Though upbeat about the quality of investment opportunities across the Scottish business landscape, Jackie Waring of Investing Women (IW) is also a bit frustrated.
While her group has agreed several deals in recent months, most of them remain under wraps for the time being, making it difficult to drill down into detailed activity.
“We have done a pile of investment recently, but for various reasons people are holding back and saying no, let’s not say anything about that yet,” she explains.
There’s currently £80,000 in the pipeline for a female-founded technology company working in the music sector, while another deal was recently completed to support a film and media venture whose technology will increase the diversity of content in that sector. Ms Waring believes the creative industries represent a “big growth” area.
IW has also been active in the arena of life sciences. At the recent UK Business Angels Association awards, where Ms Waring was shortlisted in the investment in diversity category, “all the talk” was around biotech.
“The appetite for investment in the sector has strengthened because of Covid,” she said. “Biotech companies were initially hit by the pandemic, but the long-term prospects are still very much there.”
IW’s life sciences portfolio includes Motherwell-based ScotBio, which creates natural colourants and plant-based proteins from algae. In March the company secured a partnership working with the University of Edinburgh to explore how its vessel-based system for growing algae, which is unique in its field, could be used to create and manufacture treatments for future pandemics caused by the likes of Zika virus, Ebola and MERS. IW entered the Scottish angel investment sector in 2015, providing £680,000 towards a £1.18 million package for TC BioPharm, a Lanarkshire-based company developing T-cell treatments to combat cancer.
The group’s total investment in TC BioPharm has now topped seven figures, making it IW’s flagship holding. Though such sums are minor in the cash-intensive field of scientific research, Ms Waring says the timing of that investment was crucial.
“We backed them on the strength of the management team, and at that point it was a significant investment,” she said. “They say themselves that they would not be here today if it was not for us being there at that early stage.”
Set up to bolster the ranks of female angel investors in Scotland, and to increase support for female entrepreneurs, IW now has about 60 members, approximately half of whom are active investors at any given time. To date it has put a total of £2m in 22 companies, with 90 per cent of that cash going to firms founded by women.
Raised in Aberdeenshire, Ms Waring graduated with an honours degree in English from the University of Aberdeen at their height of the oil crash in 1986, “which meant you took any job that you could get”. After completing further degrees in corporate leadership from Edinburgh Napier and marketing from Robert Gordon’s, in 1990 she landed the job of chief executive of Gordon Enterprise Trust, a newly-created economic development agency covering the north-east of Scotland.
Her mentor there was Bill Bruce, the founder of housebuilder Scotia Homes and chairman of the Gordon Enterprise Trust. “He was probably one of the most efficient businesses people I have ever met,” Ms Waring says. His support was vital, as she was starting out as the youngest CEO in the sector, “which also made me the greenest, at least to begin with”.
She re-located to Fife in 2000 to be with her future husband, and set up her own consultancy, Blue Horizons, in 2003 when their son was just three months old. Working in policy, research and strategy with government and economic development organisations, she landed a contract with the UK Government to set up a virtual policy unit looking into women’s entrepreneurship.
From there her interest and involvement continued to grow. Flying out in 2013 to the Angel Capital Association Summit in San Francisco, she made it her mission to meet Susan Preston, the founder of the US’s first all-women angel investment group Seraph Capital Forum.
“I persuaded her to come to Scotland to help me set up an investment group here for women in exchange for taking her and her partner on a trip to Skye,” Ms Waring says.
“We all got along really well and it has grown arms and legs since then. It is a friendship but it has also led to some phenomenal business connections as well.”
With increasing government focus in the wake of the Rose Review on supporting women entrepreneurs, IW is on a “major mission” to grow the group. Ms Waring says this is particularly important as the pandemic has triggered a disproportionate fall in investment in female-founded companies.
She cites data from the US which found that investment in businesses with all-male teams fell by 16% in 2020, while female-founded company investment declined by 31%.
These same issues exist here, she said, despite the efforts of programmes such as the UK’s Investing in Women Code. Run though the Department for Business and Industry, the voluntary code commits signatories such as banks and venture capital firms to take steps to improve access to funding for female entrepreneurs.
While welcoming the intent, Ms Waring aims to take more direct action by expanding the base of women prepared to invest in female-led businesses in Scotland.
“All of the women in our group are in Scotland,” she said, “and the companies we invest in are in Scotland, but there is no reason why our investors must be based here.”
What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?
I loved travelling to Jordan because of the wonderful female founders we worked with there as part of a Clinton Global Initiative programme. Their spirit, warmth and determination were such an inspiration. Canada, specifically Vancouver and Hanson Islands for kayaking with the beautiful orcas and whales; and then heading far into the remote Knight Inlet on the mainland to see grizzlies in the wild. This was amazing. We love all wildlife in our family.
When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
I was totally captivated by the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau as a child. I wasn’t too sure what the job was exactly, but I so wanted to do what Jacques did!
What was your biggest break in business?
Being given a fantastic CEO opportunity at age 25 and the privilege of working with the amazing top entrepreneurs and business figures on my board who shaped my ‘anything’s possible’ thinking for life.
What was your worst moment in business?
Losing most of my business almost overnight during the financial crisis in 2008.
Who do you most admire and why?
David Attenborough. He’s enriched all our lives with his astounding films and the phenomenal insights he’s given us into all life on our planet. His global awareness-raising of our environmental crisis has given us the chance to save our planet... the rest is up to us all.
What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
I recently read A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, the incredible story of Virginia Hall who infiltrated occupied France for the SOE and became the Gestapo’s most wanted spy. On music, I cannot wait for the 2022 rescheduled Tommy Emmanuel concert in Perth and I never miss Cerys Matthew’s Blues Show every Monday.
BY Kristy Dorsey, The Herald