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Backing women-led businesses is the best idea you can have

Illustration of a woman, clock, money and female symbol

In the five years I spent raising money for my tech start-up Gapsquare, I pitched to investors roughly 100 times. Venture capitalists, institutional investors, angels — you name it, I tried it.

Despite this, I raised zero capital. Not a penny. Yet, we succeeded in commercialising our product and were ultimately acquired by a FTSE 100 company.

But this narrative isn’t just mine; it’s a reflection of a larger, systemic issue in the investment world.

While our success story continued without investor backing, many women business owners aren’t so fortunate. The lack of investment wasn’t a reflection of a bad pitch or a flawed business idea (its value clearly proven by the successful acquisition).

The problem is deeper: the investment scene is skewed against women. It’s dominated by men, riddled with bias, and built on systemic inequality. In all my pitching, I was mistaken for a waitress more often than I was invited to the next stage of investment discussions.

This systemic bias is reflected in the startling statistic that only 2% of venture capital funding goes to companies led by women. Venture capitalists often argue that there’s a lack of viable women-led businesses, yet they overlook entrepreneurs such as me, who have stood in their offices pitching innovative ideas.

Investing in businesses led by women isn’t just about fairness; it’s smart economics. We now have enough studies showing that women-led companies often deliver higher revenue — often twice as much per pound invested — than those founded by men. This isn’t surprising, considering women bring different perspectives, leadership styles and innovation approaches. Additionally, gender-diverse teams have been shown to be more effective and better at problem-solving. Investors who overlook or undervalue women-led businesses are missing out on these proven benefits.

The situation is somewhat better with angel investors. The UK Business Angels Association estimates that 14% of angel investors are women, backing 25% of women-led companies. Over the past decade, these investments have supported the growth of 1,000 businesses led by women. These successes show the potential when women entrepreneurs are given a fair chance.

However, a recent policy change by the Treasury threatens this progress. The threshold for qualifying as a high net worth individual has risen from £100,000 to £170,000 annually. This change will impact women disproportionately, reducing the number of female high net worth individuals by nearly 70%. It’s a step back for women entrepreneurs and the women who invest in them.

Reversing this policy change is crucial, but it’s just the beginning. We need to create an environment that intentionally fosters diverse business ecosystems. To achieve this, we do not need less support — we need more tax incentives for women angel investors, opportunities to fund alongside banks and Innovate UK, and increased protections on retail investment platforms.

As a society, we must acknowledge and address the biases in our investment culture. It’s time for intentional action to support women entrepreneurs. We’ve seen what can be achieved even with limited backing. Imagine the possibilities if the playing field were truly level.

Investing in women-led businesses is not just a matter of equity — it’s a matter of economic wisdom. Let’s not just level the playing field but also recognise the untapped potential it holds. By doing so, we’re not just supporting women entrepreneurs; we’re investing in a more diverse, innovative, and successful future for our economy.

Zara Nanu is a serial entrepreneur and a member of the women’s leadership board at Harvard Kennedy School

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