FirstCapital’s Hazel Moore: ‘Female tech founders don’t fit VC expectations’

18 May 2016

With less than 5pc of venture capital going to female-led start-ups, Hazel Moore of FirstCapital says tech investment has a fundamental problem

Fantastic women running potentially great start-ups are struggling to get air time with investors because they don’t fit the model of what the predominantly male venture capital community expect, Hazel Moore, co-founder of investment bank FirstCapital, has warned.

With less than 5pc of venture capital going to women CEOs and only 7pc of partners at global venture firms being women, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Silicon Valley and the broader tech world has a problem.

For Hazel Moore – co-founder and chairman of FirstCapital, an investment bank based in London and Silicon Valley that advises tech firms on mergers, acquisitions and private equity – such statistics are nothing short of disappointing.

But the real disappointment is firsthand; it is the lack of representation of women leaders in the tech companies she meets in the course of her job.

‘It is about creating more supportive environments for women to feel there is the possibility for them to create value’

“I think it’s a real problem. I, personally, as a woman working in this field, find it very disappointing the number of companies I come across that have women as founders or members of the senior management team.

“I also find it very disappointing that the venture capital and private equity community has such a poor representation of women at the partner [and] decision-making level, which is about a similar percentage that you would find amongst the technology community as well.”

I was speaking to Moore ahead of her appearance at Inspirefest 2016, which will take place in Dublin between 30 June and 2 July.

An authority on tech mergers and acquisitions, Moore won the Women in Private Equity Award for Best Corporate Finance Advisor last year. In both 2013 and 2014, she was identified as one of 100 Women to Watch in the Female FTSE Board Report.

FirstCapital is noted for creating the SMART dealmaking process (an acronym for Strategic positioning, Marketing, Access, Rigorous negation and Transaction close), which has delivered a 50pc valuation premium for the company’s clients.

Inspiration and aspiration

Moore believes that, from a female founder’s perspective, the shortage of female leaders is partly an aspiration problem and partly a role model problem, but the real changes need to take place among investors.

“There are fantastic women running really, really interesting start-ups that struggle to get air time because they don’t fit the model of what the majority of the venture capital community expect. And there is clearly an issue in terms of a lot of people expect founders to be working all night, eating pizza and playing computer games in their downtime. And, although there are women that fit that profile, there are probably fewer women that fit that profile than there might be amongst the male community,” she said.

“It’s about creating more supportive environments for women to feel there is the possibility for them to create value. It is about creating more supportive environments amongst the investment community to recognise there are different models for creating successful companies and it is also about creating role models and making sure we celebrate the success of the female entrepreneurs that we have.”

Moore cited Inspirefest as “an absolutely fantastic forum for women” because of the array of women speaking and showing what’s possible.

“Most tech conferences you go to still have all-male panels and very similar types of discussions. It is conferences like Inspirefest that break the mould and make the difference,” she said.

According to Moore, the overall market for tech funding is still strong. “It is definitely true that there has been some impact at the top end of the market from the falls in unicorn valuations and what’s been happening in the public markets. But, if you look at the data for venture and growth equity, it’s still pretty strong. In Europe, in the first quarter, we had $3.7bn worth of funding, and that’s up from $3bn in the same quarter last year. So, good growth in value, good growth in volume. So I think the environment for companies is still good, if they’ve got a great proposition.”

Key areas of technology that Moore sees making the most impact include enterprise software, B2B software, e-commerce, infrastructure and fintech.

The fintech revolution

Among the topics that will be discussed at Inspirefest 2016 will be the fintech revolution, and Moore believes this presents opportunities and challenges for all facets of the finance and tech community.

“I think there are some real threats to the traditional financial incumbents,” she explained. “There are start-ups that are taking an inherently digital-first approach to creating new products and new services for consumers that are cutting out the banks and really delivering a new digital experience, and a lot of the consumers are reacting really well to those kinds of opportunities.

‘I think conferences like Inspirefest are an absolutely fantastic forum for women because there is a brilliant array of women speaking and showing what’s possible’

“There are other areas of fintech where there’s opportunity for the existing banks to modernise their infrastructure, utilise the customer data they have to deliver better service and use new techniques in terms of risk, fraud, governance and compliance to improve their offering. There are massive opportunities across a whole spectrum of the industry

“Where we are particularly interested is around the enabling software and we see some fantastic opportunities there. There are clearly some great consumer services that are being delivered as well but we see, for example, some of the big internet companies coming in and being very competitive there, and we think that is a risk for some of the new start-ups.”

But none of this means anything unless a level playing field is created for female founders to lead companies, attract investment and, indeed, make investments in start-ups.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Book your tickets now.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years