The challenges that anyone starting a business faces are immense. That's why not anyone does it, and why so many businesses fail, a large proportion within a year. But let's not get bogged down in depressing thoughts or statistics. It's enough to recognise that the odds of success are stacked against anyone starting a business.
And yet, there are factors that reduce the odds of failure and tilt things back in your favour. While these include being very well funded, being very good at business, having a brilliant business plan and making excellent decisions, the truth is that being a white male will also help enormously.
Today is International Women's Day (IWD). This is a not a recent invention and not a fad. Social media has helped raise awareness of it in recent years, as more businesses have got involved, but this is a calendar event with origins dating back over 100 years. And yet still we live in a society in which female-founded businesses have a much lower chance of success. Regardless of the qualities of the contents of their business plan or the abilities of the founders, they will also find it harder to get funding and raise money.
This is not acceptable. While this post is in part guilty of adding to the chatter, it feels like time for action. Today must be about focusing attention on the many excellent initiatives underway to help overcome the particular challenges female founders face.
Female Founders Launched by two Austrian entrepreneurs, Lisa-Marie Fassl and Nina Wöss, Female Founders is one of the most highly rated accelerator programmes for female-founded businesses across Europe. Built on the idea that entrepreneurship is itself about "creating positive change, being optimistic, passionate and proactive", the Female Founders' philosophy is perfectly summed up in their equation for success: entrepreneurship + women = the future.
The Female Founders Fund Not a new initiative, the Female Founders Fund was launched as an attempt to begin to redress the awful imbalance in the amount of venture capital funding globally that gets allocated to businesses founded by women. Founded by Anu Duggal, since launch it has raised $3bn of seed capital to invest in female-founded ventures. The fund also focuses on building up a supportive community of entrepreneurial women, helping them build their skills and their businesses.
AllBright Self-described "Sisterhood community" AllBright offers a physical and digital community for female entrepreneurs. With a focus on offering a supportive and collaborative environment, AllBright says it "champions the kind of collaboration that inspires change and opens up progressive conversation."
Astia Set up with a clear mission to see more high-growth, female-led businesses succeed, Astia provides three vehicles to fuel growth in the businesses it invests in, Astia Fund, Astia Angels and Astia Edge. This is precisely the type of properly structured, focused VC fund with a clear eye on supporting and coaching the female founders and organisations with female leaders it invests in, that's required to overcome the problem of access to capital. And its existing portfolio of companies offers an optimistic case study and ample evidence (if anyone is still in doubt) of the depth and variety of female-led organisations.
Golden Seeds Describing itself as "a discerning group of investors, seeking and funding high-potential, women-led businesses", Golden Seeds has been working hard at this since Stephanie Newby founded the project in 2005. The mission back then was to "create an environment in which all women entrepreneurs would be seriously considered, treated fairly and have a real shot at getting funding". While Golden Seeds is thriving, there is certainly more to work to be done to wake up the rest of the VC world to the opportunity.
Buy Women Built Set up by serial entrepreneur (co- founder of Coffee Republic, founder of Skinny Candy) Sahar Hashemi, the mission of Buy Women Built is to create a market place of female-founded brands and to break out of old habits that have led us to a situation where 80% of 11 to 18 year olds can't name a single female entrepreneur. As Hashemi points out, "If women started businesses at the same rate as men in the UK, we'd add another £250bn to the economy".
And finally, a reminder of some positive success stories This piece in the FT from last year neatly picks out some of the positive stories, picking 30 female-led enterprises that are doing their bit to shake up the status quo. These are positive role models to inspire any would-be founder.