During the European Commission’s SME Assembly in Luxembourg, SME Insider spoke with Amy Millman, founder of Springboard Enterprises, a non-profit venture catalyst that helps women seek investment for their company. We discussed women in business, the role the UK is playing in female entrepreneurship and who women should be looking up to for inspiration.
Tell me more about Springboard Enterprises and what you’ve been doing to promote women in business.
We call ourselves a venture catalyst and the whole idea was to focus on women entrepreneurs who wanted to build billion dollar businesses. One of the ways we can help them is by helping them find access to capital and we decided to open up the doors to them with an initiative that was backed by investors.
2015 has been a fantastic year for promoting women in business. What do you think have been the challenges in previous years – why do you think it’s been such a struggle for women to break into the world of business?
It’s not that it’s been a struggle in previous year; it’s just never been that common to have women in business. You didn’t see a lot of women in firms as they were not investing their time in business, so if there are no women role models, it won’t be a decision that many women make.
However when that changes; when women become CEO of major companies, we are starting to see a shift in the amount of women entering the business world, which is great to see.
There are still some fundamental flaws within business; there are just seven women CEOs in FTSE 100 companies. You said that want women to own billion dollar companies, but how are you going to do that?
Well we all know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. What we’ve learned is that it takes a long time to build up someone’s capacity to lead a team.
The thing about women is that we haven’t found ourselves in professional positions in the workforce to be noticed as leaders. What we are seeing now is an increase in women starting their own companies, and that’s something we want to encourage.
If you could give any key entrepreneurial skills to women, what would they be?
I always say that women need to know how to speak ‘banker’ or ‘investor’. The minute you understand what the investors are interested in, then that makes the difference. I think understanding what matters to men, then you’ll develop a relationship much faster – and it’s the same thing with investors.
What do you think about the startup scene in Britain and how well is the country doing in encouraging women to get into business?
In the last few years it’s been an explosion of activity in the UK which is so exciting for all of us. What I’ve found interesting is the collaboration between investors and entrepreneurs, within both the UK and the US.
A lot of women from London have shown an interest in expanding their markets outside of the UK, which has been exciting for us because we’ve learnt a lot from their experience.
You touched on role models earlier. I spoke to a lecturer who said that his students are looking up to ‘brands’ like the Kardashian family who have made their fortune with self-promotion. Who do you think can be seen as a role model for women?
To answer that question you need to think about authentic leadership. People who are authentic to what they represent can be classed as successful, including the likes of Beyoncé and the Kardashian family. They’ve developed a brand that inspires a lot of people who think like them.
I’m actually inspired by Kay Koplovitz – chairman of Springboard Enterprises and the first woman to serve as a network president (USA Network) in television history. Her dream was to take satellite technology and stream images into TVs. She started a business from scratch and now owns a $5bn company. I certainly look up to people like her.