Supporting women investors to be an integral part of the innovation ecosystem

Lucy Chow 

Supporting women investors to be an integral part of the innovation ecosystem

By Fatima Gorezi

Lucy is focused on the innovation space, both in terms of supporting founders and as an investor. She is a director of WAIN (Women’s Angel Investor Network) and is an investor with Mindshift Capital. WAIN has won several awards: Arabian Business Startup Awards 2018, Funding Initiative of the Year and FinX 2018 Award for Fintech Investor of The Year. She is also an investor with NextWave Ventures and the Founder Institute, both based outside the US. Recently Lucy was honored to be a Judge for the GEMS Global Innovation Challenge (student entrepreneurs), the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab & Challenge 22 Prize (an innovation award that promotes creativity in the Arab world), Gulf Customer Experience Awards and the Annual SpeakFluence Cup. 

During her 12 years in Dubai, Lucy has garnered a strong reputation for arranging business-focused events that target captains of industry, as well as trendsetters in the UAE through her firm, The Elements Group. She is Chair, Steering Committee, Capital Club Dubai, sits on the Advisory Board, Canadian Business Council and is a UAE Senator, WBAF (World Business Angels Investment Forum).

Can you tell us more about your early life and your first steps in business?

My first job out of undergrad was in telemarketing, selling computer training courses. I had the most amazing boss and she was extremely motivational; a great trainer who understood the personalities of each of her staff. I believe everyone needs to know how to ‘sell’. Whether it is selling yourself, or a product. I feel grateful for that grounding. Then I decided to move to Toronto, and eventually I went back school to complete a program that trained Canadian managers to manage in Asia. One year academic and one year overseas: amazing. That was what launched me on my international career journey. Never did I look back, with the only regret – having not taken the plunge to go international out of undergrad.

What motivated you to get involved in being inspirational for change?

I have been fortunate to be involved with organizations such as 85Broads (now Elevate), Educate Girls Globally,  the 30% Club, WAIN, Mindshift Capital as an investor and most recently with WBAF (World Business Angel’s Forum). All these organizations have focused on moving the dial for women and their place in companies, or as financial beacons of change. I am a ‘doer’ and truly happy being a part of something that has an all-encompassing ‘big hairy audacious goal’. So I would say it is these organisations that are the inspiration for change. I am just fortunate enough to be part of these communities.

What major challenges and problems have you faced? How did you handle them?

I worked for a very large global bank for many years. I will always be grateful for the experience. However, I realized that no matter how senior you are in a large company, you are ultimately still a cog in a large organisation. I was paid less than my peers. I faced all the typical challenges that a woman in a male dominated industry faces. I was fortunate to have one boss that advocated for me. However, in hindsight I would have done things very differently. In fact, I don’t think I was savvy enough during my corporate career. I would have actively sought out a mentor and a sponsor. I would have cultivated more ‘key’ relationships in the organisation. 

You are passionate about women empowerment. Can you tell us more about Women’s Angel Investor Network?

We are the first investor network for women in the Middle East and North Africa. We established WAIN to create an ecosystem of women investors, to support women entrepreneurs. Since 2014, WAIN has screened over 400 women-led companies and made nine investments in eight companies from MENA and the United States.

WAIN provides both women investors and founders with opportunities to be an integral part of the innovation ecosystem. Within that system, there’s a chance for them to have real economic and intellectual growth.

WAIN provides training in due diligence and investment strategy as part of its goal of building a strong network of knowledgeable women investors. As the smart money investors, we not only give capital, but we open doors—we help develop markets; we mentor; we sit on boards and we advise. 

Why is it important for companies to innovate and invest in modern technologies? 

Customers and consumers want more personalisation in their experiences. Technology, such as AI allows companies to transform the customer journey quickly and effectively for each individual. Rapid iterations is key. Being able to shift through key metrics and prioritising as to what problems need to be solved first will determine which companies innovate and which are followers.

Why are companies struggling to innovate effectively?

By definition, large companies find it hard to innovate, because of their size and history. A company could have survived decades using the same business model. Innovation also means different things to different people. Does it imply progressive change, or radical change? Companies, and specifically their leaders, need to map out the future. 

What advice can you give to companies looking to make the most out of their investments in innovation centers?

Corporate innovation centers are able to plug into start ups from the get-go and vice versa. Companies need to ensure they do not apply legacy thinking and models when it comes to the area of innovation. Companies need to go beyond R&D investing. Ensuring a company’s transformation road map aligns with localised expertise and the creation of new products & services will go farthest in bringing new value and opportunities. 

Will innovation centers continue to be a growing trend in 2019 and beyond?

I am fortunate enough to be one of the senators representing the UAE with the World Business Angels Investment Forum (WBAF). I have colleagues representing well over 70 countries and we are in constant contact. Innovation centers will definitely continue to grow and thrive around the world. Whether they are modeled as accelerators, or whether they are focused on specific sectors, there are so many positive reasons for entrepreneurs to be part of such eco systems. 

What is happening on a global scale with women in business and what does the future hold for women?

The world is rapidly changing and corporates are struggling to innovate and reach new consumers. Companies need to recognize that input from people with different backgrounds is key. A Board comprised of a female, who perhaps has set up a company under a complex environment and then brought it to an IPO, will bring valuable expertise to the table. I have long been an advocate for placing more women on boards. Furthermore, disparity in compensation between women and men holding the same role is still a challenge. Companies need to work proactively to change this. 

I do believe it is easier for women (and men) to become entrepreneurs. If tried and tested corporates do not change rapidly enough, then individuals will find that it may make better sense to become their own boss.

 

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