We caught up with Jill Jones, leader of Women Angels of Wales, to find out more about the business angel investment syndicate and how it’s supporting female founders.
Could you tell us about Women Angels Of Wales and how it came about?
Women Angels Of Wales exists to change the investment landscape in Wales. Only 9% of investors in the Angels Invest Wales network are female. The typical angel investor in the UK identifies as a white male, in his 50s. This creates a circular problem because female investors tend to invest in female founders, and so the low numbers of these investors meant that female founders weren’t getting the support that they needed.
This is particularly true with female-focused products – male investors can find it hard to understand the concepts. Plus, until relatively recently, women in business, myself included, frequently find we’re the only female in the room.
How are the Angels turning things around for Welsh women in business?
I’ve been an angel investor since 2006, but the biggest and most exciting developments have happened quite recently. I work closely with the investment manager of Angels Invest Wales, Carol Hall, to encourage more female investors and involvement. Approaching individual women wasn’t working effectively, so we changed direction with arranging an event in Cardiff.
Jenny Tooth of the UKBAA (UK Business Angels Association) and Helen Oldham from NorthInvest were invited, and they explained to groups of women that money was only one issue – in fact, entry level investment is only £2,000. Instead, Angels’ focus is on smart capital, meaning that knowledge, expertise, and skills are as vital in supporting founders, they also provide vital knowledge, expertise, and skills to support the founder.
The response was amazing – monthly meetings followed, a core support group was formed, and within six months over 30 women had registered to get directly involved. And that signalled the birth of our company, Women Angels Of Wales Ltd. We’re supported by both the Development Bank of Wales and the British Business Bank.
Do the Angels provide a mentor for the business founders? If so, what shape does this take?
If we invest in a business then the founder can access the skill sets within the group. We do have a fabulous range of skills within our group. If we don't invest then we give comprehensive feedback to the founder with clear direction about what is needed and an invitation to keep in touch with us. Where possible we also signpost to appropriate support.
What's your career background, prior to getting involved with Women Angels Of Wales?
I’ve set up, owned and run businesses in England and Wales, and am still running a property company. I’m currently finishing my PhD at Cardiff University Business School for which I’ve researched the under-representation of women as investors. Because of my past and current work, I’m committed to make a difference within the nation of Wales, and I’m proud to be involved.
So, now you have female investors and mentors – but how else is Angels helping?
Our Angels Co-Investment Fund means the Development Bank of Wales provides matched funding of up to £250,000 for each deal. We’ve also brought in a male investor to help us increase collaboration opportunities via our pan-Wales network. Additionally, our pan-Wales network ensures that we aren’t Cardiff-centric – we're staging an event in North Wales this year, and West Wales in 2024. To bring in a younger and wider range of investment and investors, we’ve also involved Cardiff University and Women On Boards on how to encourage diversity in investment and within companies.
The Gender Index has revealed that the share of female-led companies in Wales has slightly improved since 2022, from 16.5% to 16.7%. Is this just a coincidence, or have there been specific initiatives that have contributed to this increase?
There have indeed been initiatives such as the Women Backing Women Campaign and Investing In Women Code which have raised awareness, and made people think.
Over the course of your career, what changes in diversity and female representation in business have you noticed?
There's an awareness about it now. Only a few years ago, it was accepted that it was "Meet me at the golf club at six o'clock" - that was the way business happened. So that’s changed, but for things to continue progressing, everybody needs to be involved, including venture capitalists. And all areas need to increase diversity more quickly. For this, we need industry on board. In Wales, the support of the Development Bank of Wales, and funding from the British Business Bank, are making this journey easier.
What advantages do you think doing business in Wales holds for women? What's unique about Wales?
I think Wales is leading the trend in supporting female founders, and changing perceptions. Plus we have the Angels Invest Wales Co-Investment Fund I mentioned before. This £8 million Wales Angel Co-Investment Fund provides Welsh business with a key source of alternative finance through the encouragement of more active angel investment. The five-year fund supports the creation of angel syndicates and networks across Wales by providing loans and equity up to £250,000 to investors looking for co-investment.
What are the common nationwide issues that you see for female entrepreneurs?
It's that old-fashioned idea of a stereotypical entrepreneur, isn't it? Does this entrepreneur tick the box of the typical white western male entrepreneur? Is a woman as committed? A few years ago, there was a study which found that male entrepreneurs were asked about the potential for gains by VCs, whereas their female counterparts were asked about the potential for losses. Speaking to female founders, they feel it.
Female founders prefer to approach female investors because they feel that they understand the problems. And female investors want to help. Our priority is to get the right mechanisms and structures in place to make that happen.
A report by the Cardiff Business School reveals that Welsh companies which are female led are under-represented in younger generations and over-represented in older generations. Have you found that some of these younger generations are achieving success outside of Wales? And if so, how can Wales draw them back?
We need to broadcast how Wales supports women in business. I’ve just been in London to get the message across that Wales is an excellent place to do business, and the support is here. Central to this is that both public and private money are working together, and how the Angels Invest Wales' network is not only tremendously valuable, but quite unique. When you add the Angels Co-Investment Fund into the mix, it’s game-changing. So, we say come to Wales, and let Wales lead you.