Keji Mustapha, Head of Network and Operations at Connect shares her advice on investment and fundraising in startups as well as her excitement for the new wave of female founders coming through.

How did you get into this super-exciting space of supporting entrepreneurs and founders?

I got my first taste of a startup when I worked at an online magazine in 2009. I joined the magazine having just come to terms with the fact that I definitely had no interest in pursuing my legal career as a barrister. I was still figuring out what I wanted to do.  A mutual friend connected me to the founder of the magazine and you could say, I was bitten by the bug pretty much straight away. I loved the pace, the variety of work and the ability to wear so many different hats which meant I was able to keep learning. But as with many startups, a round of funding fell through and operations had to scale back so I had to find alternative work.

Armed with some entry-level ops skills, I tried on different sectors including entertainment & tax, events, and charity. A few years later whilst at the NGO I was working at, I met an incredible woman who invited me to join her FemTech startup. As soon as I was back in the industry, it was pretty clear to me that this is where I want to be.

In your experience, what are the challenges for female founders looking for investment? Is there a common thread?

I think one of the major challenges is that many female founders are building a product to solve a problem they have or, have experienced. And, with the majority of investors being male, they can’t always relate to the problem. This said, now we have an increasing number of female investors in the ecosystem, coupled with the fact that there are more examples of female founders raising impressive larger rounds,  because there’s a need for the products they’re building and users out there yearning for these products, the tide is turning and the industry is waking up to this fact.

Have you seen the conversation around investing in female-founded businesses change in the last year or so and if so, why?

Yes, it’s changing but still too slowly. I think we’re finally seeing some change because it’s clear that under-represented founders – female founders in this context – are proving that they can build successful/big businesses and the numbers reflect this.

Raising investment can be stressful. How do you work with your founders to ensure they stay healthy and on track as they secure funding?

At Connect, the Partners largely do the work with our founders to get them ready for fundraising. I support them on the network side of things is by offering resources to help them, such as connecting them with pitch coaches where necessary. Not all founders are natural storytellers and can, therefore, struggle to convey their story in the most engaging way. So, pitching often becomes a great source of anxiety for them. By working with a pitch coach, they get guidance on how best to structure the delivery of their story and how to highlight the parts that they often downplay, and generally work on how best to bring the contents of the pitch deck to life, in the most engaging way.

What’s the gold nugget advice you’d share with a female founder going for her first round of investment?

Do your research, know your audience and run a tight process. Also, be clear on the fact that there are different types of investment so don’t feel that venture capital is the be-all and end-all.

What’s exciting you most about the wave of female founders coming through?

They’re bold, unapologetic and very clear on what they’re trying to achieve. They’re less timid than before and are clear on the fact that they won’t be beholden to male investors. Many of them have shown themselves to be really scrappy and bootstrap strategically to show traction so that by the time they get in front of investors, they have a really good story to tell and the numbers to back it up.

Want to learn more?

I will be speaking at an investment masterclass with Found & Flourish on the 13th September where I will be discussing money related topics including fundraising, investing and more!

You will learn:

  • What do I need to know before I start investing money?
  • Why are you investing money: goals vs. investment choices?
  • Why is it important to invest: inflation and interest compounding?
  • Understand your tolerance for risk and diversification
  • How to develop a new mindset and understand money is power for you and your worth
  • And loads more

Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

About the author

Keji is Head of Network & Operations at Connect and joined the team in 2017 having spent much of the 5 years prior, working in and consulting with early/seed stage tech startups, focusing on operations and strategic partnerships. She discovered her passion for startups after qualifying as barrister and quickly realising that this was not the career path for her. As a natural executor, who simply loves getting things done, Keji is responsible for continuously developing ways to best add value to the portfolio companies at Connect.

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