WoW Woman | Karen Stenning, co-founder of HERmesa

Interview by Anja Streicher

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With a passion and commitment to diversity and equality, Karen has set up several initiatives that tackle and confront matters related to injustice and to create a fairer world.  In 2015, Karen set up Absolute Alchemy, with the main objectives of the organisation, to bring together communities and partner with impact organisations to create change and take positive social action on societal and environmental issues.  Since its origination, Karen and Absolute Alchemy have collaborated with organisations such as Hatch Enterprise, Creators Club, Now Live Events, Pioneers Post, pebble magazine, The Canvas, Funds Inc. and Prime Advocates.   

In 2017, Karen joined the Hatch team as Manager of the Female Founders Accelerator programme, assisting women entrepreneurs to build on their existing businesses and develop a community of female leaders.  Whilst working with the female entrepreneurs, she saw an opportunity for the need for more female investors in the investment marketplace.  The underlying belief is that if more women had the self-confidence,  the skills and the know-how to invest in early stage businesses, then they will hopefully back more female-led businesses.  With that in mind, she set-up HERmesa with Marla Shapiro in 2018. 

Karen has been a trustee on the boards of several charities and is currently on the advisory board of Market Orders, an online marketplace helping independent retail jewellers and The Canvas Cafe in Shoreditch.  Karen is a trained Therapeutic Wellbeing Practitioner, that embeds all the facilitation and community building that she does, offering a creative and innovative approach to putting on events. 

Karen, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I started my events company Absolute Alchemy in 2015, after a decade in the charity sector. When I first developed the company, I went on a very supportive business programme with Hatch Enterprise. I ended up joining the team part time, whilst building my company and I became the Programme Manager for the Female Founders Accelerator.  I was so impressed with the women who came on programme and they had excellent businesses and business models.  When they got to the investment stage, they struggled and found the whole pitching process painful.  I started to explore why this was so difficult for women and the main factor was that the women were pitching to a particular demographic and it was very exclusive and masculine.  I wanted to know where are all the women investors?  With research I found out that there are very few female angel and VC investors and this was the key barrier to female-led businesses getting the right investment and support to grow their businesses significantly. On International Women’s Day I met Marla Shapiro and we decided to start exploring how we can make a difference to get more women to become early stage investors. 

What was the idea and aim behind starting HERmesa and what has been the response so far?

Our aim is to encourage and promote women to become early stage investors and we believe if more female investors enter into the sector, more diversity of investments would be made and hopefully more investment would flow towards female-led businesses. To date, we have conducted a significant amount of research and interviews, we have hosted two pitching days FOR women BY women and we are soon looking at creating a female-led fund in partnership with other investing platforms. 

The response so far has been immensely positive and many women have asked enthusiastically to come to one of our pitching events or to join our community.  What we are currently working on is how do we galvanise all this positive energy in the right way forward, that speaks to women and creates the right community. 

In your opinion, what is the main reason women are not operating in the investment sector as much and what can we do to improve diversity in it?

HERmesa’s research, along with the work of many other organisations,  shows that the traditional ‘angel’ method of funding start-ups doesn’t work with the reality of most (albeit, not all) potential women investor’s lives.  We have created our four-factor model.  In order to be a successful angel investor you need the following:

-       Time

-       Money

-       Risk Appetite

-       Interest in Entrepreneurship

We know that women usually have two out of the four factors, and we find that TIME is their biggest hurdle. Women are often working as an employee (FT/PT) or building their business, handling most of the childcare or care tasks within a family as well as many of the household activities.  They are often juggling too many tasks to be able to give angel investing a good shot.

I believe that there is a skills-based factor missing that is preventing women from jumping into the angel investing space.  It has been predominately a male-led field and all communications and marketing reflects this issue and lack of diversity.  There is not a space for women to learn and develop the basic finance and investing knowledge to start them on the journey.  At HERmesa we want to change this journey and create an events programme and support that helps them on this journey.

Who are your three most inspirational women in the investment sector and why?

There are more and more women stepping into the space. For me the most inspirational women are Suzanne Biegel as she has been developing and carving the way for female angel investors for many years and had the foresight to work in this sector when there were hardly any women at all.  I am also in admiration of Emilie Bellet of Vestpod as she is creating an interesting and engaging community of female investors especially for the younger generation.  And finally, I have had the great privilege to work with Olivia Sibony who is not only passionate about getting more women into investing but also has impact investing high on the agenda.  Women are looking at making socially responsible investments that do not harm our societies and the planet.  It not only makes good business sense to get more women investing, it is critical to the planet.  

Karen is joining us as a panelist for our upcoming event Women & Money: Women Investing In Women, we hope to see you there!

If you can’t make it to the event, you can always connect with Karen via Twitter or LinkedIn!

This interview was conducted by Anja Streicher, Chief Marketing Officer of Women of Wearables. She is passionate about women's health, supporting women in business and is still trying to figure out how to balance motherhood and business. Connect with Anja on LinkedIn.