‘Women entrepreneurs do not need to be fixed; we are not broken’

7 Nov 2017

The panel at the Astia entrepreneur showcase, from left: Yuka Nagashima, Astia; Barbara Clarke, angel investor, Astia Angels; Veronica Bouchet, Novudel Associates; Patricia Scanlon, Soapbox Labs; and David Marple, investor and adviser, Astia Angels. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Astia entrepreneurs and investors explore the art of the pitch and levelling the playing field.

It is the investment system that needs to be fixed, not women entrepreneurs. That was the powerful message delivered at the recent Astia entrepreneur showcase at Inspirefest 2017 by Yuka Nagashima.

Nagashima, Astia president in charge of its entrepreneurship programme, led an insightful panel discussion where seasoned entrepreneurs and investors explored the best way to pitch to investors.

‘It is a social, intractable problem where women, even if they are educated, even if they have the experience, even if they are surrounding themselves with good teams and networks, are still not getting the investment’

Astia has participated in a total of 67 investments in 46 companies and it recently announced its first exit with the acquisition of Ciel Medical by Vyaire.

Astia and its investment arm, Astia Angels, are endeavouring to counter the general issue at the heart of the tech industry and in Silicon Valley, in particular: that very little investment goes into women or minorities.

On the panel with Nagashima were entrepreneurs Veronica Bouchet, founder director of Novudel Associates, and Patricia Scanlon, founder and CEO of Soapbox Labs, as well as Astia Angels investors and advisers David Marple and Barbara Clarke.

A level pitch

The panel explored the kind of questions investors ask entrepreneurs making a pitch, the dos and don’ts of pitching, and the biggest problems entrepreneurs encounter when presenting to investors.

The key message was that it is all about levelling the playing field in a funding world where cards are often stacked against women entrepreneurs.

Nagashima hit the nail on the head when she said it is the system that is wrong, not women entrepreneurs.

“Astia is a global non-profit organisation and we are levelling the playing field for women entrepreneurs. What that means is, we provide access to capital and networks and just-in-time advice so our entrepreneurs can be successful.

“We do things a little differently at Astia for big reasons,” Nagashima explained.

“And one of the reasons is that we believe that women do not need to be fixed, because we are not broken. What needs to be fixed is the system, so let’s get working on that.

“The reason that organisations have a problem with that is because it is hard; it is a social, intractable problem where women, even if they are educated, even if they have the experience, even if they are surrounding themselves with good teams and networks, are still not getting the investment.

“At Astia, we have been in the business of levelling the playing field for the last 17 years and, in the last four years, we started an angel group called Astia Angels, and this network is not just for women. It is for men and women because to fix the system, we need the men,” Nagashima said, thanking the men who turned up to participate in the showcase.

As previously reported, Nagashima hit out at the blind side that exists in Silicon Valley, which she described as an invisible but impenetrable barrier.

“The Silicon Valley elevator pitch: it’s usually made by a rock-star team who are going to crush it in two minutes. Women don’t test well for this. We can master it but when we deliver the message in that way, we are not liked,” Nagashima said. “We are not likeable to these investors.

“It is not just women, it is people of colour; it is very alpha male. There are even a lot of white men who don’t feel like they belong in that field. We are missing out on a whole world of talent if that is the filter,” she warned.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Super Early Bird Tickets for Inspirefest 2018 are on sale now!

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