The Role of Inclusion in Venture Capital
A few weeks ago I attended a two-day national conference that invited some of the most prominent women in leadership, business and economic empowerment in both the private and public sector. The line up included the likes of Economic Advisor to the Republic of South Africa, Trudi Makhaya, World Champion and Human Rights Activist Caster Semenya and UCT’s incoming chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe. In bringing together these women under the theme of empowering an inclusive and empowered economy, the role of investing in women owned and led businesses quickly became an emphatic theme. And in this editorial, we’re going to explore not only the role of inclusion in Venture Capital (VC), but the consequences of innovation and discrimination that has lead to the future of alternative capital.
VENTURE CAPITALISTS ARE DEVALUING THE DATA
It is no secret that the more diverse your team is, the more likely that your business is to thrive, and moreover, when that diversity is lead by women. In a study conducted by Mass Challenge and the Boston Consulting Group entitled “Why Women-Owned Startups Are a Better Bet”, over 350 startups were interviewed and assessed to determine which enterprises were not only more risk averse, but who yielded better financial returns. The results determined that businesses founded by women deliver higher revenue (at that, more than two times as much per dollar invested) than those founded by men. To add to this, the study also provided insight of how much more VCs could’ve made (an additional $85 million over five years) had they invested more money equally into both women and men-founded startups. This is a global phenomena, not only unique to the United States. The growing equality parity in both entrepreneurship and venture capital translates to men being more than 92% of the Top 100 venture capital firms and as an impact investment correlation, female-founded businesses are only receiving 2% of total investments by these VCs. This underpins the essence of what we’ll unpack soon, of how the VC mind works, and later why individuals (both men and women) and organisations have to deal with the consequences of the VCs decisions to devalue and disregard the data.
But first, let’s bring the ball back to the continent for a moment, and frame not only the consistency of the return on investment statistics, but also the challenges that female entrepreneurs face in an attempt to acquire or raise capital.
According to the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2017, sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest growing rate of women-owned and led businesses at 27%, with Uganda (34.8%) and Botswana (34.6%) leading the pack globally. As great and impressive as these statistics are, what compliments this ideal is that while on the surface more women are entering and playing the field, the staying power doesn’t read quite well. The continental region also lists it as the community that has the most women-owned startups shutting down due to little for opportunity for growth and lack of access to capital and resources.
In 2016, Venture Capital for Africa (VC4A) disclosed in their ‘VC4A Venture Finance in Africa' report, which captured the performance of early stage, high impact and growth enterprises from Africa at their crucial stage of early stage investor activity. Some of the data that is based on data collected from 1866 ventures from 41 African countries and 111 Africa-focused investors from 39 countries around the world unveiled included that only 9% of startups have women leaders, and that there is a direct correlation to the success rate of the venture based on the gender balance of the entity.
So why, as revealed in the African Development Bank’s inaugural Africa Investment Forum in 2018 hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa, do women entrepreneurs experience a significant funding gap of US$42 billion annually even though the numbers, time and time again support that they are better yielders of seeded capital?
A thought leadership piece in the World Bank blog shared by Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s former Vice President for the Africa Region and now Vice President for Infrastructure, may help us in shedding some perspective.
BETTING ON THE HORSE, NOT THE STATISTICS
In his opening remarks, “Walk around a major city in Sub-Saharan Africa and you will quickly realize that women are a highly visible part of the economy, selling all manner of products and services. In some ways, women are powering the economies of the continent to a greater degree than anywhere else in the world; Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where women make up the majority of self-employed individuals.” Diop affirms what the many studies conducted and reports released say about not only growing but visible rate of entrepreneurial activity by women on the continent. He then textures this foundational introduction with a much more granular approach in partially answering why this is the case of stumbling growth in women-owned ventures.
“What this fact conceals, however, is that on average women-owned firms have fewer employees, and lower revenues, profits, and productivity. In many cases, women’s businesses contribute little beyond basic subsistence. This limits the potential of women entrepreneurs and hinders economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa.” he continues.
Is he incorrect in his statement? No. However, two ideas that I do want us all to be cognisant of which one he further explains in the article, is that the patriarchal systems which are still in place for African women across the border of the continent. Women do not, and lack the access to the collateral that is required to enable them to access the credit capital, like land and property, these policies and framework are things that need to change so that women can start or develop their businesses.
