When investing, your capital is at risk.

It’s 2020, and we’ve made more progress than ever before on promoting gender equality in the private equity sphere. 

However the data still speaks for itself. This year, the British Business Bank published a report revealing that female founders still make up only a fraction of venture capital deals. Only 5% of pitch decks that reach VCs are from all-female founder teams, 20% are from mixed gender teams – and you got it, the remaining 75% is all male.

That’s not good enough. Fortunately, there are dozens of incredible businesses helping to support female entrepreneurs to build companies, and secure the funding they need to grow them. Found & Flourish is one of them.

We spoke with Founder & Director Lara Sheldrake to learn more about the state of gender equality in private equity, and what has to be done to get where we need to be.

What does Found & Flourish do?

Found & Flourish is a female founders online community, media and events platform. We exist to empower entrepreneurial women to found and flourish in business. We do this by providing a range of support and resources through our online membership, workshops and networking events.

What are your services doing to improve the experience for female founders raising investment?

We believe in demystifying the world of entrepreneurship and we do this by sharing stories of female founders who have successfully built and scaled businesses. We provide a safe space and learning platform for our community members enabling them to connect with both founders who have fundraised and investors who are looking to invest. We also have a directory where our members can search for both mentors and investors should they be looking for support in those areas.

Does the market currently cater to female founders, and if not, why? 

My response to this is two fold. On the one hand we are nowhere near where we should be when catering to female founders in the startup ecosystem. There are not enough women at investor level, there is little support for those juggling both work and caregiving responsibilities and there is still a significant gender opportunity and equity gap. On the flip side of this, there are so many amazing networks, communities and platforms (like Seedrs) working hard to create a level playing field so that women are resourced, supported and empowered to found and truly flourish in business. We are getting there but more can be done!

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from the women you’ve worked with?

Such a great question! When a group of women come together, on a mission to have a positive impact on the world, they are unstoppable. From the resilience they display to the respect and support they show one another, I’m always so inspired by the businesses and ideas born out of partnerships and collaborations from within the Found & Flourish community. I’ve learned that together we are stronger and you never have to do anything on your own because there is always someone who has the skills or knowledge, you just need to ask.

What is the most common barrier faced by female founders when raising investment?

There are so many possible answers to this question depending on who you ask. I would say lack of confidence is a big one as women tend to be more risk averse and therefore more likely to avoid situations where they fear failure. I also believe that with the majority of investors being male, unconscious bias comes into play (more often than we’d like to admit) with male investors tending to favour men (and markets they are familiar with).  We need more women in investor roles and male investors taking the time to educate themselves around topics such as unconscious bias and industries within the fem-health and tech-health space where there is still such a huge knowledge gap

What have been some of your most inspiring success stories? 

I’m really proud of the impact Found & Flourish has had on hundreds of female founders. Being able to see first hand the businesses and partnerships cultivated as a result of the connections made within the community has been incredibly humbling. From female founders being introduced to investors and successfully raising investment as a result, to community members becoming co-founders and building an innovative tech platform, it’s very rewarding to be running a community platform where these stories are heard often. 

What change do you think will be the most important in creating gender equality in the equity fundraising market moving forward?

More transparency when it comes to the reality of the startup landscape. Who is being invested in and by whom? Where are the gaps and how can we create a more equitable environment where these issues can be addressed and resolved? More accessible support and advice for women looking to fundraise would also be beneficial. I often hear women saying they don’t even know where to start and it’s through introductions and conversations with fellow founders and investors where they gain some clarity and confidence in the process and gain success in their fundraising quest. We also need more female investors to reduce the gender equality gap top down. 

What advice would you give to aspiring female founders? 

Never underestimate the power you have to make a difference in this world. Business is tough but so are you and with the right determination and support around you, anything is possible. Be realistic about your goals and manage expectations, both yours and those around you. You’ll be grateful for the reality check as things can take a lot longer than you think. It’s all about slow and steady, this is a long game so buckle up and get ready for the ride.