"For female entrepreneurs, it's important to know that securing financing from an all-male venture capital firm may drastically reduce their probability of a successful exit."
That was one of the disturbing conclusions reached in a recent University of Alberta study that has long been noticed by women in the VC sector to be part of a growing trend.
The results of the report have been widely shared in the Harvard Business Review and countless other publications. It provides yet more evidence that female entrepreneurs need a new kind of support system if they are going to thrive.
Despite the fact that female entrepreneurs start the bulk of businesses in Canada, less than 7 per cent of venture capital goes to women. Part of that reason is because 90 per cent of venture capitalists are men. They invest in things they understand that reflect their experience. Ask any serial entrepreneur whether she's ever heard "I'll have to ask my wife about that" – a standard from male venture capitalists who just don't see the world through a feminine lens. We all have our own experience that leads to insight, a-ha moments and innovation.
Right now, women have a significant competitive advantage in this world. We look at the financial as well as social benefit, which is becoming the new norm to differentiate yourself as a business. We have money like we've never had before – we are set to inherit 75 per cent of the largest wealth transfer in history – and we are looking for new ways to deploy that capital.
Women make 80 per cent of purchasing decisions so we are aware, every day, of the ways the market is not serving us. And we are dropping out of institutions and corporations in record numbers to pursue our own dreams, in work environments that work for us, on our own terms.
Women are starting companies at almost twice the pace of men globally. And the companies we are starting are resonating with women because we understand women: a community-supported fishery that is disrupting the global supply chain held by a few massive companies that are clear-cutting our oceans; a breathable food wrap that keeps food alive to replace toxic plastic wrap; an app for people on the autism spectrum to live more independently. These are a few of the enterprises that are thriving and poised for scale because female entrepreneurs see the world differently and are acting on their insights, by the millions.
The next step we need to see is women stepping forward to be investors in these innovative companies, or we will leave another generation of innovative, female-led companies starving for capital.
Our current government regulations are locked into old-school thinking that to be an investor, you need to be "accredited" – meaning you have to be of wealth before you start investing. In a world with a winner-takes-all mindset, only the rich can get richer. Right now, the world's richest 62 people have the same wealth as the world's poorest 3.5 billion people, according to a recent Oxfam report. Last year, it was 85 people with that wealth.
Society values equity investing where investors make outsized bets on companies becoming unicorns (a term widely used to describe companies that get to $1-billion in valuation). These days, such companies aren't even hiring people, but outsourcing their growth to contractors. We need to expand our view and look to peer-based lending, which focuses on revenue-generating companies that hire people and strengthen local economies.
How did this system get so entrenched? It's been decades and decades of mostly the same people at the table, with the same mindset, talking to one another in a closed loop.
It's time for a change. We need regulations that provide incentive to women of all ages, stages and sectors to get behind one another to enable the kinds of businesses that build a better world.
And we need new models that democratize venture capital and seed capital for women building businesses that have a goal of growth and strengthening local economies. Companies that enter our markets and simply siphon off profits to enrich the bank accounts of the 17 first-in investors cannot be the only model for our future.
We also need to look much more deeply at ways to use our capital to create the kind of society we want. Many of us are not holding our breath. We know that changing the way the world thinks and acts is a generational initiative that requires new models, new mindsets and a global movement. And you heard it here: The ladies are coming.
Editor's note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article dropped the last phrase of a sentence. It now correctly reads: Companies that enter our markets and simply siphon off profits to enrich the bank accounts of the 17 first-in investors cannot be the only model for our future.