Alessandro Vanoni Head of Communication, Contents & Engagement, AXA Italy

Angels for Women: getting women entrepreneurs the funding they deserve

AXA has partnered with Impact Hub Milano to launch Angels for Women, an innovative network of female Business Angels joining their forces to support women-led and women-focused startups in Italy. Crafting tomorrow's insurance
Apr 10, 2019

Are the best businessmen actually... businesswomen? Recent studies have disproven some of the most stubborn gender stereotypes, including who makes the best investors and entrepreneurs. In fact, Fidelity Investments found that women investors earn 0.4% higher performance than their male counterparts. Moreover, in a study by the Boston Consulting Group, startups founded and cofounded by women generated 10% more in cumulative revenue over a five-year period than startups founded by men. In addition, First Round Capital found that founding teams that include a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63%.

When women lead: a recipe for success

What factors might account for this improved performance? For Elena Shneiwer, Head of Corporate Responsibility, Thought Leadership & Public Affairs at AXA Italia and Project Leader for the company’s sponsorship of Angels for Women, women outperform men because they are more risk-aware – though not risk-averse – and resilient. As a model of female success, Elena Shneiwer points to Coco Chanel: “This inspirational woman showed the resilience it takes to succeed as a minority in a male-dominated culture, the same resilience that women entrepreneurs show today, several generations later”.

Women receive half the investment capital as men

Despite their superior performance, women do not receive anywhere near the same amount of funding as men. In its study, Boston Consulting Group found that women-founded startups averaged less than half the investment capital given to male entrepreneurs. This is perhaps because a vast majority of angel investors are men. In addition to a lack of investment, Elena Shneiwer identifies a second obstacle to parity among male and female startuppers: “Especially in Italy, there is a lack of services enabling women to be both entrepreneurs and part of the family, so they can achieve a healthy work-life balance”.

Gender investment gap: a missed opportunity

However, it makes economic sense to bet on women-led initiatives, startups and businesses, since the stronger performance of these businesses translates to higher returns. As pointed out by the Harvard Business Review, women do more with less, achieving 20% more revenue with 50% less money invested. Investing in women is not just a socially responsible choice, it also makes good business sense. For this reason, women investors and entrepreneurs represent a key market opportunity that we are missing.

Angels for Women: a network to bridge the investment gap

Angels for Women was founded to help solve this investment imbalance. Funded by its primary sponsor AXA and supported by Impact Hub Milano, Angels for Women creates a network designed to connect and empower female angel investors and women entrepreneurs in Italy. Including tech executives and venture capitalists, the network’s angel investors come from a wide range of professional backgrounds and industries. In addition to networking, special events, scouting and support at every step in the investment process, the angel investors can also access research and analysis, as well as training and education available through the A4W Academy, as well as the WE Can Network, a community created by AXA to provide Women Entrepreneurs with sharp business insight, inspiration for personal growth and opportunities for network-building.

On the entrepreneur side, Angels for Women funds startups that are either led by women or which address women’s issues. “The startups must have either a female executive or provide services for women”, clarifies Elena Shneiwer. In addition, eligible startups must demonstrate female governance, a capable management team with experience in its field, a scalable business model and strong acceleration potential.

Priorities in line with today’s most critical issues

Coinciding with several of AXA’s key challenges, the Angels for Women selection process pursues “a commitment to women-led SMEs and an effort to empower women in society, both as investors and innovators”, tells Elena Shneiwer. To receive funding, startups should demonstrate a capable management team with experience in its field, a scalable business model and a promising exit strategy within five to seven years. In addition, Angels for Women also places special emphasis on projects dedicated to today’s most urgent CSR priorities, such as climate change, the circular economy and biodiversity.

Illustrating all these priorities, one notable startup under consideration is Orange Fiber. After studying textiles, materials and new fashion technology at AFOL Moda -Milano, CEO Adriana Santanocito founded Orange Fiber based on circular economy principles. Combining creative innovation, sustainable design and the heritage of Italian excellence, the company reuses citrus juice by-products to produce sustainable clothes and fabrics. Orange Fiber recently launched its first collaboration with Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo.

Initial results: growing network and appeal among startups and investors 

After starting three months ago with just ten original founders at the table, Angels for Women now comprises nearly 40 investors and 20 incubators, as well as several partner networks that have decided to join the initiative. Expanding the network of angel investors has also boosted its appeal among startups. Elena Shneiwer explains this crucial step forward: “When we first started out, it was difficult for us to connect with new startups. But now that we have grown, 50 startups have applied in in the first two weeks of the program alone”.

Going forward, the network will only continue to grow, as several major partnerships lie on the horizon. This includes a partnership with the European Initiative on Venture Capitalists, which is set to go global later this year. “Our next steps are to announce the network on a wider scale and complete our first investment”, tells Elena Shneiwer. News of the network’s first investment decision is set to come within the next year. In the meantime, Angels for Women also plans to double the number of its offices in the next six months. Women investors and startups now have a new home under the Italian sun!