Investing in and growing women innovators during COVID-19 with the UKBAA

This article originally appeared on the UKBAA and can be found here.

Our Founding Board Director, Helen Oldham, joined a UKBAA round table to discuss support for female innovators during COVID-19 and beyond – read on to discover the key takeaways from the session.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, we’ve been holding a series of webinars and roundtables focusing on a variety of topics to support and help our community during this difficult time.

On 18th May we shone a spotlight on investing in and growing women innovators during COVID-19, which builds on the work being done across the early stage investment landscape to address the gender imbalance. Concerns have been raised that many of the new Government business support packages do not address the barriers women founders face when it comes to accessing funding.

The roundtable was chaired by UKBAA Chief Executive Jenny Tooth and featured panellists Check Warner from Ada Ventures, Sarah Turner from Angel Academe, Helen Oldham from NorthInvest, Deepali Nangia from Alma Angels, angel investor Amanda Dyjecinski and Emily Nott from Innovate UK.

It proved to be our most popular webinar to date with 130 attendees joining in to listen to the panellists and pose their questions during the Q&A session.

Following the roundtable, we’ve pulled together the key takeaways from the session for you…

The initial impact of COVID-19 and adapting to the ‘new normal’

  • The shared consensus among the panel was that when COVID-19 first hit in March, investors turned their focus to supporting their portfolio companies offering support and advice to help businesses survive.
  • As the weeks have gone on, investors are slowly starting to seek out new investment opportunities again. A survey with Angel Academe’s membership found that 75% of respondents were interested in making new investments but they were acting more cautiously.
  • Female founders and women investors have been banding together to support one another through the pandemic.

Moving pitches and events online has created opportunities and challenges

  • Moving pitching sessions online has created better accessibility for women.
  • Female founders are more visible in online events and there’s been a noticeable increase of women register to attend.
  • Moving pitching sessions online to services such as Zoom can make building a rapport quite difficult, but it has levelled the playing field in terms of getting in front of investors.
  • Zoom has created a more democratic and gender-neutral environment, with a more even tone to the questions and has levelled the playing field.
  • Investors are more engaged than ever but it’s hard for them to be confident about making an investment when they can’t meet founders face-to-face.

Government schemes are helping some businesses

  • The Future Fund has signed the Investing in Women Code, which is a step in the right direction following criticism that it didn’t recognise diversity and inclusion.
  • Furlough and Bounce Back schemes have been a lifeline for companies.
  • Innovate UK launched a £20 million fast response competition fund for SMEs, which focuses on projects tackling challenges brought to society by COVID-19. The companies have been contacted and the money will greatly help.
  • A new package of funding has launched by Innovate UK that includes Continuity Grants and Continuity Loans. This is for businesses already working with or that have a live project with Innovate UK.
  • Innovation Growth Support, non-financial growth, is being offered through Enterprise Europe Network.

Promising signs for female founder and women investors

  • It’s a great time for women to get into angel investing because there’s time to learn due to the ecosystem moving slower and lower valuations are enabling more people to make investments.
  • In 2016 14% of applications were led by women but as a result of the work Innovate UK has been doing that’s now up to 24%.

Looking to the future

  • Pitches that are coming in, aren’t necessarily taking into account the impact of COVID-19 and what the landscape might look like moving forward. Taking into consideration the current climate and how far COVID-19 impacts the business is key to addressing concerns possible investors might have when considering an opportunity.
  • The promising sign that more women are attending online pitches and female founders are operating on a more level playing field, paves the way for the gender imbalance to continue to shift in the future.

If you would like to watch the full roundtable, please visit https://vimeo.com/420616373

Find out about the Innovate UK support packages at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/innovate-uk

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