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The female funding fiasco

Date

Claire Dunn

Pascale Helyar-Moray looked to non-traditional funding sources to seed her start-up.

Pascale Helyar-Moray looked to non-traditional funding sources to seed her start-up.

Do women have a tougher time raising money for start-ups than men? So it seems, with a significant number of women reporting banks reluctant to back them in preference to their male counterparts.

Frequently perceived by lenders as 'fly-by' rather than serious business owners despite strong business and credit histories, women entrepreneurs are calling for cultural change, rather than shortchange.

Louisa Forrest knew she was on to a winner after discovering a lack of products and support for families wanting green and sustainable childcare choices. Self-financing the launch of a reusable nappy-washing service under the  Lavenderia Group in 2011, the "mumpreneur" stalled when her application for a loan was rejected by banks.

Louisa Forrest found it hard as a female to convince banks to come on board.

Louisa Forrest found it hard as a female to convince banks to come on board.

"When I realised we needed a capital injection to grow the business I found it quite hard as a female to convince banks to come on board," Forrest says.

"As a working mother I basically wasn't given a look in. The banker wouldn't deal with me at all. In the end I had to take my husband in with me in order to be taken seriously."

Forrest says she continued to be treated as a hobbyist by the "boys club" of finance, an experience she thought she had left behind eight years ago.

"I strongly felt like I was being treated as the silly wife, burning up surplus income from my working husband. I've talked to many women who say the same," she says.

"Having worked in finance and real estate I was used to dealing with the boys club. But as a business owner it gets a little old. We're a pioneering company and it's frustrating that I need to prove I have a brain and can build a company on my own."

Forrest found a solution in a brokerage firm that willingly negotiated the capital that has allowed Lavenderia to expand into the hospital and aged-care system.

After much frustration Pascale Helyar-Moray, founder of bespoke jewellery business StyleRocks, also looked to non-traditional funding sources to seed her start-up.

"It's certainly not an easy process and definitely harder if you're a woman. I've seen some male-led businesses which have no traction, a relatively small market, and yet manage to secure capital easily and quickly," Helyar-Moray says.

It's an experience shared by at least a dozen women in her immediate network.

"You're almost always pitching to a room full of men. Many of my female colleagues have very female-oriented products, such as clothes or beauty items. It's a simple fact that men are not going to understand the problems and solutions of these products or services in the same way that women do."

A report this year from global online lending marketplace Biz2Credit.com supports the claims, finding business loan approval rates for female entrepreneurs are 15 to 20 per cent lower than for men. This is despite loans to women-owned businesses associated with lower write-offs and lower portfolio-at-risk, research by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor's Microfinance Gateway shows.

Matt Maley, co-founder of Lending Post, an online marketplace where business owners connect directly with non-bank lenders and private investors, says he sees many female business owners looking to the alternative lending sector after dealing with the "Big Four".

"One female client had over nine years' experience in HR and recruiting before leaving to start up her own agency. Rejected by a bank as a start-up and not having any property as security, a non-bank lender took comfort in the quality of her customers and depth of experience. Security was taken over the customer contracts and a working capital facility was established without any further assets required," Maleny says.

While the industry is changing the sticking point remains - that most banks still default to lending against assets an applicant has already acquired, rathere than the future value of the business, he says.

"These assets may be in a joint name or held by a husband or partner, which can only frustrate the approval process further. Also, the topic of kids and family planning is never too far away with banks and female applicants."

Since its November launch last year, Lending Post has attracted more than $125 million in loan requests, with the average loan from $25,000 to $250,000, he says.

"While still growing, the alternative lending sector in Australia provides a viable option for all fledgling businesses. While a good credit score is still important, a sound business plan and relevant experience are now weighted equally," he says.