Jackie Waring on getting the most from mentoring
Jackie is Founder and CEO of Investing Women Angels, Scotland’s first women-only angel group, and AccelerateHer, which inspires and supports female founders’ journeys to grow and scale through a programme of events and trade missions.
This year’s AccelerateHER Awards final takes place on 25 March. Winners will receive a mentoring package, sponsored by Barclays, and get the opportunity to take part in international market-building missions to Europe, North America or the Middle East.
Over many years, I’ve seen how mentoring can make an enormous difference to entrepreneurs’ lives. It’s worth restating that point. Experienced business professionals may take it for granted, but to the growing number of female founders across the globe, the role of a mentor can be a game-changer in the fortunes of their companies, and that’s worth shouting about because too often female founders can feel isolated just at a time when they need support, encouragement and ideas.
Get more from mentoring
It’s not just businesses that benefit. Building a relationship with and learning from a respected and capable mentor – one that’s right for you – is way more than a short-term training opportunity. It’s not even about working with just one individual (the mentor). Great mentoring allows founders to build connections and networks with many others that will endure for a lifetime.
Mentoring is often misunderstood. Even the terminology gets in the way. ‘Mentoring’ and ‘mentor’ are quite technical words with a narrow focus when they actually encompass a whole range of activities and conversations that help founders open doors, develop a deep understanding of new areas such as technology and market opportunities, overcome business problems, or establish new contacts.
Looked at that way, mentoring’s possibilities expand way beyond imparting information or training, which is why the benefits can be so enormous.
Find the right person and network
When seeking advice or considering an investment from third parties, it’s important to work with the right person. Being reactive is fine (everyone’s flattered by offers from experts), but you will probably find a more productive connection if you plan ahead. Think what you need first and how others might help you achieve that goal, and only then seek out prospective mentors or investors. That way, you’ll recognise what and who is right for you. What’s they’re background and expertise? How extensive is their network? Do they have the know-how you need in the right part of your target sector? Do they want to work closely with you? That last point is important. Really good investors will want to help your company by essentially being part of the crew.
Also, remember if you’re building a company you’re also building a team, and that can be tough especially at the pre-revenue stage. Getting connected to the right talent is vital, and how to do that is something I’m asked often. What does your mentor have to say about that?
Early efforts here will really pay off.
Benefit throughout your journey
Because business is evolving so fast right now, mentoring and networking is not just for early-stage founders – that’s a misconception. The startup world, investor interests and strategies, developments in technology (to say nothing of advances in your sector) are all subject to massive global change. Whatever stage your business is at, you’ll always need a network, connections and advice.
Take the example from my network of two female founders and their well-tested value proposition with great market demand. The company was mature and was doing well but, to expand, it needed heavy investment in technology. They were about to sign a big deal to get that supplied, but wanted a sanity check. So they reconnected with their old AcceleratateHer network. Based on this conversation and realising there was a gap in their ‘techspertise’, they took a different approach to the technology. This proved to be an extremely valuable decision that may well have secured their company’s future, all thanks to their instinct to reach out and a long-term relationship with us.
Know what to challenge…
Scotland has one of the most active business angel communities in the world and the UK has favourable tax incentives for investing in early-stage companies, so the signs may look good for female investors and founders. In Scotland, 40% of new investments in 2020 were in female-led companies, the best year to date. But, despite this and the fact that women hold 46% of the UK’s wealth, only 6% of Scotland’s angel investors are female. They should be a key target because of the ‘echo effect’ – when the number of female angel investors increases, the number of female entrepreneurs who get backing also increases.
To grow, the country’s businesses and economy need new investment from women. The Investing in Women Code policy paper are a great start in supporting that, but the UK Government and the financial sector will need to sign up to more practical diversity initiatives supporting female investors and female-led businesses. It has to be a joined-up effort. The UK Government can’t work in isolation and must coordinate with the large organisations in the sector to empower women with more concrete programmes.
Alongside the programming, the country also needs to measure the improvements. As Peter Drucker wrote, “What gets measured gets managed.” The UK may want to learn from the US in gathering data on the phenomenon and its impact. Pitchbook, for example, already has an initiative to track the investment stats arounf gender in the US venture capital ecosystem. Similar stats for the UK are a must.
Let’s also remind ourselves of a distinguishing feature of women in business compared with their male counterparts. There’s still a misunderstanding of how women manage risk. They’re seen to be risk averse but in fact women are more risk aware (as if they have a greater tendency to be 100% committed to delivery) and so they undersell their revenue projections relative to men. You could say they make more from less. Furthermore, research by First Round Capital shows that companies founded by women performed 63% better than those led by men. This phenomenon is well documented but is worth mentioning as it plays such a part in the success of female entrepreneurs.
… and then challenge it
I have often had to challenge investors on supporting women in better ways. There’s a right and a wrong way to challenge. Unconscious bias is undoubtedly still out there, and pointing this out can be really helpful as people know the phrase and, more importantly, what it means.
A lot of male-led investing companies recognise the inequalities and they know they’re missing out on great companies driven by women, and that women are missing out not just on those investment opportunities but even the networks to access them in the first place. That lack of access is a big issue. That’s why mentoring female founders on how to raise their visibility is key and why male allies are also part of the solution. We’re in this together.
Supporting female investors and founders, measuring the impact of that and challenging perceptions (our own as well as others) where necessary are a vital part of the future for the business world, governments and individuals. Strong networks like AccelerateHer and Investing Women Angels play a central part in this. It’s heartening that levels of direct investments in women have grown in the UK from a historic baseline of just 2% to over three times that today, which means there are now a lot more female founders standing in front of investors. But 6-7% is still tiny so continued efforts to cultivate female talent and raise diverse profiles within the investor community deserves everyone’s attention.
Nourishing women’s ‘inner founder’ helps it thrive, and might solve a persistent problem (in the UK at least) - being bashful in business. It starts early, and that’s why I welcome programmes like Stemettes, which presents science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to girls as fun and valuable subjects leading to attainable careers. It’s because of efforts like this that I’m confident the next generation will no longer view the differences between the sexes critically, as weaknesses – a common misperception held unconsciously by men and women today.
· Shout about the benefits of mentoring to your networks, colleagues and friends
· Experience mentoring for yourself, even if you’re not a founder
· Challenge and involve others in busting those myths about women in business
Discover more, get involved
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