The other big elephant in the inclusion conversation of venture capital that is widening the investment gap, is that of not only who carries the capital, but why and how that capital distribution always ends up circulating amongst the same racial and gender recipients, call it intentional super inclusive circular and shared value economies of and that scale. In as much as VCs look at outliers and the business and investment cases of startups, it is no secret that they also bet on horses that mirror them. Men (whom we unpacked earlier comprise of 92% of the Top 100 VC firms) are much more likely to invest in men-owned businesses than female ones, and according to a study led by Babson College's Entrepreneurship chair Dr. Candida Brush, it found that startups lead and managed by all-male teams were “four times more likely to receive funding than companies with even one woman leader.”, even with the shocking discovery that gender diversity at the top improves a startup's performance.
If VCs are such risk takers, why not take the biggest risk of them all, women?
THE INNOVATION CONSEQUENCES OF EXCLUSION OF ACCESS TO CAPITAL
It’s happening, too slowly but surely. This gender investment gap has actualised innovative solutions and some, even going back to the basics of group economics to ensure that more entities owned by women are funded and grow to the scale of potential that they truly deserve. Let’s unpack some of these solutions:
· Using metrics like partnerships, capital investments, total number of companies invested in and the social and financial return on investment, Billion Dollar Fund for Women (TBDF) is committed to ensuring that its holding venture companies to investing in more women-founded companies. Implementing a self-funded, non-profit model, TBDF is a global consortium of venture funds that have committed to date (November 2018) $650 million to tackle the gender investment gap by pledging to increase their investments capital pools to women-owned companies, globally. The lobbyist approach has garnered some success stories like Rethink Impact, with continued increased investment in businesses founded by women.
· Group economics is an ancient economic practice that’s now positioned itself as one of the most pivotal ways in which to raise capital, for pre-seed and early stage investment businesses. Entities like The People’s Fund, UpriseAfrica, iFundWomen and Portfolia are some of the companies who are doing exciting things in the space of impact investing and creating not only diversity of opportunities for minorities, but also enabling entrepreneurs to tap into capital that they wouldn’t have otherwise, had the access to.
· The rise of the gender gap also gave rise to women-owned venture capital firms and venture networks who are intentional about investing in women owned businesses. Africa has provided great case studies and momentum to this with venture companies like Dazzle Angels, and Rising Tide Africa which is a group of women angel investors that are harnessing their power, network, passion and capital to positively impact and invest in an empowered and inclusive growing economy, and society.
· Startups and organisations have now had to become technology adjacent in understanding their customers, business model and particularly financial services company, HOW they deploy capital. In his book Tech Adjacent, serial technology entrepreneur and thought leader, Mushambi Mutuma engages on doing business in the future and the importance of constantly evolving with the exponential technology and innovation that’s also growing quite exponentially in business. “What would make you absolete in a day? What technology are you terrified your competitors will figure out? How would we run this company with 10 percent of our current staff? How would you monetise if consumers expected you products/services to be free?”. These questions are some of what, I believe, have influenced how capital and credit is becoming more inclusive for women to be able to bypass the archaic banking structures and enable them to get their food in the door. The Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Project has contributed to the rise of female-owned businesses in Ethiopia by providing women with an alternative to collateral. This is in the form of a 45 minute psychometric test that provides a reliable indication of whether an entrepreneur and whether you will be able to repay a loan without any collateral required. At present, the repayment rate is at 99.4%. Another example of how being technology and future adjacent has served the venture capital and investment ecosystem is through the constant data science application and introduction of technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence to aid with decision making, and also democratising who can become an investor. The funds in magnitude still lie with the wealthy to invest in “lesser risk averse male-owned entities”, but the opportunities to value the data and tap into the industry with impact investing and seeding the billion dollar potential of the global economy is fair game.
With all the data on the table supporting why inclusion, and particularly why investing in women owned businesses is important for the current and future of the economy, and AfDP’s President Akinwumi Adesina’s call for increased support to for women to be active stakeholders in the economy, why are we constantly accelerating towards the opposite direction when it’s time to seed the capital? The answer may not be as complex as we may make it to turn out, however we can applaud the innovative strides being taken to drive inclusivity and capital returns on these investments. The future of venture capital and investments is democratized, technology and data science adjacent and inclusive of breaking down archaic, exclusive and oppressive systems to ensure that we build inclusive futures and shared growth economies.
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