Who needs a dragon when there’s angels around? An interview with Jenny Tooth OBE


KWIB spoke to Jenny Tooth OBE, CEO of UK Business Angels Association (UKBAA) and award-winning facilitator of SMEs. We got to know all about her progression in to finance, her trailblazing success as Chief Executive, her position as a female leader in a male-dominated industry and her role as a mother.

CB: So Jenny how did you get in to finance?

Jenny: I started as an economist and did my Masters at London School of Economics. Previous to that, I’d studied modern languages, but I became quite passionate about small businesses and finance during that time and I was really fascinated by the idea of accessing investment or other sources of funds to help a business grow.

When I first entered that market, I set up my own business to help small businesses. It was very much looking at public funds – so looking at grants and the huge amount of money coming out of Europe. I ran my business partly from London but I also spent nine years in Brussels working very closely with the European Commission where we helped small businesses access investment from there.

But, in about 2000, I suddenly came across angel investing and so I was absolutely fascinated by it as a source of finance – almost an endless source of finance, when I realised it was private individuals bringing their money. I started to build my knowledge and my business more around angel finance as well as combining it with public money for innovation and support. So, it was a background of fascination in small businesses and the finance they need, that’s been my driver.

CB: How did you know that this was the job for you?

Jenny: It’s very difficult to understand if something really is a job. The first job was becoming a business angel and that was learning about how to do it alongside other people who had invested because when you become a business angel, you have to work with those who know what they are doing otherwise you will make some mistakes.

I got involved with a group called London Business Angels, which is a very long-standing group, and I learnt a huge amount from there and I started investing with that. The job evolved from having been running my own business and then starting to work more and more on the angel investing side. I became very fascinated by the whole policy background of it; I started getting involved with the emerging trade body of what was British Business Angels Association and then in 2009, I co-founded a business called Angel Capital Group alongside a colleague of mine and we ran that.

But, actually, the job I have now, which is Chief Executive of UK Business Angels Association, sort of popped up in 2012 when it was decided to set up a whole new trade body for angel investing. I just think I madly thought that I could do that!

CB: You are in a very successful and powerful position, what advice would you give women who want to succeed like yourself?

Jenny: I’m not sure about success and power… but, I think I work very much with a small team and I’ve always seen that it’s about teamwork and bringing the best out of your colleagues and team is absolutely fundamental. I think it is something that women can bring especially well into the business world and into senior management roles. Often women are will get the most out of people, but not by being nasty or rude but by helping to nurture the people around us and by really showing commitment to them and their own growth as one’s own. I think that’s what women bring and I’d like to think that’s what I’ve brought to my role here.

CB: When looking back, what advice would you give your younger self?

Jenny: I think my younger self needed to understand that actually as a woman, you are not omnipotent and you don’t have to do it all yourself. It is one of the biggest challenges you have, particularly if you have a partner and children. There are many demands on your time and it’s very often easy as a woman who is really trying to make their way into business to think that you have got to show absolutely that you can do everything yourself.

I think very often what you learn, and what I’ve learned, is that you do have to take time out. You cannot do 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; it is very important to take stock, to spend time with your family but also to think. That’s often where your more creative and innovative ideas will come from. As women, we do drive ourselves incredibly hard to show that we can do everything all of the time.

CB: Who was you biggest influencer when getting into the investment sector?

Jenny: I was obviously fascinated by people like Sherry Coutu who has been an incredibly successful investor in tech and who has now founded the Scale Up Institute, she has been incredibly successful, both as woman but most importantly as a tech investor. There were other great influences around me including Dale Murray who herself was a very successful woman investor and an absolutely gorgeous lady too who has been very successful in her own right since being an angel investor. In fact we had her as our “Angel of the Year” in 2011. They have both been great influences but I’ve also been very supported by the Co-founder I worked with, Anthony Clarke who was very experienced in angel investing and who really helped teach me very much of what I know. Yes… I think I’ve had two very great women and one great man who have been supporting me!

