Group of investors aims to boost influence of women in business

Source: Times Colonist
Author: Andrew Duffy

Group of investors aims to boost influence of women in business

In a bid to empower female investors and to improve the gender diversity around boardroom tables and executive offices, a group of businesswomen has launched what is believed to be the first all-female investment network in Canada.
The Women’s Equity Lab, a collaboration of 18 female investors from Victoria and Vancouver, has launched in Victoria with a goal of increasing the number of women investing in early-stage Canadian companies.

“It’s been an issue for a while now,” said co-founder Stephanie Andrew.

“I’ve been evaluating investment opportunities for seven years and it’s always the same thing — [boardrooms and executive offices] that are either predominantly or exclusively men at the cap table.”

Andrew, an active angel investor and executive director of non-profit group Capital Investment Network, said when men dominate the investment rounds, it’s reflected in the companies.

She said the companies that tend to get funding are those that appeal to men, simply because men represent the bulk of the angel investors available.

More often than not, she said, that translates into a board of directors or advisory board dominated by men, and often the executives tend to be men, even in firms founded by women.

The Women’s Equity Lab intends to change that. The 18 women involved — the lab is looking for two more — have each put up at least $5,000 to establish an investment pool of $100,000.

The group will look for investments that offer growth, show market potential and have an exit strategy that will provide a strong return.

Andrew said the initiative could play a big role in addressing the gender inequality inherent in the investment game, as well as taking on broader issues of the glass ceiling women executives often face.

“When we get more women at the shareholder level, I think we are going to see different kinds of companies and a different composition of executives and boards,” she said.

While the pool of money they have established is relatively modest, Andrew said they have no set approach for how it will be invested.

“It will depend ... it is a collaborative approach and the women will decide where the money goes. If there’s one great opportunity, then all of the money could go there, but if we see more than one we could diversify across several companies,” Andrew said, though she noted they are likely to avoid investments that are capital intensive.

The group of 18 is diverse and includes small business owners, lawyers, doctors, scientists and start-up founders, among others.

Women’s Equity Lab “is made up of an extraordinary group of accomplished women who are excited to learn from one another, do deals together and to make an impact,” said co-founder Elizabeth Dutton. “We’re proud to be adding to the momentum of female-funding led initiatives as Canada’s first female angel investing lab, which really empowers women to understand and get involved in the investment process.”

The group kickstarts its efforts today with a pitching lunch that will see 12 companies from Victoria, around B.C. and one from Toronto taking a few minutes each to sell themselves to the investors.

The lab intends to meet monthly with the gatherings focused on evaluating deal flow, due diligence, and hearing from established angel investors about investing approaches and trends.