A few months ago I penned an article which engaged on the importance of inclusive capital in the startup ecosystem, this based on my cumulative years working in the startup development and advisory ecosystem, as well as having researched the appalling data on why men-owned and led startups continue to receive almost 100% of startup capital funding, globally. The success of the article invited global conversations and opportunities to consult on various enterprises, and it also highlighted how industry (and outside industry contributors) saw the conversation as not only exclusionary, but as a means to absorb the old boys club legacy of mirrortocracy and investing in women as only a tick box exercise with no merit. So I’m going to bring some data to the table, and engage on the Risk on Investment on funding of the female economy.
Funding the Female (owned) Economy (FOE) is not just diversity and inclusion aesthetics, it’s an economic development catalyst to amplify sustainable impact. This FOE is not an exception to how the investment model works sustainably (i.e. creating a return on investment), but rather a necessity to expand the capacity of the investment model and create accelerated triple bottom line impact.
The 63% (Risk) On Investment Opportunity
“Female founders drive 63 percent better ROI than male-only led companies. It’s a no-brainer. We have 40 companies in our portfolio -- Zola, The Wing, Glamsquad -- with more than $1 billion in enterprise value. Some people would say, well, all of these are “women’s” ideas, right? But I would just call them businesses for a really big section of consumers! When Susan and I launched the fund (BBG Ventures), it was never with a do-good intention. We knew we could drive a great return.” - Nisha Dua, co-founder of BBG Ventures as quoted in an interview on why the venture firm is doubling down on investing in female founders.
In 2015, First Round Capital, a seed stage venture capital firm released a report that highlighted its 10 year mark in the venture ecosystem, and shared insights on their portfolio. A key finding was that companies with female founders performed 63% better than portfolios with all male counterparts. Further data from a Illuminate Ventures whitepaper also highlights that in particular, high technology firms venture-backed and led by women are great custodians of the capital that they receive by using it more efficiently and overall having higher annual revenues than firms led by their counterparts. So why aren’t funding institutions funding the FOE, and seeing female owned companies as risk on investment instead as return on investment?
Through the above mentioned data, we’ve established that the reason cannot be due to seeking higher financial returns on investment. Perhaps it’s because men are building businesses faster than women?
Building Businesses TWICE as Fast
If that were the case, then that would untrue. In 2019, the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, which is commissioned by American Express published that US women “ … with women with diverse ethnic and geographic backgrounds started an average of 1,817 new businesses per day in the U.S. between 2018 and 2019”. The report further expresses that over the past five years women-owned businesses increased by 21%, while all businesses increased only 9% and that total revenue for women-owned businesses also rose slightly above all businesses: 21% compared to 20% respectively.
This data is not only exclusive to the US, as maintained by 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.
In demonstrating financial performance and the business growth and acceleration of women-owned businesses, what else could motivate the slow progression of funding in the FOE? In Africa, only 4% of capital went into female founders (that raised over $1M in 2019) as compared to the average of 2.2%. Are there not enough diverse sectors that women are enterprising in, that year after year, cumulative deals and capital is constantly on a single digit number?
Innovation across Diverse Sectors
Enterprises like the Cartier Women’s Initiative showcase that women are not only breaking through various industries like luxury fashion, construction and real estate, information systems and energy and utilities; but that the FOE is diverse as it is a triple bottom line hitmaker like Manka Angwafo in Cameroon who is an agri-tech entrepreneur who provides access to finance to farmers, equipment hire and have to date not only boosted the farmers’ income by 200% but also has helped helped 373 farmers, with a repayment rate of 97% through a group economics strategy
I’ve also recently curated a list of funding/capital opportunities for Africa women-owned and led businesses, with industries ranging from technology and human rights based enterprises to grants and angel investors from across the continent. Recipients of funds and grants vary in investment size and in industry, and country, worthwhile to have a look.
What Will it Take?
Tanzania, one of the fastest growing economies in the sub-Saharan Africa region with an annual GDP growth of 7% since 2013 is driven by Small Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs) of which more than half are women. However, their SMMEs cannot grow because of lack of financial capital. This is unique to the FOE, and doesn’t discriminate whether developing or developed nation. In the United Kingdom (UK), the Rose Review reported that due to a lack of financing, this barrier resulted in women “ … start businesses with 53 per cent less capital on average than men, are less aware of funding options and less likely to take on debt.”
So, how many more articles, conferences, research and campaigns you may ask in order to close the gender investing gap? Too many to tell. The gap closing also shouldn’t have to be solely reliant on more female investors equal more investment in female owned enterprises, but rather collaborative efforts like The Next Billion, investment in training female fund managers to have a (non decorative) seat at the table and continued conscious investment in the Female (owned) Economy (FOE).