CB: What influence has your family had in driving you to succeed?

Jenny: I think my family would have very mixed ideas about that! There have been times when they were small when they didn’t see enough of me and they definitely missed me, and me seeing them. Now, they are actually very supportive as they’ve grown up. My son is now himself involved in private equity and one of the best things they say is “go mum, go mum!”.

CB: What would you say has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome this?

Jenny: I think the biggest challenge for me has always been to keep abreast of everything that’s happening in this world. The angel world is so vast and so diverse; there are so many different influences happening.

Being in touch with policy about what is happening at government level, but also really understanding what’s happening on the ground has had its difficulties, especially since we are such a small team.

You’re really trying to be able to reflect on the way the whole market is moving all the time and because it is such a changing scene, it’s very often a challenge to keep in touch with all of those happenings out there, including all the data, the investment interest and all the different people involved in this eco-system.

CB: You were awarded with an OBE in the New Years Honours list in 2015! Congratulations! What was it like to receive an OBE?

Jenny: It was absolutely overwhelming! First of all, it was completely unexpected and I was so excited; it was marvellous.

As for my children, I think they realised I had done something useful with my life! It was amazing to get the envelope through the post because they invite you – you’re asked if you would accept it if you receive it. Then you have to keep it very, very quiet. It was New Year; my husband didn’t know why I wanted to come back from holiday early and things like that.

I think the most exciting thing was on the day; going to Buckingham Palace made me feel very special. I was very lucky in that I had Prince William present me with mine and my daughter, who was absolutely thrilled because she was sitting so near, was swooning at the time. They made you feel so special and it was then that it really dawned on me what a special honour it was.

CB: Your focus is on Small or Medium sized businesses, how important is it, would you say that more investment is made to these types of businesses?

Jenny: I think the biggest challenge for anyone going into entrepreneurship is actually to find the finance they need to grow and, actually, to really understand which is the right type of finance for them. As an investor, for me, it’s finding the right entrepreneurs that can use angel investing effectively. It’s not right for everyone and for some, they should be getting different forms of financing – it could be grants, it could be loans. It could also be crowd funding or other sources. So, for an entrepreneur, one of the biggest challenges is to find their way through that big maze of different investing.

External investment, if you get it as an entrepreneur, helps you really accelerate your business and to grow. You have to focus on being a scalable high-growth business to really make use of it. But if you do get it right, that relationship between investor and entrepreneur is absolutely magic because you have got access to all that advice, experience and links alongside investment and someone who really takes an interest in your business.

CB: To what extent do you believe the UK Government supports early stage investment?

Jenny: I think the UK Government has had a very, very strong support for early stage investment. We have had since 1993, an amazing tax break called the Enterprise Investment Scheme. That has brought millions – billions – of pounds into this space to help people who are individuals to use their own money to back entrepreneurs. Our Government then brought in a second tax break in 2011, just after the crisis to really kick start more angel investing and private investing. Then in 2011 the Government has also backed a £100m angel co-investment fund which has built more finance alongside syndicates around the UK.

Even this year, the Government has shown their backing and support particularly in a Brexit focused world, they have brought in a new knowledge intensive businesses tax break which will allow investors to put a further £1m into strongly innovating IP creating businesses on an annual basis, so doubling the amount of money that they could normally put in a business.

CB: You spoke at the UK BAA Awards, what achievements does this event recognise?

Jenny: So, the UK BAA Awards, which we do every year, is there to totally back innovation and disruption in the market but to back not just the entrepreneurs and all that they have achieved, but to really recognise the investors who put their money behind those entrepreneurs. We back everything from areas like artificial intelligence this year, the internet of things, fintech, medtech, but also best angel syndicate of the year, best angel of the year and best female led investment of the year. All of those are there to really recognise and stimulate more angel investment because the more you recognise it and its importance, and what entrepreneurs have achieved with that money, the more useful an award ceremony is to helping people understand the power and impact of angel investing here in the UK.

