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...

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