Closing the gender investment gap for a more resilient, innovative, inclusive and balanced economy
A step towards unleashing the potential of women investors, entrepreneurs and innovators
We are constantly asking how to improve our economy, and our problem is that half of our population is not accessing business opportunities, so, this is how we are prevented from getting these results” MEP Mikuláš Peksa
Gender equality is one of the founding principles of the EU and a top policy priority. Yet, it is a complex problem, often deeply rooted in the culturally defined position of women in society. And although progress is being made, driving cultural and fundamental change takes time, and through consistency and a holistic perspective, can we ensure to make the much-needed steps. Gender equality is not ‘merely’ an ethical or societal issue, it has a strong economic dimension as well, by under utilisation of the large potential of women in business and innovation, we limit our growth potential and resilience. This report reflects one of the aspects of inequality, that we consider a major obstacle for equal participation in business and innovation: the gender investment gap, and places it in a more holistic perspective.
The Knowledge4Innovation Forum, Collabwith and The Wominvest Observatory (TWOO) jointly elaborated a set of recommendations on how to improve gender equality with a particular view on investments in women-led VC funds, and women-led startups.
The United Nations has declared 2021 the year of women leadership for the Covid-19 recovery and this report shows how it is possible with actions at any levels of the hierarchy and from individuals, to policy makers to industry leaders, to investment funds, financial institutions and governments. We want to create a balanced economy towards a resilient, digital, innovative, inclusive and connected innovation area for a stronger Europe. This report is a roadmap towards closing the funding gap for female founders and funders.
The EU and other parts of the world strive for robust and resilient economies that foster growth. Recent crises (the financial crisis of 2008, and the current COVID crisis) have shown that highly diversified economies are the most resilient, recover better from economic downturns and ensure a robust and continuous growth over the long term.
We consider gender balance in entrepreneurship and investment, and especially the start up and scale up ecosystem, a key element of diversification. We know that 30% of entrepreneurs are women, but they receive 2% of the financing available with the pandemic, this figure has even dropped to 1%. We are constantly asking ourselves how to improve our economy, and our problem is that half of our population are not accessing business opportunities, so, this is how we are prevented from getting these results. Everyone involved in the businesses needs to tackle this together. Innovation ecosystems are very important, they are the hub of connecting academia, start-ups, mentors, investors, researchers centres etc. Currently there is a silence in the innovation ecosystem, there is no communication cross-country and the communication is mainly masculine.
We have devised 7 actions tackling the overall issues and challenges women are facing in the innovation ecosystem, and creating a framework to cluster the recommendations and roadmap in a clear and easy way to understand and implement. These actions are the messages abstracted from the 7 debates organized in 2020 in the European Parliament organized by Knowledge4Innovation Forum, Collabwith and The Wominvest Observatory (TWOO) with the discussions of how to allocate funds to increase women investment to women-led VC, women-led funds, women-led start-ups and women-led businesses, how to overcome the root causes and the role of women inside the innovation ecosystems.
The 7 Balanced Economy Actions are:
GOOD DATA FOR GOOD POLICY
The EU institutions should invest in the structural and long-term collection of high quality key data, that provide the insights and basis for effective policy making. These data should include female entrepreneurship (including start-ups and scale ups), investment in female led companies, female roles in VC’s, female-led fund sizes, performance of female led companies, and the impact of those companies on the economy. Certain KPI’s should be developed to monitor progress towards the equality targets.
CO-RESPONSIBILITY FOR EMPOWERMENT
To bring about structural change must be a joint responsibility for all: individuals, families, entrepreneurs, business owners, corporate, universities, research organizations, accelerators, financial institutions, policy makers, politicians, alliances, technology clusters and innovation ecosystems. The EU needs to remove barriers to full participation of women in business and innovation. Actions need to promote the feeling of co-responsibility, sharing burdens, to empower women and men to equally contribute to society and economy; such actions include flexible remote work for employees in different European countries, a favourable taxation system, equal paid-parental leave for entrepreneurs and freelancers, paid-childcare and after school activities, pension plans and inclusive communication.
