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Interview: How can we attract more women to become business angels?

Marie-Elisabeth Rusling – CEO of Business Angels Europe

Marie-Elisabeth Rusling is an EU affairs professional serving the interests of SMEs for over 20 years, now focussing on early stage finance / angel investment to help European start-ups secure their journey.  She is a keen promoter of female investment and entrepreneurship and a contributor to European policies that can help make Europe a great place to launch your business, innovate and scale up. She became the CEO of Business Angels Europe in 2017. BAE is a leading member of the WA4E project consortium.

In her interview for our newsletter she welcomes the results from the WA4E survey, mapping out the situation in six EU member states when it comes to women business angels and entrepreneurs. She explains why ‘mixity’ matters and what it means for investors.


The WA4E project has recently published an extensive survey on why women become women business angels. What do you make of the report? 

The survey shows how the results are coherent from north to south. The sample used for the survey was a solid and representative sample. It was also backed up by qualitative follow-up interviews, exploring the motivation, obstacles and stimulation factors for women business angels. It was interesting to see how women across the EU share the same experiences. The survey results highlight a lot of self-inflicted limitations “angel investment is not for me, I don’t have the time, I don’t have enough money to invest”.


Most of the interviews reflect how the women business angels are facing similar obstacles (e.g. lack of role models, lack of opportunity). All the interviewees seemingly had their cards in their hand but they did not know how to use them. This is why the WA4E project is very important, it provides all the skillset. The appetite of the women on giving back, on how to keep interest to the entrepreneurial world. The survey recognises that there are similar stimulation factors across the EU and the project can address these (mental limitations, fear, physically imposed obstacles). One of the sad findings was that most of the women interviewed were not encouraged to pursue business angeling by their financial advisor - although this is understandable! 


Are there any national specificities that you could identify that fit/diverge from the survey results?

There are a few national specificities on the main survey results. Women need introduction, and want good opportunities & deals! And we noted it is not an imperative that it should be a women-only type of support. But the role models have to be female investors. As investors, women look for It is about more mixity and providing access to women to investment opportunities. The focus of the associations or angel clubs should be to help the women reach business opportunities of quality, and regular deal flow.


Could you tell us more about your organisation?

Business Angels Europe (BAE) is the coordinator of the project. BAE is a federation, an association of association and clubs of the most active angel clubs across Europe. BAE is still a young organisation, 5 year old it was started in 2013. BAE works a lot at an institutional level to get the market players understood and the environment improved (profiles and benefits for business angels). BAE relies on what the members have done on the ground and also offers opportunities for peer-learning and mentoring. BAE works to improve the framework conditions for its network (the EU can stimulate Member States for action). There should be more awareness for pilot programmes and projects such as this one.


One of the main points of contention is the fragmentation of the market. It is something that needs to be done at EU level, and WA4E might have a positive effect on that. There also has to be an emphasis on different sectors, more particular tech sectors, bringing more opportunities to boost this access to finance. At the end of 2018, the Angel Investment Forum will be the beginning of many such activities and forums across Europe. Within the frame of the WA4E project, it is about talking concretely about how the market has evolved, what has been done and give a special kick for the taking the first step.


Would you agree with the statement: the more woman business angels there is the more women entrepreneurs there will be?

More investors are generally needed for the early stages, thus every effort counts. I am mixed about whether more women business angels will drive more women entrepreneurs. It is important to favourise the mixity of the economy, in the companies; not only when they start but also when they grow. Mixity is crucial at the moment where companies grow.


From your point of view, do you think women will benefit more from being more integrated into the existing network of business angels or should women pursue their own, separate networks?


I believe mixity is incredibly important. Integration is the issue. By integrating women in existing networks of business angels they have access to deals, best practices and best advice.​​

Project is co-financed by the European Union