Thursday, April 2, 2020

Making Funding Female-Friendly: Helping Startups Become Investable in a Male-Dominated World

As a business that focuses on female entrepreneurs, at Next Chapter in Hong Kong we are often asked why ‘female’ entrepreneurs not just ‘entrepreneurs’? Surprisingly, this question is asked more often by women than men.
It’s a great question. Why does the distinction need to be made in the first place and is the term ‘entrepreneur’ what we are aspiring to achieve? Can we or should we aspire to drop that distinction? Having transitioned from a corporate environment that was heavily skewed male, both in terms of my employer and clients, I always found myself in a room full of men. However, it wasn’t this fact that drove me to focus on female entrepreneurs.
The reality is that I worked with some amazing men and women in my corporate career and am thankful for the experiences and opportunities that it provided.
Lots Of Motivation
The transition to motherhood motivated me. I was motivated by the fact that coming
from a 15 year, high-flying, internationally based consulting role, to becoming a mother and not working, seemed to mean that suddenly, “I had nothing to say”. There seemed to be an embarrassment to asking a question outside of what I was doing with the kids. For some mothers, this situation may not have occurred, but by nature, I am a talker, a listener, and an explorer and these reactions were completely unexpected.
This was followed by the experience of being told that if I didn’t return to the workforce within three years after motherhood, then my 15 years of corporate experience may no longer be relevant.
Untapped Talent
This was a difficult consideration for me. I then realized while looking around at this untapped environment of other educated and experienced mothers (ex-lawyers, researchers, consultants, marketers, etc.) that many women were going through the same experience. That meant there is this huge untapped wealth of experience, knowledge, and talent waiting to be unleashed through female entrepreneurship. This is in addition to upcoming female millennials questioning the traditional corporate roles and asking “what is right for me?”.
As I discussed recently at the JESSICA Magazine Leaders Forum, the world is changing and the challenge is “how do we breathe air into the current startup system if we want to engage with the talent of women and bring their amazing contributions into entrepreneurial society?” Male-oriented Startup Ecosystem, Unfortunately, the reality is that many startups fail. Those that succeed, continue to function and grow in a male-dominated space.
For example, VC statistics show that about 10% of VC funding goes to female-founded businesses. In addition, female founders typically start with less capital which hinders their ability to grow. When Joy Anderson from the Criterion Institute came to talk on Gender Financials in Hong Kong, she explained that studies show women establish one revenue line and consolidate that position before growing the next business line, whereas men typically take more multiple business-line approaches and therefore this impacts the way we seek funding and debt.
These facts not only show that women face more barriers in a male-dominated ecosystem, but also that their methods for growth are very different. Are we expecting female-led businesses to fit into this system? Or, should we be creating structures and services to meet their unique needs?
One fact we often share with our community, it was only in 1998 that the US Congress passed the Women’s Business Ownership Act that eliminated state laws requiring women to obtain the signature of a husband or other man as a prerequisite for a business loan. That was only 30 years ago!
Perhaps what we don’t realize, or sometimes gloss over, is that women don’t have the cumulative entrepreneurial knowledge, mentors or peers built up yet nor are they institutionalized into our networking culture.
Although amazing networks such as The Women Entrepreneur Network (WEN), whose board I joined recently, are using great events such as mastermind groups to share and embed this knowledge, there is more work to be done. Questions I Want To Answer How do we change the investor language and landscape?
“Let’s hit the ball out of the park”, “this is a great second inning”, “let’s agree how to get everyone onto the field.”
Can we stop with the sporting analogies to explain our business goals? How often can we actually commit to full weekend hackathons? This structure cannot and does not suit everyone. Can there not be other options? We must also remember that women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence. This means that even when a woman isn’t paying for something, she is often the influence or veto vote behind someone else’s purchase.
However, imagine if more women were not only starting businesses but successfully growing them to provide the solutions to these needs. So back to our original question – why do we focus on ‘female’ entrepreneurs? Because we are continuing to learn and understand the subtle context that defines where we all are as a startup culture today.
Our goal in Next Chapter not only is to work with women and men to assist female entrepreneurs to not only launch but also grow and scale their business, then get them funded. We help startups work towards becoming investable in what is historically a very male-dominated world.
We do this through crowdfunding, training, mentorship and community support. We intend to be part of the rising tide to bring more female founders into the startup world and keep them there.


About The Author
Nicole Denholder is the founder and CEO of Next Chapter, which launched in early 2016 as a funding portal especially for female entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses in Asia, to improve their access to funding. It’s first service is a rewards-based crowdfunding platform that supports entrepreneurs wanting to raise funds, create market buzz and validate their business ideas.

Nicole previously worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in London and Hong Kong in PwC’s US IPO and Advisory practices working on large scale projects across Europe and Asia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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