Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

“I assume that man in your slide deck is your husband?”

No, no he isn’t.

And why would you assume that? Yes he’s on the team as a Sales and Marketing adviser, but no, he’s not my husband. Would that change whether you’re interested in investing in the company I founded? He’s around about 56 years old, and I’m 27.

Recently I’ve been pitching a lot for investment and I wanted to share some reflection on the highs and lows. Maybe it might help me to write it down, maybe it will help people in a similar position.

First, an introduction — I’m Chloe, I’m Founder and Director of Studio Meineck, a design studio set up for social good. We create beautiful tech products that benefit people’s lives. Our first product is Music Memory Box, for people living with dementia and their families to reminisce, reawaken and reconnect. It is currently in a pilot with three UK care home groups, and the evaluations are looking great. Using the product can reduce anxiety and confusion and improve communication, enjoyment, independence and well-being that all contribute to a higher quality of life for not only the person living with dementia, but the family carer and care staff too.

Vera singing along to her Music Memory Box, Deerhurst Brunelcare Group — November 2017.

Globally there are 47.6 million people living with dementia, and this figure is set to double every twenty years. The complex care needs that people living with dementia can face needs to be addressed with tested, creative and personalisable products.

I’m pitching for investment to put Music Memory Box into manufacture to fulfill the interest we have from care home groups and families. I’ve already created 50 for the pilot, but now I need to upscale. I also need to build the Studio Meineck team.

I believe I have a great product and a great business model (which is not what this article is about), but have come up against prejudice in the investment community in three ways.

Being a woman in tech/business

It is well known and documented that unconscious gender bias is a large part of investment: in a study conducted jointly by HBS, Wharton and MIT Sloan, Investors preferred entrepreneurial ventures pitched by a man than an identical pitch from a woman by a rate of 68% to 32%. “Male-narrated pitches were rated as more persuasive, logical and fact-based than were the same pitches narrated by a female voice.”

This is certainly my experience, but (perceived) age is also a factor. Just before I started another pitch, the organiser asked (in front of potential investors) if I was over 18. He said if I wasn’t over 18, I wasn’t allowed to pitch.

I’ve won many awards for design, innovation, entrepreneurship — and spoken internationally about the studio, dementia and our work. I set the Studio up from nothing at the age of 22. As a professional adult I am unclear about what precisely the organiser was hoping to achieve — what he did do was needlessly embarrass me and add awkwardness to the room.

The second string to my growing violin was the incident where a potential angel investor assumed a picture of a man in my slide desk was my husband, asking the question out loud. I thought, fucking hell surely he didn’t just say that. Is it because he assumes that a female founder has to have their husband on their team? Is it because he assumes a woman can’t found a company on their own?

I couldn’t be bothered to blow the angel investors mind with actually stating that I have a wife, and no, she’s not on the team either.

Another issue I’ve come up against is the balance of the social side of the business vs. commercial side of the business (which I’ll follow up in my next article.)

What to do?

I need investment to set up the manufacturing of this product, as people want to purchase it now. The plan is to do a kickstarter crowdfunder to launch the product, but we need investment in the team now.

Should one just give in? Get a 55 year old white man to do the pitch — see what happens? Or are there more forward thinking investors out there? Is that my battle to have or is there a larger organisation that can help?

I’m sure it must be possible. I know that a young woman CAN invent tech products, found companies, get investment, create successful businesses and benefit people’s lives — and I would love to hear your examples.

And if anyone out there reading this a) cares about health and wellbeing, b) is passionate about social/ creative entrepreneurship, c) is commercially aware and driven, and d) has money to invest, please get in touch.