Fairer Funding Now: Founders’ Toolkit

BY Rachel O'BrienDecember 5, 2018

Crowd At A Dublin Founders Meeting

Believe your chances at investment shouldn’t rest on your background, race, gender or frankly, anything other than your awesome business? We’re calling for fair opportunities in startup funding – and it’s time to shine a light on some of the accelerators and VCs working to support underrepresented founders in the UK and Ireland.

Whilst recent headlines around diversity in funding are cause for alarm, positive change is afoot in the tech scene. Google recently hit the news for putting £200,000 into Huckletree West members Colorintech’s career accelerator for BAME talent – and it’s just one step forward that’s emerged of late.

Here are the awesome VC and Accelerators doing great things in line with Fairer Funding Now:

 

ACCELERATORS

Female High Fliers
Female High Fliers is an intensive 13-week female only accelerator programme based in the heart of Dublin. The programme was launched in 2014 by Dublin City University’s Ryan Academy, a hub for entrepreneurial development. Since then, they’ve helped over 75 female founders develop their businesses, accelerate growth and be general bosses.

The Female High Fliers programme creates a network of strong female founders that can support each other through the many highs and lows of starting your own business. Niamh Collins, director of the programme, is open about the fact that finding finance is still the biggest obstacle for most female founders and has tailored the programme to deal with the unique issues that women can face.

Perhaps the most important aspect is that 75% of the women who have taken part say that they feel more confident in a business environment. Saoirse Sheridan, founder of Elder Home Share and graduate of Female High Fliers, couldn’t speak more highly of the programme:

“If you’re looking to up your game, hone your pitching skills and find some valuable allies then you’re in the right place.”

This Dublin-based accelerator is on point at tackling the biases female founders often face in the startup community. Look out for applications for the next cycle of the programme in the new year!

 

Backstage Accelerator
Backstage Capital believes that irrespective of gender, race, sexuality and other categories of societal inequality, any person embodying any identity can be an entrepreneur.

The startup and venture capital scenes are often criticised for their homogeneous nature, with ethnic minority, female and LGBTQ+ founders still in the minority. As such, it’s unsurprising that statistics such as our Fairer Funding Now research, “Only 17% of black startup leaders think equal opportunities exist” are echoed through multiple outlets.

Whilst some took this to mean a lack of heterogeneous entrepreneurs starting businesses, Backstage Capital’s Founder Arlan Hamilton saw it as an enormous investment opportunity. In 2015, they set a goal to fund 100 high quality startups led by underrepresented founders by 2020. Just one year later, they smashed their target and Arlan and co now count some of the world’s most innovative businesses as part of their portfolio. Check out Astral AR, Haute Hijab and Mars Reel for starters…

Whilst currently less than 10% of all venture capital deals go to women, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ founders are shifting the frame and in the words of Huckletree West fave Nafisa Bakkar, “changing the landscape of who gets to be a founder, starts with changing who gets to decide to back them.”

Today, Backstage Capital has just launched its first 3-month accelerator programme in London, which is its 4th location globally (and first outside the US). Applications for their first cohort have just closed, but keep your eye on their website for their next openings.

 

VCs

Frontline Ventures
Since Frontline Ventures burst onto the Dublin VC scene in 2012, they haven’t been shy in voicing their opinions on the state of startup funding in the UK and Ireland. Over six years after being founded by Will Prendergast and Shay Garvey, the early stage tech VC fund has offices in both Dublin and London and has invested in over 50 companies.

Through all the rounds of funding and expansions of their portfolio, Frontline have been outspoken about the unconscious biases that exist in the funding process. As Frontline’s youngest founding partner, Will McQuillan emphasised at our Fairer Funding Now debate last week:

People are substantially more likely to invest in people like themselves. We need to make people aware of their unconscious biases and their privileges.”

The team at Frontline are passionate about starting a conversation on biases in funding. They were amongst the first 10 VCs in the UK and Ireland to share anonymous demographic data on every start-up they meet. Researchers, such as DiversityVC, are using this data to create awareness of the lack of funding going to entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. Frontline have also recently backed TechIreland’s €100m Campaign, an initiative to track €100 million in female founder funding in 2018.

Frontline has made a continued effort to create a diversified community for their portfolio, including hosting a female only open day for applications for a €3 million fund to support tech entrepreneurs in Ireland.

It’s obvious that Frontline is leading from the front in the mission to make the funding process fairer. We salute you!

 

Forward Partners
One of the key goals of our Fairer Funding Now research was to make our findings transparent. By making the issue at hand as clear and as accessible as possible, we’ve been able to share the common consensus and motivations of all our respondents accurately – making their voices heard through collective experience. This emphasis on using transparency to highlight the gravity of situation is echoed by Forward Partners. Recently, they made public the number of female or ethnic minority founders in their portfolio, alongside the makeup of their applicants and their comparative chances of investment success.

Sharing data from 300 pitch decks and six weeks of early-stage startup applications, Forward Partners investor Louise Rix showed that all-female applications made up just 7% of pitches. Interestingly, those teams did well securing funding – since 14% of Forward’s portfolio are all-female teams. This is in line with our own research, which showed that only 16.2% of founders believe that investors seek businesses run by people from diverse backgrounds for their portfolios.

In our Fairer Funding Now research, 38.6% of respondents believed that quotas should be introduced by VCs. Forward are of the same opinion, openly challenging themselves to increase the proportion of female applicants to 30% in the next 2 months. They’re setting out to achieve this with concerted outreach efforts, female only office hours, social media campaigns and pitch/demo day events.

Louise Rix candidly accepts and highlights Forward’s current inadequacies, but openly states their commitment to continuing with these efforts: “This is where we are at and we are committed to keeping improving”.

 

RESOURCES

This is just a taster of the support out there for underrepresented founders. Here are some recommended resources created both by Team Huckletree and key sources:

Of course, we couldn’t recommend accelerators without mentioning our very own, the Alpha Programme. We take no equity, charge no fees and actively look for underrepresented founders. Applications for our next cohort open in January – and we want you!

 

WHAT NEXT?

It’s clear that a lot of work is still required to effect change, but the signs are truly promising. If you’re working to support underrepresented founders or have your own experience of funding obstacles to share, get in touch!

AUTHOR

Rachel O'Brien

Huckletree D2 Intern