Venture Views: Support for Northern female founders “needs to move more quickly”

Northern female founders in the UK continue to face an uphill battle for access to funding, despite Levelling Up measures, writes Real Deals' Jennifer Forrest

A recent study, Investing in Women Code Annual Report 2022, found that 21% of all investments in UK businesses were female-led, with the remaining 795 being split being male-led and mixed-gender teams. This lack of investment has improved, however - back in 2020, female-led teams accounted for 13% of investment. But even though progress is evidenced, it is still remarkably slow.

According to the Rose Review Progress Report 2022, 14,885 companies were established by women in the North West last year, a figure that has doubled since 2018. Fund Her North is a collective of women working inside approximately 30 venture capital firms, funding organisations and angel groups across the North of England.

“We support female founders from early-stage growth through to scale-up and exit. We help women to be really successful and exit businesses, to create the women angels of the future,” founder Helen Oldham told Real Deals.

The organisation encourages female entrepreneurs to apply via its website and complete an online diagnostic, before facing an interview for a deeper conversation regarding what they are looking to achieve. This allows Fund Her North to connect them to the relevant funding organisations.

“The big benefit is that by handing them off to a woman inside a funding organisation, they’re likely to get a warmer, friendly introduction and be more likely to successfully navigate that particular VC. By the time they get to the investment committee, hopefully they’re more likely to get the funding that they need as a result,” Oldham explains.

The evidence backs that. The Investing in Women Code Annual Report found that 64% of all-female teams that received a ‘warm’ approach (i.e. came recommended) passed initial investment screening, while just 36% were rejected. However, all-female teams who didn’t receive the same ‘warm’ introduction were overwhelmingly rejected (79%). For all-male or mixed teams, the differential in outcomes between warm and cold approaches is significantly narrower.

While female founders struggle with access to funding, investment committees too continue to face gender inequalities. “In the UK, only 14% of senior roles inside VCs are held by women. This means that there is some inherent bias within those organisations, which, despite lots of current focus, is going to take a while to fix,” Oldham says.

On the bright side, the rollout of the Levelling Up agenda has inspired firms to take the North/South divide issues more seriously. With the British Business Bank’s regional angel programme, for example, investment capacities are helping to mature the funding pipeline in the North. “That’s all great - but it needs to be more, and it needs to move more quickly,” Oldham notes. “We would like to see more targeted interventions take place with organisations like the British Business Bank earmarking money via their Regional Angel programmes specifically for female founders, so that there’s more concentrated activity to fix some of the gender funding gap.”

This is an extract of an article originally published in GBI sister publication Real Deals - click here to access the full version (paywalled)