An Evidence Based Approach is the Best and Only Way Forward When Being Innovative

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We are proud to collaborate with some brilliant thought leaders, who we call TGI Game Changers. 

Next in this series is Helene Martin Gee, the founder of the illustrious global women’s business networking group Savvitas. 

Helene shares her wisdom on how we need to capitalise on the opportunities identified through the data and how The Gender Index can encourage female entrepreneurs. 

How and why did you go about founding Savvitas?

In terms of background, I’m a serial entrepreneur, with experience setting up businesses over many years. I also advise parliament on entrepreneurship. Some years ago I realised there was no existing network or group that would bring together my interests and skill sets with others doing similar things. 

I had a portfolio life, but the networks I looked at were usually silo-led; so, women in banking or people in engineering for example. 

I founded what is now SAVVITAS, but was called Pink Shoe at the time, a name I still love! Because pink was traditionally a boys’ colour (in the 1920s), which not many people know, so there was an irony around the pink shoe idea. 

The aim was to make an interesting group of female business leaders formed from many different areas, where we could share ideas. It worked so well we’ve been going for 15 years! 

Can you tell us a bit about what Savvitas does? 

Our main aim is the lifelong development of women, from all sectors, backgrounds and cultures. We encourage working collectively and collaboratively to make things better.

We have a program called BoardAble, which is a way of helping diversify women in public appointments across boards and non-executive roles. We work with organisations such as the Cabinet Office to bring together women who are looking to expand their career as non-execs or ministerial public appointees. 

We got involved with the Rose Review, and contributed by looking at how we could create more role models for women entrepreneurs. 

I created MP HERoes, which encourages MPs across the country to champion successful role model businesses in their constituency. Running in partnership with NatWest, it shines a light on some incredible female-led businesses. 

We have a few thousand members and partners across the world, and that’s increasing. We look for women that bring their skills, experience, positivity and enthusiasm to share and collaborate with other women. Men are welcome to join too and we have an increasing number of male allies and champions.

In June we celebrate our 15th anniversary with an amazing event at the House of Lords. We’ll announce some exciting new initiatives and a year-long programme of activities, all based on the theme of ‘15’, celebrating our highlights and achievements so far and what we’re aiming for in the next 15 years, so watch this space!

In the context of your role, what does The Gender Index mean to you and why is it important? 

For many years, people have been calling out for this data, which offers an evidence-based approach, the best and only way forward when you’re looking to innovate. 

Two years ago we published our White Paper – The Economic Blueprint for Women. As part of this we put together a roadshow and met with more than 400 female company owners across the UK, asking them what they were looking for. All the information gathered was included in the white paper. One of the top recommendations was for gender-disaggregated data on the SME (company) landscape. 

We’ve now got the evidence, we’ve got the data, we’ve got the proof. We know that women-led companies are successful.

In your opinion (and experience) what are the biggest challenges female entrepreneurs face?

I don’t look at challenges, I look at opportunities. I think there’s too much emphasis on problems. I would rather look at how we make the best of the insight. 

How can we use the data to create more female venture capitalists? How do we encourage more women to become angel investors? I’d rather put my focus on the value of women running their own companies and the opportunities that presents. 

A lot of the work that I’m doing through my non-executive roles is around women and technology. Getting more women to embrace technology, not just nibble around the edges. It’s ubiquitous in terms of opportunity and affects every area of our lives, every part of our business; and the more we leverage that opportunity, the greater the impact we’ll have. 

How can The Gender Index help with some of those opportunities? 

It comes back to the evidence! It provides deeper insight. We know how many women are setting up companies and how durable those companies are and, more importantly, how many women are scaling their companies. That’s the information we need! 

It’s encouraging to other women. It’s also encouraging to investors. 

What sort of action needs to be taken? 

I think there are lots of initiatives out there that are very good. For example, Natwest have just increased its funding of female-led businesses by another billion last year, which is incredible. 

We’ve also got the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme. We need to make sure these initiatives are durable, and that it’s not just the focus of the moment. That they are long-standing and well supported. 

What else needs to be done to support female entrepreneurs? 

One of the most important things is that women support each other. That’s why Savvitas created a collaborative network. 

We should look too at organisations that can help with procurement. Some accelerator programmes are also brilliant. 

It’s incumbent on us to empower and educate ourselves and look around the full circle of opportunity. As well as developing a peer group of trusted advisors and people who have been there. There are also some great mentoring programmes out there! I have joined the board of GEN UK (Global Entrepreneurship Network) and we are setting up a great mentoring scheme. 

Savvitas itself has an international internship programme, where we link budding businesswomen with successful women leaders and have a special focus on connecting women entrepreneurs with would-be female founders.

What one piece of advice would you give female entrepreneurs?

Go for it! Don’t wait. If you’re really an entrepreneur, then absolutely nothing will stand in your way. You’ve got the vision and the determination to make it happen. 

But also, develop bounce back-ablity! It’s not going to be all smooth sailing. And when things go wrong, keep on going!

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