WeAreTheCity talk women in business, entrepreneurial advice & getting investment with Fund Her North

Fund Her North is a Northern-based, volunteer collective of over 28 women (in VC’s, funding organisations and angel groups), with a combined investment power of over £450 million.  

Each of the members of the Fund Her North collective has already made a lasting effect on female entrepreneurs in the North, with a combined investment track record of over £75 million invested in female-led, start-up businesses.  

Fund Her North provides support and advice to female-owned business, from start-ups to scale-ups. It is the go-to destination for female founders in the North seeking funding advice.

In this piece, WeAreTheCity talks women in business, entrepreneurial advice and getting investment with Fund Her North.

Sarah Hex

Business Development Manager for the North of England, Mercia Asset Management

Sarah Hex has worked within financial services since leaving college and currently within Mercia Asset Management PLC as Head of Business Development, working across the range of venture, debt and PE funds they offer. She is passionate about supporting small and medium-sized businesses and helping them to achieve their growth ambitions and fulfil their potential. 

Previously working in Corporate and Commercial banking at Santander, RBS and HSBC, she was responsible for establishing and managing the business development strategy for the investment teams. 

When the opportunity to work with like-minded investors on Fund Her North came up in 2020, her passion and great support of diversity within business could finally find a call to action. 

Sarah is also a keen trail runner, mum and volunteer for a charity for abused women.

Sarah Hex

What advice would you give individuals starting their entrepreneurial journeys?

As females we are very good at creating our own barriers, in addition to those inflicted on us whether conscious or unconscious. The best steps to smashing through these barriers is adopting the right support, using the right network, being aware of our own limitations and staying true to our own ambitions and skills, something we believe in strongly at Fund Her North. For any founder or leader looking for funding, my advice would be to find a partner, a funder you can really work with and to be open to all possibilities.

Charlotte Ashton

Founder Director, The Implicit

Charlotte Ashton is a corporate finance accountant who led the origination team at mid-market private equity fund Palatine since 2014 prior to setting up her consultancy in 2021.  Implicit works with SMEs, focusing on stakeholder management, investment and exit readiness. 

Charlotte is an advocate for removing barriers to investment through promoting education and effective communication between entrepreneurs and investors. 

Charlotte Ashton

How important is networking for business owners?

Essential. It is an opportunity for continuous development and if approached strategically can be an extension of sales and marketing and competitive analysis efforts. When approaching fundraising, a strong network can deliver board advisers and investors.

Chi-chi Ekweozor

Founder, Assenty

Chi-chi Ekweozor is a software engineer who developed one of the UK’s first ‘social media for beginners’ training courses, first delivered in October 2008 and was nominated for a Channel 4 4Talent Multi-Platform Award in October 2008.

Chi-chi developed and launched social question board service, Assenty in August 2016. Assenty is an interactive question board platform that helps event organisers make a personal connection with their audiences before, during and after an event. A keen techpreneur, she recently launched business intelligence platform Attendist to help marketers identify warm leads from existing event tools.

Chi-chi Ekweozor

You are Northern-based – do you feel there is a greater need for support in the North for female business leaders, than say in London?

I certainly think that female business leaders in London have access to a larger pool of potential funders than those in the North. As an example, the support ecosystem for startups based around London and Cambridge is significantly larger and potentially better connected to similar ones on a global level than startup ecosystems in other parts of the country.

Having said that, the fundraising landscape in the North is at an exciting point of inflexion and growth with organisations like Fund Her North able to support female founders throughout the entire process from startup to scale up – now is the time to back their support of the founders and co-founders of the decades next unicorns.

Jordan Dargue

Founder, Dargue Associates and Board Director & Investment Director, North Invest

Jordan Dargue is a senior business leader operating across the investment, finance and business growth landscape.  Jordan is also a mentor and advisory board member, helping start-ups, early-stage and high-growth businesses across the UK connect with the right investors and then supporting those to and grow and scale.

A huge advocate for driving diversity across the business and innovation landscape, Jordan works collaboratively with partners and government funded initiatives to help promote both Women in Innovation as well as Women in Investment across the UK.

Jordan Dargue

Why should more companies be investing in female-led businesses?

Across the UK there is a serious need for female-led businesses to receive the necessary support to run a successful business. Female founders bring equal skills and experience as men and have the potential to run excellent businesses. We need to give women the opportunity to innovate, and this can be achieved through investment.

As investors, we have a responsibility to bring female founders forward and show other women that there is a place for them in the start up space. However, the lack of support for female founders is causing a lack of confidence. Additionally, women face many unique problems that have not been addressed, such as finding a balance between work and other responsibilities like childcare. These women need to be better supported, creating diversity across the start up landscape and in turn boosting the UK economy.

Jess Jackson

Head of Investment, GC Angels

Jess Jackson is Head of Investment at GC Angels, an investor focussing on digital, creative & tech with over 300 associate angels, institutional capital partners and in-house co-funds. It supports SME’s to raise early-stage, scale-up and growth risk capital ranging from £25k – £2m. Since 1 September 2020, Jess Jackson has supported on 12 deals, delivering £7.4m to market and creating over 30 high value jobs in GM.

Jess is an advocate for female entrepreneurs and is passionate about inspiring women to break down the barriers they face in order to raise investment. Since launching in 2018, GC Angels has completed 33 early-stage investments. 50% of all rounds have been female founder-led. This is something Jess is incredibly proud of through her work raising female entrepreneurs’ profiles.

Jess Jackson

What issues are faced by women when scaling a business and how can this be tackled?

Access to funding can be especially challenging for women seeking to establish and grow their start-ups.  This is the sad result of a number of systemic issues; from lack of diversity present in investment teams, to the decision-making level of funding committees, within angel investor communities, and even visibility of female entrepreneurs who have “made it” already. When these issues are layered on top of under-networked entrepreneurs, it is little wonder that women struggle to scale their companies to the same extent as male counterparts. 

With data showing time and again that diverse founding teams outperform their peers on the FTSE, it is difficult to accept the low levels of investment for these teams at the vital early stages. This is why platforms like Fund Her North are so important as they help to create spaces where underrepresented founders have exposure, increasing the likelihood of accessing funding and chances of success later down the line.

Helen Oldham

Founding Board Director, NorthInvest

Helen is a Founding Board Director of NorthInvest, a not for profit, early stage investment connector for Northern based tech start-ups. In 2020 she founded Fund Her North.

Helen is also a NED, advisor, mentor, investor, and Chair of the Trustees for Smart Works Leeds, a charity which provides coaching and clothing to unemployed women.

Helen has a passion for supporting female entrepreneurs, leaders and Northern based SME’s to reach their potential; helping them to shape and deliver ambitious growth strategies, through simple, actionable steps.

Prior to the launch of NorthInvest Helen was the Managing Director of The Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman.

What advice would you give individuals starting their entrepreneurial journeys?

Surround yourself with people who can help you grow rapidly, from both a personal and business perspective. People who’ve been on your journey and been successful, who have the contacts, and more importantly, the mindset which you need to develop to take your business to the next level.

Ideally this should be a close group of 3 to 5 people who can become both a sounding board and cheerleader for you when things get tough. Start by identifying the areas of your business where you need the most help, aim high and use the opportunity to expand your network and thinking.

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