A global network aimed at redressing the lack of diversity in technology companies has been launched by an entrepreneur from her home office in Stonehaven.
Zoe Evans has established what she believes is the first female-led tech marketplace in the world as part of an enterprise which offers tools to help women build and scale their businesses.
Female Founder Squad (FFS) is building a community of peers to offer support and mentorship and a “pay as you feel” commerce platform that allows start-up or growing businesses to test or develop products and services. The venture is also in the process of developing an investor matching service, as calls for venture capital to support “underrepresented founders” grows.
The former events manager said the abbreviation of the name of her business is deliberate and reflects the exasperation caused by data which has revealed a vast gulf between the venture capital investment men can raise compared to women.
“It is well known female founders in tech get a bad deal, but I hadn’t realised until I started properly researching how bad it was. It was shocking,” said Evans.
One book she read that “lifted the lid” on the inequality was Brotopia by journalist Emily Chang, which chronicles the masculine culture of Silicon Valley where most of the largest tech companies are based including Apple, FaceBook, Google and Netflix.
“I couldn’t read that book without swearing to be honest. That influenced what I call my company.”
Having done the research, the figures that inspired FFS are stark.
“the most biased, misogynistic, unfair, unequal industry”
Male-founded tech companies raised 97.3% of all venture capital (VC) funding in the US in 2019, leaving the rest – less than 3% for female-led ventures. Meanwhile, the figures are even worse for women of colour. Another survey, found that black and latinx women combined received just 0.64% of total venture capital investment between 2018 and 2019.
Evans said these statistics worsened for women since the pandemic lockdown, despite what was a bumper year for venture capital investment. Likewise, the figures are similar across all global markets – hence the appeal and potential reach of FFS.
“Fast forward a year, we are now in a worse position because this pandemic – it has been a record year for VC funding.
“What’s crazy is it’s the most forward thinking, futuristic industry, it is the newest industry, yet it is the most biased, misogynistic, unfair, unequal industry.
“I want to help female founders to tackle the inequities of the tech industry by providing the knowledge and tools that will support and enable their growth, sustainability and success.”
In the first six months the community has grown to hundreds of subscribers from across various markets including the Australia, Canada, Europe, Norway and the US.
We do business without geographical restrictions
“The good thing about Covid it has shown us we can do business without geographical restrictions,” said Evans, who jokes another driver for launching the business was to have an excuse to “get away from the dining room table where the kids were working”.
The company’s ethos is “founder-first”, as opposed to revenue-first, hence the focus on providing the pay-as-you-feel marketplace which enables business founders to “validate, create, optimise, scale” their “minimum viable product” (MVP).
“It is a female-led tech marketplace – I can’t find another one online,” said Evans. “I don’t know if it’s the first, it surely can’t be because the concept is so obvious to me.”
Although the FFS investor matching service is still in development, already it has attracted the support of potential funders from across the UK and Europe as well as some from the US, Evans said. The programme also focuses on “investor readiness” – enabling founders with the tools and terminology to pitch their ideas – while taking advantage of the pandemic’s shift to online by developing short video pitches which investors unlock when they sign up.
VCs are shouting the shout but not playing the game
It is perhaps this side of the venture which has the potential to really tap into changes in global market sentiment.
“The huge inequality of VC funding is at the forefront of every conversation at the moment which is great but a lot of VC firms are shouting the shout but not playing the game,” Evans said.
“There are more firms now investing in what they call underrepresented founders – women, women of ethnicity, LGBTQ and black. FFS is a perfect deal flow for anyone looking to invest in female founders of all ethnicities,” she added.
Is FFS itself on the market for VC backers? Not yet – but maybe soon, she said.
“Funnily enough I got offered funding yesterday. I was speaking to a VC to get him on the investor tool and he said ‘I’ll invest in you’. I said I am not actually looking for investment but thank you.
“I want to see where I can take this on my own for now although I won’t write that off in future.”
For now, FFS is aimed at building a community with community values, ensuring that it is as inclusive as possible – not least so that it might one day lead a change that can benefit Evans’ mixed-race daughter.
“To think something she created would be squashed just because she is female is beyond belief.”