To mark International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, Found + Flourish partnered with Plus X to curate a month-long series of events. Trailblazing Women celebrates the women in our business community that are innovating for social, environmental, and political good – in Brighton and beyond. Part of Spring Forward Festival 2021.
In this lunchtime panel discussion, we heard from three women that are blazing a trail within the innovation and technology space – sharing their own experiences of challenging the norm, how they came to work in their chosen fields, and what advice they would give to fellow women aspiring to innovate or create for the benefit of both people & planet.
It’s taken a global pandemic to highlight the efficacy of female leadership, with many arguing that it’s no coincidence that countries with women at the helm have had fewer infections and deaths.
In fact, studies have proven that women not only make better leaders, but also have a natural tendency to prioritise innovating for good. According to Harvard Business School, ‘women are both conducting business in new ways, and ensuring that more and more businesses have a positive impact on people and the environment.’ [Source: Impakter]
However, at the forefront of innovation is technology, where women are still grossly underrepresented:
- 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice
- 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in technology
- 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women
In this feature, we’re focusing on Deepali Nangia. She is an advisor to female founders and an angel investor. She has been investing out of the Atomico Programme for the last year and will continue to do so. She has a portfolio of 13 female founded businesses, soon to be 15.
Recently, she joined Speed Invest as a Venture Partner with a focus on women, helping them increase the number of women that they are funding. She also co-founded Alma Angels, which has grown to about 250 men and women and have invested a million in the last six months into female founded companies.
Lara: What’s your story and did you have a lightbulb moment for kickstarting your career?
Deepali: I have been advising women for many years, I had a very traditional career – private equity and investment banking. When I left The City, I set up an Angel Investor network for Kensington and Chelsea and I ran it for four years. Often I would have friends who would come to me and would ask me questions about their own businesses. That’s how I really started to get involved with advising and investing in women.
Last year I co-founded Alma Angels, a community of angel investors. That started because I was having coffee with my now co-founder, Ella Goldner, and I was telling her about how I couldn’t find enough female investors in the industry. She said, “Well, let’s do something about it!” and we did.
L: Why do you think so many women start businesses to create positive change and how do you think we can encourage more women into these spaces?
D: So many businesses that I have invested in have emerged as a result of the woman facing a shortage in her own needs. From fertility and menopause to education. Women tend to start these businesses because they are closer to those issues as a result of their traditional gender roles. I probably spend more time thinking about my children’s education than my partner, for example. Some of it is a result of my traditional gender role. There is a lot of research on this, that women are more likely, not to just start businesses that focus on social impact, but also to invest their resources and volunteer to create social impact. We are closer to these issues. You see less women in tech because we’re not close enough to that.
In terms of increasing support, I think having sponsors, funding, having tax benefits for people investing in women-led funds, all of those are key. There need to be access to grants and microfinance. A lot of businesses cannot be VC funded, I’m an angel investor and some businesses can be angel funded but not VC funded. It doesn’t mean they can’t be successful. I also don’t think every business has to be funded, by a VC or an angel. Because there might not be enough returns. There are lots of businesses that give women a good income but it’s run by themselves, and there needs to be access to grants and microfinance for those businesses.
L: What can women do if they have an idea or they have started a business and are struggling to fund it?
D: I can offer a call. I spend 30 minutes talking to women all the time and have done it a lot during the pandemic.
Aside from that, oftentimes the accelerators that you can go into quite early – there’s the BBC Accelerator, EF, there are lots of places you can go to when you’re first starting out.
As you progress through that journey, there are early stage funds, like SEIS funds, which are taking advantage of tax benefits being offered to investors. There’s one that I’m speaking at tonight called The StartUp Funding Club. Last year they told me they wanted to find more women. This year they called me to say that 50-60% of their portfolio is now women, I’m really proud of that.
As you move along there are Angels. You can find that one Angel who can almost be your wingwoman and introduce you to others and open up her or his network. At Alma Angels, 30% of Angels are men. In my view, you can’t change the female funding landscape without men involved. I really think they can be important.
There are funds such as Big Issue Invest, January Ventures, Ada Ventures, they have a great scout programme. You can find these people easily, you just have to google and see the press releases. I’m a big fan of cold reaches and I think last year Zoom has levelled the playing field. I must have made at least 150 new genuine connections just on Zoom.
Again, Not every business is VC fundable, sometimes it’s a mismatch. In that case I would say friends & family or micro-finance – which the government needs to focus on.
L: Best advice you can give to someone starting out or wanting to build a business for the greater good?
D: Just go and do it. There’s never going to be a perfect time. Women, including myself, are always looking for that perfection, and I have a son and a daughter so I can see the difference. Internally, we are always waiting for the perfect moment and person. But just go and do it. It’s great to start as a side-hustle, work on it for six to nine months and figure it out before you launch full time.
Also, it never hurts to ask. The most people can say is no, but you leave all the options by not asking. When approaching an investor, give a lot of information and do research. It never hurts to ask for advice, if you ask for advice you might get money. If you ask for money, you might not get it.
Audience: What positive experience have you had being a woman in the industry?
D: I’ve found some very strong sponsors, men and women, who helped me get to where I am today. It’s happened organically. I built genuine relationships with everyone I interacted with and good things happened along the way.
About your author
Natalia is a writer and branding creative specialising in graphic design. Originally from Mexico City, she has now made her home in London. After completing an MA in Screenwriting, she founded her own creative studio, Ataraxia. She is also the Co-Founder of UK-based clothing brand MEXI.Clothing and the host of The Avocado Social Club podcast, where she covers topics that matter to the young generations, from politics to popular culture.
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