When a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of a publishing giant asked themselves how they could make the UK more supportive to female business founders, their answer was to set up AllBright, a funding platform with a unique mission
Debbie Wosskow We were introduced at a party three years ago by Warren Johnson, the owner of PR agency W Communications. He got hold of us both and said: “You two should be friends.” Anna and I spent the rest of the party talking and bonding. It’s quite unusual to meet another female CEO. We both have two children and live in similar parts of London too. We really connected.
Anna Jones We are both incredibly optimistic people. I had never before met anybody who, like me, thinks that 99.5 per cent of the time there’s a way around any problem. Short of death and taxes, it’s rare that you can’t find a route through.
Wosskow Last year we both spoke on a panel at a conference about female entrepreneurship. The experience felt a bit like Groundhog Day, because we had spoken on that panel a few times before – and to the same audience. When we went for a drink afterwards, we started to plot out on the back of a menu what we could do to make the UK the best place in the world to be a female business founder, as opposed to merely talking about it.
Jones When we started looking at the data, it became a no-brainer. Only 10 per cent of the world’s venture capital goes to female-led businesses, even though such companies and those with diverse boards deliver better returns on investment than those led by men. From our experiences working with business founders and listening to female British consumers, we knew that 10 per cent of women in this country want to start a business. When you scratch beneath the surface and ask why they aren’t doing so, you find that they tend to lack access to support networks and don’t know where to go for capital.
Wosskow Off the back of that, AllBright, our funding and support platform for female founders, was born. It’s all about empowering women, motivating them to be entrepreneurs, attaching capital to women and giving them a platform to make money.
Jones At Hearst I was running several SMEs and working with lots of founders, so there aren’t many commercial problems that haven’t crossed my desk at one time or another. I have a lot of operational experience and I’ve always worked on female-focused businesses and products. I therefore have a very good sense of what interests women in this country and what they want.
Wosskow None of what we’re doing is anti-men. We have men on our advisory board and male investors. Many of the businesses that we’re talking to have male co-founders too. Our objective is to put women at the front and centre of the conversation, because only 2.7 per cent of investment in the UK last year went to female-led businesses. We have to change that conversation and we think that this is about showcasing female voices. I think the stats speak for themselves. Once you set the scene, loads of men support this agenda.
Jones In five years’ time we would like the level of capital that’s currently going into female businesses to increase by three or four times. We’d like access to finance to be more transparent – where do you go for funding? And we’d like more women to be able to fulfil their dreams of running and scaling up their own companies. If a fifth of the women who say they want to start a business were to start one, you’d add £10bn to UK plc. I think we could all do with that, quite frankly, with Brexit on the horizon.
Wosskow Anna and I operate using a combination of data, because we both like numbers, and gut instinct. I think that’s what it takes when I look at how the best entrepreneurs work.
Jones We look at where the opportunity is, we look at what the data has shown and we take feedback from our teams and clients, so we can change tack on a weekly basis. We’re probably more fluid than some co-founders. I lean more towards the AllBright Academy, which is the coaching, networking and skills side, while Debbie leans more to the investment side, but we make the big decisions together.
Wosskow Our next ambition for AllBright is to have some sort of co-working and club space for women. There are lots of opportunities, but the challenge now is to remain focused and nail what’s in front of us.
AllBright: Key facts
£1,000 for angel investors; £100 for crowdfunders. AllBright charges a fee of 7.5 per cent on investors’ realised profits once their initial capital is returned. There is no initial charge
Anna Jones left her job as CEO of magazine publisher Hearst in 2016 after launching AllBright. She had served as Hearst’s CFO until her promotion. Debbie Wosskow is founder and CEO of Love Home Swap and the founding chair of Sharing Economy UK. Awarded an OBE for services to business, Wosskow sits on the mayor of London’s business advisory board