DARE TO DREAM
Children from a young age onwards are often confronted with stereotypes. These stereotypes limit their dreams and perspectives. Instead, they should be inspired by role models, their direct environment, even the toys they play with, to enable them to make the choices to shape their future and follow their dreams. Our recommendation is to let women inspire kids, with role models, education and campaigns at all levels encouraging girls to become entrepreneurs and innovators. It is important to actively search for role models that are often not visible and bring them inside the schools and media. In addition, communication to kids about entrepreneurship and innovation needs to be adapted to be gender balanced, not gender biased.
Following the previous recommendation, students need to be introduced to entrepreneurship, STEM skills and financial literacy from an early age, before needing to select a profile for more limited study in the early teenage years. This can be achieved through mentoring, meaningful internships, role modelling: all of which will serve to normalize entrepreneurship, investment and success in girls thereby creating a pipeline of talent to enter and support a robust and innovative start-up ecosystem for years to come. At the end of the day, all actors of society need to be educated of the biases they have, creating awareness for policy makers, leaders, investors, that this issue is real, but that girls themselves are not the issue.
NETWORKING AND TRAINING
Knowledge and creating a comfort zone to be successful in entrepreneurship is key, and often lacking for women. There is a need to increase and create educational training programs for women investors and entrepreneurs regarding investment, finance and accounting. We also recommend building capacity and gathering an easy-to-access repository with this information. Increase the networking events and programs for women investors and entrepreneurs, whilst adding a layer of advisory and mentoring for new and existing funds and innovative businesses. Access to different networks, including women-focused networks specific to themes, industries, interests and leadership, are needed. Such will allow support of women between women by sharing knowledge and expertise. In correlation, mixing networks of women investors and entrepreneurs with industry leaders and academia will enhance and facilitate going to the market and creating impact.
ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE FINANCIAL ECOSYSTEM
Increasing the number of female fund managers will increase the flow of capital to women-led businesses because of the recognition and familiarity with opportunities. A combination of lowering barriers of entry for emerging female fund managers, by providing guaranteed loans or funds for the initial GP Commit Fee of 1-2%, as well as shifting the criteria to allow for varying experience levels. Create programs focused specifically on female-led or minority-led funds. Create funds with a low entry barrier so that they too can support emerging fund (minority or a woman) managers. Create a single unified market for angel investment with harmonized tax incentives that stimulate cross-border investment and increase access to information, to encourage more women to become angel investors thereby expanding the pool of capital available to female founders. Finally, decrease the reliance on inherently biased pitch competitions and improve quality expectations for accelerators, perhaps by creating standards and accreditation processes and then encourage female founders to work with accredited accelerator and mentorship programs.
USE THE RECOVERY FUND TO STIMULATE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY
Parts of the recovery fund should be earmarked and spent on reducing the gender-based investment gap. Various instruments could be envisaged, from promoting female (startup) entrepreneurship, facilitating access to capital (networking, skilling, coaching) and reducing barriers, to empowering women in the investment domain, as decision designers and makers. Instruments should be designed to act as a catalyst and provide direct support such grants, guaranteed loans, facilitation, and more fundamentally in data, knowledge, education and awareness, but also to co-create best practice with and for the private sector, including private investors and investment funds.
No single policy action or stakeholders can make the changes by themselves; we need to work together for the good of our society. We need an Europe that provides equal opportunity for all. One that is innovative, connected, collaborative, diversified and inclusive. This report sets a frame for a continued exploration of best actions to take as a roadmap, collection of data and KPI needed, and future possible workshops. Together with important stakeholders such as policy makers, politicians, EIF, EIB, funds of funds, venture capital, business angels, entrepreneurs, investors and other actors involved in the innovation ecosystem, we will continue to take action towards a more balanced economy.
Balanced Economy Actions
READ THE WHOLE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY DOCUMENT HERE.