Female founders are attracting huge funding from NI investors

There has been recognition for a number of years that more is needed to be done to encourage greater diversity in NI’s start up scene.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 6:00 am

There has been recognition for a number of years that more is needed to be done to encourage greater diversity in NI’s start up scene.

In the past few years a new group of innovative female founders and entrepreneurial female-led businesses have started and continue to emerge in Northern Ireland suggesting the barriers that were stopping some women from starting their own company are being removed and overcome.

Many of these start-ups and early-stage companies have successfully pitched to raise money to fund the growth of their start-ups, a process that is being helped by the emergence of more female angel investors and women in investment roles within seed and venture capital investment funds.

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Claudine Owens, Olivia Farnan and Maria Diffley
Claudine Owens, Olivia Farnan and Maria Diffley

In fact, at least half of the entrepreneurs pitching their innovative company to investors at the most recent events organised by the Halo Business Angel Network (HBAN) have been women. HBAN was set up nearly three years ago and has since helped 38 companies in Northern Ireland raise almost £9 million worth of investment.

Following a successful HBAN pitch event Maria Diffley, co-founder of SustainIQ alongside Liam McEvoy, raised a six-figure investment round backed by four local HBAN business angels.

SustainIQ has developed a software tool that helps organisations to monitor, measure and report on their social, economic and environmental impacts across the whole organisation. Set up in 2018, the business is already working with a number of long-established companies in the construction, transport and FMCG sectors, including Belfast Harbour, Gilbert Ash, SHS Group, and Heron Brothers.

Maria said: “As a female founder, I’ve never felt held back but knowledge is key if we want to encourage more women to use their skills and expertise to create new businesses and solutions.”

Having female leaders and entrepreneurs showcasing their experience, from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles is key to giving confidence and inspiration to other women to start their own ventures.

Maria added: “The earlier young people are aware of the opportunities and support mechanisms that are available to them in the start-up ecosystem, the more chance we have of ensuring there is greater female representation among scaling businesses. Particularly, for women looking to start a family at some point. Yes, you need to plan further ahead but there is no reason why that should stop you starting your own business and attracting investment.”

Olivia Farnan, the founder of Blinky – a ‘Go-Anywhere’ buggy blanket, was inspired by her own experience as a parent. The Blinky is a fleece lined, reflective buggy blanket with a rain cover, sun-shade (UV50+) and sleep shade built-in. Blinky is currently in the progress of raising a six-figure deal through HBAN investors.

Olivia said: “The HBAN network worked really well for me as I was able to reach investors in ROI as well as NI. The wider pool of investors provided more opportunity to find the right investor for Blinky. Starting your own business is not straight-forward and having the right investor that fits your business is essential. I was lucky to meet our investor at an HBAN pitching event. Her previous background as a health visitor, turned CEO, was a great fit for Blinky. With her backing, we are now on track for continued growth. Our goal is to become the go-to brand for parents who want to easily introduce their children to the outdoors with a range of products in the pipeline.”

Carol Rossborough co-founder of Esther, a pocket-to-pocket donation app, also has ambitious plans for the future, having raised funding through HBAN and recently entered the US market.

Esther enables direct giving to those in crisis via a pre-paid donation card that switches off high risk product spend, protecting donations for household essentials. Esther works with trusted local charities to identify the individual people in your city who need the most help like those who have lost a business, a job and those in long term systemic poverty.

Carol said: “Northern Ireland has been a great place to start and we’re continuing our work here, but poverty is a global issue. We decided to design our business plan with a global mindset. Some people think the US market is too much of a challenge for a startup, however the pandemic has created the ability for us to remotely set up pilots in Kentucky, Dallas and Colorado. The world has become more accessible with remote working and it’s been a great opportunity for us to enter a new market.

“It could not come at a more necessary time as chronic poverty becomes increasingly widespread in the pandemic, with the marginalised getting hit the hardest. We are thankful we had the right advisors who believe in what we are trying to achieve. The HBAN network has been a key part of that process.”

Claudine Owens, HBAN Ulster Region Coordinator and Investment Manager for Co Fund NI added: “We’re not short of talented women in Northern Ireland. There are many more female founders like Maria, Carol and Olivia getting exciting businesses off the ground. But we are in need of more female investors within the start-up ecosystem as only 14% of business angels in the UK are women. We would welcome more females founders and women considering angel invest to get in touch. Both will be extremely important to the recovery and growth of the local economy in the years ahead.”

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