Upon the invitation of the German Corporation and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), last week I was in Johannesburg, South Africa as part of a delegation of pan-African ecosystem enablers to represent Cape Town, South Africa at the Seedstars World Africa Regional Summit 2019. The full week spanned across cocktail evenings and dinners, intense boot camps and 1-1 sessions with mentors and investors for nearly 50 technology startups and the highly anticipated summit with an audience of 300+ comprising of 26 Sub-Saharan African countries.
To kick off the regional summit at an evening cocktail, I was joined on stage by Anicha Abdul who is the Managing Director of EP Management and Consulting (Mozambique) and the Program Manager for Empow'Her Côte d'Ivoire, Chloe Roncajolo, moderated by Seedstar’s Fanny Dauchez to be part of an incredible panel called "Generation SHE" to engage on gender equality across the ecosystem. This discussion inspired a series of conversations, and actions which included men and women who actioned for gender parity during another panel discussion, not to discuss gender equity within the ecosystem, but to contribute to the solutions driven workshop based on their expertise. And throughout the course of the week, Seedstars seems to have been intentional about this role of not only diversity, but that of inclusion too.
Equity Scale is Transferable if Intentional
Highlighting the role and participation of women across the border in the technology, startup and investor community was a focus for the global organisation. This was made visible in the rising number of senior persons in leadership held at Seedstars across the Africa region, the 40% of female attendance and the articulate (and strategic) history making of having an all female jury panel for the pitching competition made up on 10 women-led businesses amongst the 24 that pitched.
Shifting the equity scale and accelerating gender parity requires continuous action, surgical focus and enabling conversations that are in inclusive spaces to inspire the actionable change to design the necessary frameworks to thrive.
Africans need to become Connected
By now, it should be no secret that Africa is not a country, however it shouldn’t diminish the need for Africans to become interconnected. This week, what enlightened me the most, was how eager everyone was to connect with each other and expand their networks to benefit the 300+ people in attendance; if this is what the African Trade Agreement has in store for the continent, then hope there is. However, with the provision of the opportunities of trading and investment opportunities, comes the vile reminder of the fact that Africans still require visas to travel to over 50% of other African countries, restricting the continent-spread movement and making it more expensive to travel. And, as a result, we had a few startups who unfortunately weren’t able to be present at the summit to pitch their entities and had to opt for a video-recorded pitch. Even with the launches of milestones such as the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Single African Air Transport Market, the state of a truly connected Africa is not changing significantly over the years.
The President of the African Development Bank Group, Akinwumi A. Adesina articulated it quite well when he said that regional integration and trade based upon the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital should be and is at the core of the business of the African Development Bank, because it recognises the opportunities in the economy that these agreements have in place, this in the 3rd edition of the Africa Visa Openness Index Report 2018 published by the African Development Bank and the Africa Union Commission.
There is no shortage of Scalable Solutions
Powered by the African Development Bank Group, with my fellow mentors, we had the opportunity to contribute to these high impact and high growth startups from across Africa in various sectors at the Investor Forum ranging from business development to investor readiness advisory. It was an opportunity, and one of the many sessions (including rigorous bootcamps) delivered by respective experts and investors to prepare the 24 Seedstars local winners to advance to the final stage of the competition, the Seedstars World Final stage in Lausanne, Switzerland to win up to $500k in investments. In the end, only 10 startups from the Sub-Sahara Africa region were able to make it: Exuus (Rwanda), mVocia (Ghana), Pezesha (Kenya), Teheca (Uganda), OKO Finance (Mali), Afrikamart (Senegal), Nadji Bi (The Gambia), Vectra (South Africa), Roque Online (Angola) and Crop2Cash (Nigeria). Although not every startup was able to be chosen, the capital (monetary, intellectual, social etc.) that was injected this past week speaks to the true value that both Africans and non-Africans, investors and ecosystem enablers, government and private sector sees in the potential of scaling solutions across African markets.
Diversity is a great conversation starter, and the right direction in the role that inclusion has to play in investing in an Africa that is ready and geared for the global takeover, because the world is ready to if we’re not up to the task. Inviting more women to become a part of decision making processes, pitching at startup competitions, inviting government and policy makers to make intra-African trade less taxing and more open and engaging in these conversations is a step that Seedstars, and the week that was last week showcased that not only the organisation, but the stakeholders involved are promoting and working towards.
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.