We find ourselves in a time of environmental issues and societal challenges. From the global pandemics, to a cost of living crisis, we are also facing some devastating natural disasters that are becoming more frequent around the world. In August 2021, the UN’s climate science body said: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”. There is still time to limit these terrifying impacts, but the clock is ticking.
Research by the WealthiHer Network found that women innately recognise that “less harm” is no longer an option and that “we must change how we do business now” for our children and future generations. 89% want to be part of the solution and to build and engage with businesses that are both environmentally sustainable and socially responsible, markedly more than men.
Clearly, we have female entrepreneurs who are ready. The hard part of identifying champions for sustainable change is done. My question is: with so many women stepping up, why can’t we get more support behind them? After all, we are all the beneficiaries. What can propel them faster and what role can business leaders, investors and governments play in powering their impact?
The direction I’m advocating is the opposite one to environmental and social impacts that ruthlessly forge dividing lines – wealth, education, business. The sustainable solution that works is the one where we unite the doers and the supporters. It’s clear that female entrepreneur doers are playing their part, but the actions of the support team are not as obvious.
It’s impossible to grow and drive change quickly without assistance, especially after a tumultuous few years. As an entrepreneur and business owner, I understand this path is not easy. We are all just happy we have survived the last few years, businesses and teams intact. To now transform into more sustainable and socially conscious businesses perhaps feels like an added burden. But that burden is the pressure of our future success and viability. Consideration, investment and funding are essential to fuelling these future-focused aspirations.
We have seen the numbers and know that female entrepreneurs have greater intent but are impeded by long-standing access to funding. The 2021 Top Female Founders Report from Beauhurst and J.P. Morgan Private Bank reveals the extent to which the pandemic hit female business leaders disproportionally. Not only did female-powered businesses suffer greater impacts across operations, they also encountered harsher barriers to funding. Are we happy to accept this double whammy without addressing the gap? This gap, ultimately, affects our futures.
The report also identified that women are turning to new methods of funding to secure investment. Crowdfunding platforms including Crowdcube and Seedrs accounted for three of the top five investors in female-powered companies. Gabi Jennings founded the Love Ocean Group in the middle of the pandemic, using crowdfunding to develop a bespoke product.
“My business idea came from watching my children picking up plastic from the beach,” she explains. “I was fascinated that this was on their radar, but my research into recycling and mainstream packaging revealed it was almost impossible for us to do more than simply pick it up.” This mission to reduce plastic waste on a larger scale fuelled Jennings to launch the Love Ocean range of refillable bottles.
Love Ocean’s biggest hurdle was the capital needed upfront to fund product development. “I started fundraising with professional investors at the start of the first lockdown, which was extremely difficult.” says Jennings. “Instead, I had to rely on friends and family as a foundation and crowdfunding to take us to market.” Just 18 months later, Love Ocean is 200% overfunded and has confirmed launches with Selfridges and Ocado.
It’s a great story and we could see more of these vital successes with women entrepreneurs receiving the right support. This is not a cottage industry looking at environment and social impact; it is the new world, right now.
The WealthiHer Network research has highlighted that spending patterns, brand loyalty and employment choices of younger women are being driven by environmental and societal values. There is some indication that investors are following suit, as they look to understand the environmental and societal philosophy of a business as an investment consideration. HSBC found that 68% of investors want their investments to clearly support those businesses that can define a “build back better” effort.
Here’s the good news – this is not a problem looking for a solution. Rapid change is possible, but better support is needed. Co-founder of A Plastic Planet, Sian Sutherland says: “The extraordinary level of change we need to see in business models today requires Government support. We need more incentives for new and existing businesses to ‘do the right thing’. Fiscal policy and innovation grants can rapidly accelerate change. Innovate UK, for example, has a clear mandate to support businesses who are taking the harder path towards sustainability. “
There are female entrepreneurs ready to step up. There are ideas, innovations and collaborative evolutions that will change the future of our world. All that is needed is the right support to make it happen faster and better. It’s not happening yet, but it could. It should.
Like us, Michelle King, the founder of Equality Forward, and RPC are committed to sharing the knowledge, belief and accountability business leaders need to accelerate their sustainable impact. Calling all supporters – it’s time to step up and time to REIMAGINE!