Wednesday, January 22, 2014

the risk of offering ‘women-only’ finance

I recently came across the female business angel network and was encouraged and depressed by its existence in equal measure:
while it’s always good to have finance tailored to specific groups of enterprises (increases the likelihood of engagement, makes it easier to develop supportive relationships, etc), there’s a very large associated risk that it stifles the potential of the enterprise being financed;
an entrepreneur engaging with such specific and niche support is highly unlikely to subsequently engage with the wider business support community on the strength of the relationship they develop with it, and so won’t want to look for anything else – ultimately this means that they’ll miss out on opportunities that may have been open to them elsewhere, in programmes that have a more ‘mixed’ recruitment to the businesses they’ll support.
Think I’m blowing smoke over nothing? Well, there are two things I’d point to which have led me to come to this perspective:
1)  the rise of Islamic Finance: it’s generally not a mainstream offer, and since its introduction I’ve anecdotally been aware that there is a significantly decreasing diversity amongst entrepreneurs in the more general business support programmes I’ve been involved in supporting...
2)   I like to think I keep pretty clued up about support available to entrepreneurs of all types (it’s what some clients feel they value the most about me), but as someone who’s been involved with enterprise financing for 14 years in different guises at local, regional and national levels, this is the first time I’ve come across the female business angel network...

So – the female business angel network: along with other niche enterprise support offers it’s a great resource to engaging those entrepreneurs who might have otherwise ‘slipped through the net’ on the basis of sexism or other bias and prejudice (however explicit or implicit) within wider business support programmes and bodies, but with an increasingly fragmented marketplace of such support, I’m increasingly concerned about how well its being ‘joined up’ to ensure that those being supporting to pursue and realise their dreams and hopes don’t inadvertently find themselves being unnecessarily stifled or curtailed...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

the real reason libraries are struggling...

Some of you will know that I've a long-term interest (love) in libraries - especially with regard to the support that they can offer local communities in light of increasing cuts to others public services. I also curate a twitter list at
Contributors to that list often cite various reasons as to the decline and difficulties our public libraries currently face, but I'm coming to the idea that actually the biggest problem for our libraries isn't changing demographics, the rise of the internet, etc but something far more mundane - council bureaucracy! 

I was recently invited to have my picture taken by my local newspaper in Todmorden library as part of a feature on the support that's available to start-up businesses in the local area. However, despite speaking with the library staff and making 2 phone calls to heads of departments, we could only gain a provisional permission to have picture taken of me (a library-card carrying member) looking at some of their books on business start-up (to encourage more people to check them out and use the library), in a public building!, and that final permission would only be given once they'd seen the pictures that the press photographer had taken...

With this clear lack of leadership, is it any wonder that libraries are struggling to remain engaged with the changing faces of their local communities? 
Maybe this is why many feel that the future of public libraries lies in their being managed by the communities they serve, and moving out of local authority ownership and control (after all, that's how public libraries originally started!)

updated - well, it looks like we finally got full permission after all! the pictures now on-line in glorious technicolour -