Women Backing Women National Conference 2023 shone the spotlight on the role and importance of female angel investors

Women Backing Women National Conference

On the 27th November the first Women Backing Women National Conference took place, hosted at the NatWest Conference Centre in London. The conference, organised by UKBAA in partnership with the Women Angel Investment Task Force and the Women Backing Women campaign, was attended by over 200 women (and 10 men) who are passionate about making change and serious about increasing gender diversity within the early-stage ecosystem.

The Women Backing Women campaign was set up in January 2022 with a mission to identify, educate and empower many more women to use their experience and spare financial capacity to invest in women founders and support their journey from start-up to successful scale-up.

With 22 expert Women speakers on hand for the day’s panels and discussions, including Tulip Siddiq MP, Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury (City Minister), the participants came together to review progress on increasing the number of female angel investors and discuss what needs to be done to move the needle from 14% women angels to at least 30% in the UK angel population.

The scene was set by a conversation between Jenny Tooth OBE Executive Chair, UKBAA and  two leading women angel investors, both proactively backing female founders: Debbie Wosskow OBE, a multi exited entrepreneur and active angel investor, best known for launching and scaling business focused on digital disruption and female empowerment, co-founder and chairperson of AllBright which she had recently exited and Andrea Sinclair, UKBAA Angel of the Year 2022-23, internet entrepreneur with an engineering background who has made 40 investments so far mostly in female founders. Both Debbie and Andrea agreed that women had done so much already to take leadership in bringing their investment to women founders and that the work of Women backing Women campaign had been important in highlighting the extensive opportunity to bring many more women into investment. However, they concluded that despite these efforts, there was much more to be done to make a substantial impact on the existing gender imbalances in investment.  It was agreed that there is an urgent need for Government and the BBB to provide a significant sized fund to support women investment in women founders.  It was also felt that the new Mansion House Compact with the Pension Funds offered a key opportunity to mobilise a vital injection of funding to leverage womens’ capital investment power across the UK.

The conference provided insights into the actions of Women Angel investors who are taking leadership to establish new female focused syndicates and build effective ecosystems across regions and devolved nations. The panel of women leaders spoke of their motivations to provide a framework to enable women to connect, learn and mobilise their investment potential, including the challenges of growing their syndicate and ensuring a sustainable business model and the need for more direct support for new and emerging women focused angel groups. Further issues discussed were opportunities for women focused syndicates to co-invest together,  sharing and leading deals with other investors, and the challenges of establishing credibility on the cap table alongside larger funds. There was widespread agreement that a more supportive policy and regulatory environment was important to ensure the growth of women focused investment groups across the UK.

Women Backing Women National Conference

The audience heard from Mary McKenna, UKBAA Angel of the Year 2023-4, who in conversation with Yvonne Greeves, Head of Women in Business at Nat West, provided insights on her journey from exited tech entrepreneur to active angel investor in Northern Ireland. Mary spoke about her mission to build Awaken Angels into a thriving women focused Angel community for Northern Ireland. She also explained how she had been actively recruiting and mobilising the significant diaspora of women from Northern Ireland and Ireland living in New York to join Awaken Angels and bring their investment potential to Northern Ireland women founders.

Tulip Siddiq MP, Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury and City Minister, took time out of her busy schedule to address the conference. She recognised the valuable contribution that women investors were making to support women entrepreneurs in the economy and in supporting innovation. She also recognised that there was still much to do to address the gender gap in access to finance and investment for women founders across the UK. She identified the importance for the Labour Party of working with business and investors to ensure a supportive policy and investment environment to enable more women to successfully build and grow a business in the UK and access the funding they need to succeed.    

The role and impact of women investors who are backing innovating women founders bringing ground-breaking technologies and innovative solutions to address social and global issues was also highlighted. The panel of proactive Women investors who themselves  had come from science technology and engineering, as well as financial services  had seen the opportunity to bring their technical and sector experience, to add significant value to their equity investments, from life sciences, digital health, environmental sustainability, deeptech and fintech. Developing an effective pipeline and working with universities in supporting access to female spinouts and the opportunities offered for angel investors aligning with key programmes supporting women innovators such as Innovate UK Investor Partnerships were also discussed. There was widespread agreement on the need for more awareness and support to enable many more women with relevant science, technology and engineering backgrounds to identify the opportunity to become Angel investors in women innovators.

The importance of an effective policy, fiscal and regulatory environment to support the growth of women investment was discussed among a panel of representatives from BBB, Innovate UK and EISA.  Key areas reviewed included  the importance of the EIS and SEIS schemes to  support the growth of women investment whilst the Chancellor’s confirmation in the Autumn Statement of the continuation of these schemes to April 2035 was warmly welcomed. Although it was agreed that there remained a strong lack of awareness among many women, both investors and  entrepreneurs, especially in areas outside the Golden triangle and Government needed to back a national awareness campaign.  Concern was also expressed that recent changes announced by HMT to the criteria for High-Net-Worth and Sophisticated investors, could have a direct impact on women Angel groups , impacting recruitment of more women investors and existing women investors who may not meet the higher thresholds going forward. The role of British Business Bank in supporting women focused investment was also discussed.

Women Backing Women National Conference

The latest data on the Investing in Women Code showed that VC funds with more women in investment decision making roles were making greater levels of investment in women founders and which underlined the importance of greater diversity in the investment base. BBB’s recent report on “What Works” underlined the importance of encouraging good practice actions to increase investment in women founders. It was also hoped that the Regional Angels Programme, managed by BBI could be adjusted to enable more women-focused Angel groups to benefit from the additional £150m co-invest funds available as a key means to build women investment  capacity in the regions. Innovate UK’s initiatives to  support women in Innovation to access investment were also  presented . Attention was also drawn to the opportunities offered under the new “No Limits” initiative for women focused angel groups to join the Investor Partnerships scheme,  facilitating investments alongside grants provided by Innovate UK to innovating founders from diverse backgrounds, offering access to undiluted co-investment to investors.

The event concluded with an audience debate, where participants were able to put forward their views and ideas,  focusing on what more the Government could do; what more the Investment market could do; and what more those attending could do to foster the growth and success of women angel investing across the UK in 2024.

Key calls to action included:

  • Create a much bigger Government backed fund to leverage Women Investment
  • Ensure the Pension Funds are channelled to women investors backing women founders
  • Support a nationwide awareness campaign on women angel investing, targeted at women from a wide range of professional and business background, including awareness on the EIS and SEIS schemes
  • Offer more incentives to women to invest, in addition to EIS reliefs
  • Address issues raised by HMT new requirements for HNW and Sophisticated and impact on women investing
  • Support a free educational programme and core curriculum for women to learn how to Angel invest
  • Bust the myths around Angel investing
  • Access to more research data and insights on Women Angel investing
  • Change the image and perception of who is an Angel investor
  • Offer a formal mentoring programme for potential and new angels
  • Women Investors should act as role models and tell women in their own networks and professional colleagues about Angel investing
  • Convince at least one friend to invest in a female startup, even at a small ticket size
  • Target female mid-career professional and business women and exited female entrepreneurs to encourage them to join angel groups
  • Organise an Annual Women Angels Day 

To find out more about the work of the Women Backing Women campaign and how to get involved , please visit https://ukbaa.org.uk/our-programmes/women-backing-women/.

The speakers who took part in the Women Backing Women National Conference 2023 were:

View the agenda for the conference.

By UKBAA 13 Dec 2023