Risk or reward: Why female leaders define the new dawn of growth

Jun 22, 2018 / Blog

What if we told you that, with a little less aversion to risk in this country, we could save the NHS around £1 billion?

With such high stakes, surely this is the kind of gutsy roll of the dice we could all get behind?

The tool in question is a B2B, flexible healthcare platform developed by Lantum, a company founded by CEO Melissa Morris, who saw huge inefficiencies within the bureaucracy of our health system. Lantum’s online platform to organise, manage and move workforces in healthcare has already saved the NHS – by way of the regional bodies that currently use it – around £10 million. If Lantum is given the opportunity to scale the product nationwide, we’re talking about significant cost savings to a beloved institution that desperately needs them.

But must it really take the emotive prospect of saving the NHS to convince us that investing in a company that thinks differently is a risk worth taking?

Risk aversion is a very British issue that is holding back our growth and it is the most ambitious and innovative that lose out to something safer. More precisely, high risk ventures include tech, like Lantum’s, that is geared at driving efficiency and lowering costs. And companies like Lantum, led by pioneering women.

Women are seen implicitly as more of an investment risk than men

Leading women in tech

Ms Morris was one of the speakers finnCap heard at this week’s Leading Women in Tech event, hosted at Mishcon de Reya, where she with other founders Ann Boden of Starling Bank and Catherine Wines of WorldRemit, chair Neeta Patel, CEO of New Entrepreneurs’ Foundation, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Elizabeth Truss MP, celebrated the achievements and discussed the challenges of Britain’s leading women in tech.

Women with attitude are going to take on the status quo and deliver new growth

Chairing the debate, Ms Patel asked how we can “move the needle” for female tech entrepreneurs: how can we encourage women to start – and more importantly scale – tech businesses? How can we inspire women to take on senior roles within tech firms? And how do we develop the pipeline of younger talent?

Elizabeth Truss MP expressed that there is a goldmine of game-changing ideas amongst Britain’s female tech entrepreneurs like Ms Morris that we are only just starting to excavate. She flagged how the UK far outstrips it European competitors in making it easier to start a tech business, and issued a rallying cry for “women with attitude, who are going to take on the status quo and deliver new growth for the UK.”

finnCap shares the concern regarding the remarkably low percentage – just 2% – of female entrepreneurs seeking growth funding. Yet for those who do receive funding, pointed out Ms Truss, their businesses are usually more successful than male-led businesses.

Still, women are seen implicitly as more of an investment risk than men. For example, it is generally felt that during the fundraising process and pitch, women tend to be challenged on risk; men on the other hand are challenged on their vision.

Investing in a company that thinks differently is a risk worth taking

It’s a denial of opportunity that has resulted in an enormous, latent energy, waiting to be unleashed by the as-yet underfunded contingent of female entrepreneurs that are not just brimming with ideas, they have the clout to deliver. But things are changing, from the top on down.

“Know that you have a champion in government in me,” said Ms Truss, who went on to acknowledge that more support and impartial advice at the highest level is necessary to further these businesses’ prospects. The government is now working with the British Business Bank to understand more about female leaders in business and the funding they seek.

Meanwhile, finnCap’s next upcoming event in our Ambition Nation: Female Leaders Series, to be held on 10 September 2018, will explore and debate how we can bridge the funding gap for women-led SMEs. For more information or to reserve you place, sign up here.

Industry disruptors

It’s not just in healthcare that we can see such game-changing innovations from ambitious female minds.

When Anne Boden started on her journey to build a digital, mobile-only challenger bank in the wake of the financial crisis, she was told that “five-foot Welsh women don’t start banks.”

She looked back on that comment with good humour as, unfazed, she continued with her vision of building a bank from scratch, about which Ms Boden spoke passionately: “I realised that instead of simply cross-selling and up-selling banking products, we could actually transform people’s lives.”

That Starling Bank now has more than 100,000 customers and was recently voted Best British Bank at customer review site Smart Money People’s British Bank Awards is testament to the success of thinking differently.

Getting to that point however was no mean feat. Anne spoke candidly about her struggle to raise finance, stating it took her two years of trying to get funding before raising £48m in her first round. It is easier to talk about it now, she said, but back then there was a real fear with women founders in a male-dominated investment landscape, that if you talk openly about the difficulty of securing funding whilst in the process of doing so, it becomes even harder.

Anne implored that we must talk about and share this issue so female tech entrepreneurs know they’re not alone and can be inspired to succeed through shared experiences.

"We could actually transform people’s lives"

New networks for new ways of thinking

Addressing the fundamental culture issue means creating spaces – in terms of both physical and digital presence – that bring together not only women, but importantly men too, that can influence change and in doing so build communities of support.

Indeed, Catherine Wines, Co-Founder of WorldRemit, cautioned against “preaching to the converted” with female entrepreneur-focused events only being attended by women.

Building networks for introduction and places where entrepreneurs can encourage each other to be resilient, push boundaries, and successfully put their stories in front of the right investors, will create a freer thinking and broader appetite for riskier ventures.

This then needs to be underpinned by fundamental change in the way we educate and mentor the next generation of young entrepreneurs, using the experiences of men and women in business before them to mould and inspire new ways of thinking and a more diverse culture overall.

In an interview with The Guardian earlier this month, Anne Boden remarked: “The financial crisis was caused by people thinking the same. It was people not really being challenged. I think that diversity of thought and diversity of people, who reflect the overall population of the customers they serve, can only do good things for business.”

Women, and especially women in the tech game, are still seen as something of a gamble; we must continue to ask why. Innovation is the art of thinking differently and thus growth can only come from that diversity of thought, and diversity of people. Battling the UK’s aversion to risk means creating spaces and networks that challenge the status quo and opening paths for different ways of thinking.

Innovative, forward thinking, diverse companies are a goldmine of game-changing ideas and growth. It shouldn’t take a prospect like saving the NHS to open our eyes to that fact. Nevertheless, it is always worth noting how significant the rewards can be.

For more information and to reserve your spot at finnCap Ambition Nation: Female Leaders Series event on 10 September 2018 in Central London, please follow this link.