Sipping Marsala tea while having foot reflexology in a luxury world-class spa may seem like an unusual place to close a business deal. However, that’s exactly what some women were doing at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Event (DWEN) in New Delhi, India this week.
The annual event, now in its third year is fast becoming a “must attend” conference on the entrepreneurial calendar.
This week, Sydney-based Wendy Simpson attended the event in India, part of a 15-strong group of female entrepreneurs from Australia. At the event, Simpson announced the launch of Springboard Enterprises in Australia, an organisation that aims to coach women in pitching to investors and provide access to venture capital funding. Simpson is chair of the newly formed organisation.
The announcement allowed Simpson to come full circle: the idea was borne out of a conversation with US Springboard representatives over dinner two years ago at the inaugural DWEN event, which was held in Shanghai in 2010.
At the time, Simpson was at a crossroads with her own precision engineering company, Westray Engineering. She was faced with either seeking funding from venture capitalists or selling the company: “I realised that if I wanted to be trained in how to pitch for VC funding, there was nowhere for me to go in Australia,” says Simpson.
Although Simpson ultimately sold her engineering company, that meeting of minds in Shanghai drove Simpson to launch Springboard Enterprises Australia last month.
The U.S. arm of Springboard says that 95 percent of VC funding goes to businesses led my men, with only 5 percent going to women-led businesses. Simpson says that anecdotal evidence from Australia reflects a similar percentage distribution.
Simpson says her underlying passion is to empower women to create big businesses. “The first thing we want to do is talk to women and inspire them to grow their businesses,” she says. “There are a lot of success stories about mumpreneurs and women with small businesses – and that’s great. But the exciting thing about Springboard is that we want women to think of growing their businesses to $10 million or $20 million.”
“I’ve spoken to many women and the perception is that they are going to have to work much harder if they want a bigger business,” she says. “They may have a $1 million to $2 million business and they think that, in order to get to $10 million, they have to work much harder. The perception is that you have to be a super CEO – competent at everything from design to finance to marketing. They think they will be too stretched. In fact, the opposite is true because you have the team and you can delegate.”
“I also find that women are reluctant to pitch for funding. They think they should fund their growth through working capital.”
Part of this reluctance may stem from a fear of losing control, or of being accountable to investors who may not share the same vision for your company. Simpson says that the key is to ensure you are the right match.
“When it comes to accepting money from investors, one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs can make is to think that all money is equal,” she says. “But there is good money and bad money. Some investors may not respect your vision or the money may come with strings attached.”
She proposes this unique measurement on whether an investor is right for your business: “Ask yourself: ‘Will you still smile every time that person’s name comes up on my iPhone?’.”
In other words, do you truly feel they will add value to your business, or are you simply accepting the money because you need it?
Under the Springboard model, female entrepreneurs have their business plans reviewed to determine if they are ready for mentoring. They then undergo coaching in pitching and are given access to a “women-friendly” investor community via investor forums where they can pitch their business.
Simpson makes no apologies for the fact that the program is exclusive to women and that it will not be coaching men. “They are already getting 95 percent of VC funding,” she says simply.
She believes the women are a force for change in business and the wider society.
“It’s the business owner who decides where the profit goes. If women have a real desire to use their company profits for change, they have a lot of power. You can set up a company with the values you want, you can transform the lives of your employees in the way you conduct business. I’m passionate about this because I think women are wired to make a difference. And you can make a heck of a difference when you have a big business.”