 female CEO in her new role. Prior to being appointed COO last year, Debra was President, Diageo North America and Global Supply, leading Diageo’s largest market to 14% organic net sales growth in fiscal 2022, following on from 20% organic net sales growth in the prior year. She originally joined the Diageo Board as a Non-Executive Director in April 2019. Read more at Bloomberg
There are glass ceilings being broken over at Rolls Royce too. Helen McCabe was named this week as the engineering and aerospace company’s new finance chief (CFO). Helen is currently senior vice president of finance for the Customer & Products division of BP PLC and was previously CFO of BP Down stream’s fuels and refining Europe & Southern Africa businesses. Rolls-Royce CFO Panos Kakoullis will remain in post until August 31, with McCabe's exact start date to be announced "subsequently." Read more at The Guardian
Carol Young will succeed Bill Galvin later this year as Group CEO of Universities Superannuation Scheme Ltd, the largest private pension scheme in the UK by assets. Most recently working as Director of Reward & Employment at NatWest, Carol is expected to begin work at USS in September this year. Read more at USS
It’s not just the big-name UK based businesses that seem to be shaking things up. Earlier this year, there were a few big appointments of note - here they are if you missed them:
Somachi Chris-Asoluka has become the CEO of Africa’s most influential foundation. The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) was set up by one of Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world - Tony Elumelu - the billionaire Nigerian economist, Chair of the United Bank for Africa and Transcorp and respected philanthropist. The powerhouse that is Somachi will now determine the direction of a foundation that has disbursed over $100 million seed capital to over 18,000 beneficiaries across 54 African countries in 13 years. Somachi will oversee an organisation that has already trained 1.5 million entrepreneurs in the past 13 years and created over 400,000 jobs of which 58% were created by female entrepreneurs. These businesses, according to TEF, had generated $2.3 billion revenue since 2015.
Hapiloe Sello has become the CEO of the body mandated with the management of South Africa’s national parks system, SANParks. She is the first female CEO of SANParks since its establishment in 1926 and joined the body in 2015 as its managing executive for Tourism Development and Marketing and among others, acted as SANParks CEO from June to November 2022.
Fashion giant Kering announced the appointment of Raffaella Cornaggia as CEO of Kering Beauté. Based in Paris and reporting to Jean-François Palus, Group Managing Director of Kering, she is now a member of the Group’s Executive Committee.
Chief Economic Adviser to the UK Treasury, Clare Lombardelli, was appointed as the new OECD Chief Economist – the first time a British person has held this role in thirty years.
France based autonomous mobility systems company Navya, founded in 2014 appointed of Stéphanie Boileau-Canu as Chief Financial Officer & EVP Operations.
If you’re interested in putting your hat in the C-suite ring, here are a handful of the many companies looking for new leadership right now:
Port of Gdańsk
Exits of note
Lisa Nishimura, Netflix
Netflix OG Lisa Nishimura has left the building! Who’d have thought the woman who has been with the streaming giant from its days of mailing DVDs would ever leave? After 15 years, the Asian American icon of documentaries and films has left her job as VP of independent film and documentary features. One article described her exit as “a particular shock to the nonfiction film community” and another was even more blunt - “It’s a signal that the most thoughtful, taste-driven era is being driven out.” Read more at The Hollywood Reporter
Stacey Jones, Accenture
If you’ve ever had to work with the leadership of Accenture - you’ve definitely had to have passed the Stacey Jones check. Accenture’s global head of communications is leaving the consulting giant after more than a quarter of a century. I for one am excited to see what she does next. It’s also going to take someone quite brave to fill shoes of a powerhouse who knew the nuanced needs of 40 industries, 500,000 people and 6,000 clients. Read more at PR Week
Language is everything!
You might wonder as you read further why I’m harping on about a 2022 report, 3 months into 2023. But well, I am. Because this report is a strong indicator that leadership styles are changing, especially among women CEOs, and we better get used to it. It looks like gone are the days when leadership models were centered on more traditional male models.
S&P does an annual survey looking at CEO leadership styles according to their language analysis of 6,831 corporate leaders of over 5,801 companies in the S&P Global Broad Market Index (covering corporations with the largest global market capitalization).
Here are highlights of what stuck with me in the 2022 report Women CEOs: Leadership for a Diverse Future:
Women CEOs, since the outbreak of the pandemic till end 2022, steadily increased their use of words corresponding to leadership styles built around diversity, empathy, adaptability, and transformation.
Diversity replaced accountability as the most important trait of women CEOs’ leadership styles.
Women CEOs exhibited a more positive communication style, as observed in their more frequent use of words like “growth”, “continue”, “good”, and “customer”. Comparing early pandemic to late pandemic periods, women CEOs also used proportionately more expressions of joy and men used proportionately more anger. The gender differential grew noticeably wider between the two time frames.
A transformational style emerged as the fourth most prevalent one, which tends to inspire beyond expectations in emphasizing a vision that goes beyond self-interest.
In short, the successful female CEO is now an ‘Authentic’ one, focussed on diversity, with a vision that is not self centered. Hallelujah - the world might have hope after all.
I hope you read the S&P Global research report - It is as heartening as it is enlightening.
And yes, it is still very much relevant.
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