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Investing in the next generation of female founders in Wales

31 March 2023

Women Angels of Wales (WAW) is a newly launched, female-led angel investment syndicate, supported and facilitated by the Development Bank of Wales. Co-founded by alumna Jill Jones (MSc 2020, Business Studies 2019-), it is a collective of over 30 members, many of them successful Cardiff University alumnae, with the aim of helping more women in Wales start businesses and thrive. Catching up with Jill, and fellow member Helen Molyneux (LLB 1987), they told us about their plans for WAW and the inspiration behind the project.

What is angel investing and why is it so important?

Jill: Angel investors invest at an early stage of company growth, when a founder starting out can have trouble accessing debt finance and loans. Business angels bring more than finance though. They usually have an entrepreneurial, business, or corporate background. So, they’re more than just investment. They bring a lot to support the founder; connections, skills, knowledge, and access to networks.

What was the inspiration behind Women Angels of Wales?

Helen: When I was running my own business, trying to raise finance was the most time-consuming and difficult part. The business itself was easy, and I knew I could grow it, but I spent probably 60% of my time trying to find finance, and really struggled. I wanted to help other women to deal with those problems, particularly at the early stages of a venture when it can be hard to get people to believe in you and your concept, and you don’t have a track record.

Why is it so important for there to be more female angel investors? 

Jill: I studied business angel investing when I was doing a master’s in entrepreneurship, 16 years ago. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that not much has changed. It’s still a predominantly male area. Only 14% of angel investors are female and only 10% of business angel finance goes to all female teams. And so, a few years ago, I decided to try to do something about it and encourage more women to be involved. I also embarked on a PhD at Cardiff University which focuses on why there are so few women involved in angel investing.

If you consider this, then it’s quite possible that there are female-focused products not getting the attention they deserve, because the end-consumers aren’t part of the selection process. I think that an important part of having more female investors is ensuring that women get the businesses that they want to succeed up there, with the products and services that meet the needs of women. Women support women.

Are there any personal motivations for yourselves around the project?

Jill: I have had a rewarding and fulfilling entrepreneurial career which has enabled me to adapt to different life stages, and I want to support other women to have the same opportunities. Business angel investing is a great way to give something back and to work with amazing people, founders, and fellow investors.

Helen: Part of the inspiration for me to join the group was that I’ve been investing on my own for about 10 years and it’s quite a lonely place to be. Especially if you’re doing it on your own, or are the only female investing in a business surrounded by a load of men. It’s a very nerve-wracking thing to do when you invest money into something and hope that it’s going to turn out okay. But if you’re doing it with a group of people who’ve got different skill sets, and can all add something to it, that makes a huge difference. I think that’s the beauty of angel investing.

What are the benefits of WAW for budding businesses?

Jill: We go on the journey with the founder. It’s not just one round of funding and that’s it. We maintain the relationship with the founder post-investment, and most businesses need more than one round of funding to grow. So, the idea is with the syndicate that we can follow through and stay with that business. It’s like Helen said, just searching for finance is one of the most time-consuming parts of running a business. We can help, as a syndicate, to alleviate that by either funding ourselves, or connecting the founder up with other funding sources.

Helen: I’m a lawyer and had my own business, which I sold, which is how I got into investing. With the WAW group we’ve got people who’ve been Chief Executives of companies, we’ve got educational experts who’ve turned into Chief Execs, we’ve got those in marketing. It’s a very wide-ranging group with skills in lots of different sectors as well. So that’s helpful because if you don’t know a sector, you can get really befuddled by the job, but also carried away by getting excited for something without understanding it. There are all sorts of insights that we get from people in the team who have a better understanding of sectors than, say, I do.

What advice would you give to a founder looking for investment?

Helen: Come and talk to us sooner rather than later. Even if you’re not ready at that stage for an investment, at least we can tell you what we’ll be looking for when you are ready. I think there’s no harm in those kinds of early conversations. If you’re wondering what your next step should be, then maybe we can have a chat. Another thing I always say is you need to really know your business plan.

Jill: And be able to articulate your plan. Be clear in your own mind what you want to do, what the need is, and why it should be there. It probably needs help in getting there, but just be clear about where you want to go.

What advice would you give to those looking to start investing?

Helen: The biggest, perhaps most interesting thing to get across to people, is that you don’t need to be hugely wealthy to do it. If you’re part of a syndicate like ours, you have the power of the group, which means that we can all invest smaller sums together. What we want are ‘normal’ women, who aren’t hugely wealthy, to get involved and take part in this and support other women. That’s the beauty of syndicates, we’re stronger together.

What impact would you like to see the group having in five- or ten-years’ time?

Jill: I would like to see founders of businesses that we support, exiting their business, and then joining us. I would like for us to be connected to other parts of the investment ecosystem within Wales, supporting a diverse range of businesses.

Helen: We want women to have the opportunity to build a business and, if they love it, keep it going. Or then they can – if they want to – sell it and join us and do what we’re doing, which is supporting the next generation of women to grow their businesses.

Jill: We’d love to grow the group and encourage new members. We certainly intend to be a permanent fixture in the funding landscape of Wales.

Other members of Women Angels of Wales include Cardiff University alumni Kate Methuen-Ley (MSc 2008), Sian Lloyd (BA 1979) and Jackie Royall (MSc 2003). Find out more about joining the group or accessing funding.