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Starting up

Female founders share top tips on how to build a bigger and better business at Enterprise Tuesday.

A group of people in the office smiling as they talk.

How do we get more money into female-led businesses? Numerous pieces of research show the link between female leaders and stronger financial performance, greater employee productivity and collaborative ways of working. Yet in the UK only 25% of businesses have a female founder and only 11% are all-female led.

Two sessions in the Lent series of Enterprise Tuesday, organised by the Entrepreneurship Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School, covered this topic from six women entrepreneurs:

  • Emma Sinclair MBE, Co-Founder of EnterpriseAlumni.
  • Addie Pinkster, CEO of Adelpha Group.
  • Aleksandra Pedraszewska, Co-founder & COO of VividQ.
  • Joanne Smith, Chair of SME Council at the Confederation of British Industry and Executive Chair & Founder of TCC & Recordsure.
  • Bina Mehta, Partner and Member of the Board of KPMG.
  • Amanda Pullinger, CEO of 100 Women in Finance.

Here is an edited partial transcript of the discussion:

Passion, purpose and adaptability

Bina Mehta: There is no such thing as a typical entrepreneur: they all have different backgrounds, personal or professional journeys. What is clear is the reason behind why they do what they do: they have courage and conviction to fill a gap in the market and look for an opportunity to scale and make a difference. Recognise it is a series of steps, not a long journey, and always think ahead.

Amanda Pullinger: I think the most important thing to do in life is to make a decision and go for it. Whether or not it works out, make a decision that is going to be part of your story, part of your personal branding. This really illustrates to people that you are willing to take risks.

Joanne Smith: I think adaptability is the most important competency of an agile leader. Over the past 12 months we have seen that business had to be agile and resilient to cope with the COVID-19 crisis and the changes that we have all had to make. It has been an interesting pause for everyone: as an employer how can you do things differently to make things better? What will you carry on doing when you go back? Think about what are you going to do that is different. When the crisis is over you have the opportunity to build back better.

Preparing to start up

Addie Pinkster: Building a business is like building a house extension: it is harder, more expensive, and takes longer than you think it will. And it will go wrong far more times than it goes right along the way.

Emma Sinclair: Choose a co-founder carefully. The relationship is like a marriage – but oftentimes harder!

Aleksandra Pedraszewska: When looking for early-stage investment, always do a lot of preparation and attend as many pitching opportunities as possible. Ideally, try to pitch to people who will ask you good questions and challenge your idea.

Amanda Pullinger: Have the mindset for making the connections for other people, as you can then be associated with putting people together. Network in order to serve others around you and to make connections beneficial for those around you.

Bina Mehta: Prepare, prepare and prepare! From the way you pitch, to how you pitch. Build those networks and supporters. The more voices you have around you, the more you, your business and your purpose will be amplified.

Building partnerships

Emma Sinclair: Build relationships early and before you need them, whether investors, customers, suppliers or potential board members. Find allies you have personal chemistry with and that you can trust. As you grow, you’ll have a crowd you can lean on who will already know, trust and respect you when you need them.

Joanne Smith: When you are small and agile, partnerships will work if you’re providing them with something they don’t have themselves. Offer something different to your partners.

Aleksandra Pedraszewska: If you’re looking for co-founders, do not wait until you start your first-time job. Network, pitch your idea and try to find as many like-minded people whilst you’re still at university.

Raising money

Addie Pinkster: The easiest way to raise money is to be worthy of it: be investable. Make sure you are doing justice to the quality of the investment opportunity you are presenting. Remember for investors their decision fundamentally comes down to five things: What price do I get in at? What price do I get out at? Duration – how long is it going to take? How much execution risk is there on those assumptions? And how diluted will my position become in the meantime? So an investor presentation should address those key points with no room for confusion.

The next series of Enterprise Tuesday will be held in May, with a focus on the role of entrepreneurship in tackling climate change. You can register your interest online.