Surrounded by the portraits of movie stars at BAFTA members club I was delighted to sit opposite Sarah Turner - poised to become a legacy herself. Her passion for rebalancing the investor eco-system and getting more women enjoying the benefits of angel investing is energising! Sarah has spent 20 years in digital technology. Three years ago she founded Angel Academe, a pro-women but not only women angel investment group who back outstanding women-led businesses. Have a read to see if you want to be her next angel!
Current Job Founder and CEO of Angel Academe - an angel network primarily but not only for women.
Education A degree in History and Politics and a masters in Information Systems, where I learnt some now-ancient programming languages!
Favourite productivity tool Google calendar/Eventbrite /Dropbox and anything else that helps me share.
Go to meeting spot BAFTA 195 Piccadilly
Necessary extravagance Really good coffee!
Female inspiration in business Dame Stephanie 'Steve' Shirley (The challenges British women in tech face today are nothing compared to what she had to deal with)
New technology that most excites you Driverless cars - terrifying!
Can you tell us a bit about your beginnings in tech and in digital media?
My career in digital media began during my masters. I was fascinated by the intersection of technology and media, which led to my first job at a multimedia company in Brighton. The dizzying progression in technology was my reality - I developed and sold interactive training to large corporates first on floppy disks and then CD rom and eventually moved to the early web. I subsequently joined Wired Sussex and, among other things, I begun to help companies raise investment, talking to angels and VCs. This early heritage in tech eventually led me to set up my own consulting business - Turner Hopkins. I have since worked with clients including BBC, Ofcom, Barbican, the UK Government and UKTI as part of their Global Entrepreneur Programme.
Tell us about Angel Academe and the motivation behind it?
A large part of my job for 20 years was helping companies fundraise in one guise or another - yet I never entertained the notion that I could be an angel investor myself - I always thought you had to be very wealthy and have some special experience. But after a company I knew raised money from its customers, of which I was one, I realised that angel investing was more accessible than I thought, especially if you invest as part of a group where individual contributions can be relatively small. I begun to learn about what investors really look for, the various aspects of due diligence, the tax breaks to manage the downside and of course discovered that it was huge fun meeting passionate people, learning about their business and going on that journey with them. I began to set aside income to invest, joined various angel groups and attended their events. Yet I was always surprised by how few women there were, both investing and pitching.
This led me to the decision to create a network that specifically appealed to women, both as investors and founders. This has never been about excluding men (we welcome men in our group), but encouraging more women to get involved. Angel Academe was born.
What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now?
Angel Academe is at an inflection point - we have done some great deals, we have amazing investors in the group, good processes, a profile and we now have an opportunity to scale what we are doing. I feel we are clearly differentiated in the market with our emphasis on increasing the number of women angels and backing female founders. Scaling Angel Academe means capitalising on our position, encouraging more women to make more investments, helping more men to become champions for women and supporting more female entrepreneurs!
I know you feel strongly about increasing female participation - why is this?
Women control half the UK's net wealth, but we only make up 5% of angel investors. In addition, despite the huge surge in female entrepreneurs Startup DNA found that male entrepreneurs are 86% more likely to successfully raise VC funds and 59% more likely to secure angel investment than their female counterparts. The link between a lack of women on the investor-side and this comparative lack of success by women in raising funding seems obvious to me.
Why are we so dramatically under-represented in this exciting asset class and why does this matter?!
To be honest, I don't know exactly why women are so under-represented. I think there's lower awareness of angel investing among women, we do tend to be more time-poor (and angel investing takes time and commitment) and all-men groups might not be that appealing. But I don't agree that we're more risk-averse. My experience with Angel Academe is that we're more thorough which is a strength when it comes to investing, not a weakness.
In terms of why it matters, diversity just makes good business sense! Diverse teams of founders and investors make better decisions, are more capital efficient and give a better return on investment - First Round Capital found companies with a female founder performed 63% better than its investments with all-male founding teams.
It also matters because women are missing out on the benefits of angel investing. Obviously there's the potential for financial return, but the tax benefits are also very generous. The angels in my group are the most incredible network and becoming an angel investor has opened up huge opportunities for me.
What sort of companies are you looking to invest in at Angel Academe?
We invest in UK based (SEIS and EIS eligible) tech businesses with at least one woman on the founding team. Some of the areas that excite us are big data, security, digital health and ageing population. We love to see women building game changing businesses, solving important problems and thinking big. We expect all the businesses we see to be generating some revenue and with a scalable business model to deliver a high return on investment. We see a lots of B2C businesses (especially in areas related to fashion, beauty and kids) and tend to set the bar a bit higher for them because the market is just so competitive.
Tell us about Entrepreneur Academe - your mentorship program
We are now onto our second cohort. The first one ran for 9 months last year and we had 15 female led businesses participating. There are two main reasons behind the initiative. As an investor, it is very hard to get under the hood of a start-up. Entrepreneur Academe gives us a chance to get to know these businesses over a really decent period of time and to see how they deal with the inevitable stresses and strains. The second reason is the opportunity to engage prospective angels who may not be ready to invest yet, but who could contribute through mentorship.
We also know that the Academe offers a fantastic network and support system for the entrepreneurs we mentor. Our light touch program of monthly meetings creates a community of peers facing similar challenges and holding each other to account on reaching their milestones, as well as access to a large pool of mentors with a wide range of expertise.
How is access to finance from other sources such as crowdfunding changing the market?
There have never been so many options for raising finance. Crowdfunding is a different asset class from angel capital, but a valuable part of the funding ecosystem and here to stay. It is a great place to start investing if you don't yet have the resources for angel investing and it also offers a great opportunity for consumer businesses to build their audience and profile while raising finance.
Women In Tech
What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
Understand the difference between a lifestyle business and a truly high-growth one. The former are crucial to our economy and not to be dismissed - 'entrepreneur' is not only reserved for the latter. If you do aim for the second you need to think big and be ambitious. You need to tackle a problem a large number of other businesses or consumers around the world will pay to have solved. You need to be able to fend off the competition and aim to have a large exit in order to return capital to your investors. You also need to be open to working with external advisors and be what investors call "coachable". If you intend to raise money from angel investors, learn about what they look for and understand their mindset.
What are your future ambitions?
I want the UK to have the most diverse investor community and I want Angel Academe to play its role in increasing the proportion of women investors to at least 35% of the total - the magic diversity number. If we do that, we can make the UK the most attractive place to be an entrepreneur for all entrepreneurs. I would also like the Angel Academe portfolio to be doing well with some good exits under our belt. I would like us to be one of the largest angel groups, seeing the best opportunities and sought after for quality non-execs and advisors.
7 snippets for prospective female investors
- Smart and experienced women make good angel investors
- You do need to have some capital, but don't have to be a millionaire (see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/1529/schedule/5/made)
- Potential financial return! However, angel capital is patient capital
- The network - an impressive group of investors and entrepreneurs
- Future proof yourself against a changing world - be exposed to the latest innovation
- Invest in the change you want to see
- Amazing fun!