Anna Sofat, founder of financial services boutique Addidi, discusses the value of synergy, sharing and mutual support of female entrepreneurship
A highly successful financial planner with 20 years’ experience, Anna Sofat dedicated five of those years to growing Fiona Price & Partners, the first UK firm to provide financial advice for women by women. When the business was sold to secure capital and infrastructure investment, and later merged with another company, the culture of female support that had been so carefully developed suddenly became lost in the shuffle.
“That female space market that had been created just disappeared, which was heartbreaking,” she recalls. However, it rekindled Sofat’s entrepreneurial drive, and in 2006, she set up financial services boutique Addidi. In keeping with the ethos of her previous tenure, she created it with the interests of women at heart.
In March, Sofat launched Addidi Enterprise, a club connecting female entrepreneurs, executives, non-executive directors (NEDs) and mentors with start-ups and small business. It comprises female angel investment club Addidi Angels, philanthropic investment club Addidi Pioneers, and Addidi Talent, which harnesses female talent for NEDs and mentoring roles for SMEs. The stats around female wealth make a compelling case for organisations like Addidi; some estimates suggest that by 2020, 53 per cent of the UK’s millionaires will be women and by 2025, up to 60 per cent of Britain’s personal assets will be owned by women.
“Our goal is to help women invest their wealth, time and talent in supporting more female entrepreneurs,” she says. Sofat talks to Director about her plans…
Where did the idea for Addidi Enterprise come from?
When Fiona Price & Partners was sold I really had no desire to find another job, especially as I knew that what I really wanted was to have control over my working environment. What were my options? I realised that, while we had created wealth and success for women, that had not translated into happy, well-balanced lives. The only things they were compromising on were themselves. So my conclusion was to go back to focusing on women.
With Addidi the goal was to help women take something off their desks, help them have a better quality of life and allow their money to work for them. As more and more women started looking at that female-focused market, wanting to advise, contribute and be a part of it, and bring a different dimension to this whole arena of women in business, Addidi Enterprise became a natural extension.
What are its aims and who can benefit from the various elements within it?
If there is a message that sums up what Addidi Enterprise is all about, it’s that women do not have to do business as normal. They can do business however they want, whether that’s more collaboratively, with the aim of broadening their skills and experience, or with a focus on social enterprise, which women are becoming increasingly involved in.
It is a model that resonates with women in particular; currently some 44 per cent of female-led SMEs perceive themselves as social enterprises, compared with just 26 per cent of all SMEs. Perhaps they simply want to be more engaged with the people around them, become involved with mentoring. It also gives women the opportunity to invest in small businesses. These are relatively small sums (£20,000 is the minimum commitment). We find that often they don’t want to risk a lot of money, nor do they have a lot of time to spend on researching investment propositions in depth, so Addidi Enterprise does all of that.
Why have female entrepreneurs found it so difficult to secure business investment?
I think there are a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is that female-led businesses generally seek less seed capital; they make do with what they have and struggle for longer. We like to think we have to do everything 120 per cent, and that if we don’t do it perfectly, then we will struggle.
From my own recent experiences at Addidi Enterprise I would also say that men and women have very different approaches to seeking investment. Just last week we saw a number of businesses that are male and female led. The men were incredibly laidback about the whole thing; very blasé, and possessing total conviction. The ladies, however, had strong businesses and should have been able to sell their proposition well, but struggled. They focused on telling us their story rather than on telling us the imperatives of why we should invest. They also seem to rely more on peer support. These are factors that can impact on their ability to secure investment.
How important is mentoring for the success of female entrepreneurs?
It is extremely important for any entrepreneur, and there are lots of mentoring organisations out there, but some charge quite a lot of money to work with small-business owners. What we have found as our organisation has grown and evolved is that women have a natural tendency to do that anyway; we have held quite a lot of hands. Other areas where we have done well are with male-owned businesses that have female customers, for example in fashion and beauty, who have benefited from female mentoring input. Mentoring can be incredibly engaging for both parties and this reflects the synergy of our organisational culture.
How can women benefit from becoming mentors or NEDs?
Through Addidi Enterprise and the business angels group, women are able to gain a lot of practical experience of small-business boards. In fact a few of our angels have used that to pursue an NED career, and that matters because it enables you to use your skillset in a completely different environment to your main job, broaden that skillset, and have a deep understanding of the sector.
What could or should the government and other business leaders be doing to help in this area?
I have mixed views about the involvement of government and business organisations in these situations. Often they simply throw money at problems, which doesn’t necessarily address them. For example, we see female entrepreneurs approaching business angels because they have government funding and are looking for matched funding. But they may not be the right investment proposition for an angel. I’m just not sure that civil servants are right to push forward a collaborative approach in this way.
How do you view the future for women in business, and for Addidi?
Women are becoming more influential and confident in their abilities to set the agenda and do business in their own way. They recognise that it is about relationships, people and synergy, and not just about measuring the financials. In today’s business world, we are seeing more openness, collaboration and engagement, and that has synergy with many female aspirations, styles and approaches to business. Trying to grow Addidi just to make an exit sale doesn’t motivate me. What does motivate me is trying to improve the lives of businesswomen, entrepreneurs, mothers; these are the things that really matter.