CB: You recently attended the Liverpool Business Summit what was your role there?

Jenny: We had a fascinating role at the International Business Festival this year because it ran for three weeks. We were the investment partner throughout the whole of the three weeks. Every day – so nine days as it was Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday each week – we pitched between six to eight businesses that we had selected from across the UK in the sector specific theme of the day.

So, we had so many businesses across those nine days that had access to be able to present and pitch their business to a big audience at the Liverpool International Festival. We also acted as a connector for investors as well to find interesting entrepreneurs and to find each other. The final part of the week was that we organised our Angel Global Investment Summit at time of the Festival. During the day we had that summit and we had over 400 investors in the room and I brought several of them from across the world to talk about the opportunities of creating global connections in a post-Brexit world with other angel investors to really strengthen our opportunities and market reach for entrepreneurs. In the evenings, we ran our big awards ceremony in the absolutely stunning Liverpool cathedral – it was just magical! It was a very busy, hectic three weeks but very rewarding as we made a huge amount of connections and obviously one of the big things was to talk about angel investing in an area such as Liverpool where at the moment there is very little. I hope we’ve left an impact and a legacy, as we had some very good conversations with Steve Rotherham who is the Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City region, about how he could work with us in the future to set up an angel hub so that we could really help to build more angel investment in the area.

CB: What did the Global Investment Summit offer for attendees?

Jenny: I think the importance of running a big global angel investment summit was the very word itself – to think outside of the UK for angel investors. We wanted our own investment community to not only network and connect with themselves across the UK, north, south, east and west but for them to think about the opportunity of investing on a much broader scale. So we brought investors and people from the markets in other parts of the world to talk about the opportunities that they could have. I think that the other interesting thing was bringing in some really great speakers – we had Paul Misener who is the Vice President for Innovation at Amazon who flew in especially from Seattle to come and talk to our audience and to tell them about some of the real innovations that are out there. It was very much to raise people’s thinking above the parapet.

The other significant part of the day was that we had the British Business Bank with us as a key partner. They were really focusing on how they were going to help build the angel market with this additional finance. It was very much designed to give people a sense of excitement and opportunity around the angel market.

CB: How important would you say sharing experiences and insights across borders is for the future of investment?

Jenny: I think it is absolutely vital that we look beyond Europe now and we have to start making those connections.

Our tax breaks in the UK have caused us to be fairly focused on the UK because you have to be a UK taxpayer and you have to have a substantial base in the UK if you want to use your EIS or SEIS tax break to back a business. Although that’s not everything, it is obviously significant for people to be able to do that.

Actually the ruling is different to what people think, because the business has to have a base in the UK but they could come from any other part of the world and have their business there. We wanted people to think beyond borders but also think about those cross-border links that they could make by building relationships of trust with other angel groups. I kind of know the communities around the world so knew the angels coming from Canada and New Zealand, China and Africa and the USA as well as Finland and other kinds of markets. The idea was to say to people to think who else you might know out there, where might you find great deals and who else might you co-invest with in the future.

CB: How would you ensure that more women were succeeding in the financial sector?

Jenny: I think women are starting to succeed. I have to say that looking at the research about women investors – and we talked especially to 100 women from the UK who were investing and 100 who weren’t – many of the women were in the financial sector. I think that many of them were making quite significant in-roads to the financial sector. I do think that over time women will be seen as taking significant roles in the area.

Where I think women are also starting to succeed now is in fintech – as entrepreneurs. It’s not about joining a big corporate and getting to the right rise to the board, although I do think that there should definitely be more women on those boards. I do think that women have opportunities to seize niches and disruptive opportunities as well, having perhaps worked in those sectors but also to set up as exciting entrepreneurs and co-founders of great fintech businesses. I think that is really where we mustn’t just think of women in financial services going into what we might see as those corporate roles, but more of huge opportunities for entrepreneurial roles for women in financial services.


Catherine Butler
Assistant Editor-in-Chief


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