Female entrepreneurs taking on the system. And winning.
Sarah King, CEO and co-founder of we are radikl is fascinating to interview. Her heart is worn firmly on her immaculately-cut jacket sleeve. There is no smoke. There are no mirrors. WYSIWYG.
It feels as if her entrepreneurial spirit has been given expressive carte blanche. Where once, in her previous corporate financial services life, she might have responded with inoffensive, vanilla answers – today, she shoots from the hip. With a passion.
It’s clear that Sarah and her we are radikl co-founder, Claire Dunn, are on a mission. Given that the pair only met less than three years ago, the sense of being ‘in it together’ is very real. They are ripping it up, creating waves and, refreshingly, having fun too.
So what’s the story? As it happens, that’s a damned good question, because the spectrum of we are radikl is colourful and kaleidoscopic. It can be viewed through many a prism. Effectively, there are three pillars:
- To rocket fuel women start ups and propel them to a more successful rate
- To encourage more women investors (and ally investors come to that)
- To lobby the hell out of the government and so change the ecosystem.
Nothing ambitious then.
A glance at the stats above gives a scale to the challenge. And it’s one that Sarah relishes. Her own mantra is crystal clear: “We’re creating an ecosystem for women entrepreneurs – giving the access to know how, connection, inspiration and kindness. All the time we’re helping women to successfully start, sustain and scale their business as well as providing a route to funding opportunities. So every day, when we work together, we ask ourselves ‘what do we need to do today to impact more women’? ‘What are we going to do next”?
Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster ride. And quite often you’re not strapped in. When Sarah left her corporate life behind, she felt that ‘her safety blanket had been ripped away.’ Like venturing onto the most thrilling theme park ride, this is where the line between white knuckle terror and ear-to-ear grinning exhilaration is blurred.
So how has the nearly three year long ride been – given that half of that time has been during a pandemic?
As the idea for we are radikl took shape around a kitchen table (as around 75% of female-led businesses do), Sarah realised that ‘women are overlooked, unseen and unheard. There was a need to create a ‘safe space’ where women can rock up and say ‘I don’t understand’ without fear of being ignored or, perhaps worse still perhaps, patronised. We needed to make access to knowledge easier. Effectively, we are an e-learning business.”
But it’s an e-learning business with a clear agenda. And values.
Sarah openly admits that sometimes she finds talking about the challenges facing female entrepreneurs intensely emotional. But it is this passionate purpose that defines her. Every day.
“I bloody love working with Claire. We have a kick ass board. And we only hire talented people that are as passionate, angry and upset by inequality as we are.”
Sarah is at pains to point out, however, that this is a business, not a charity. It is determined to strike the right balance between profit and purpose.
And nothing could be more purposeful than the recently launched we are radikl #overbeingunderfunded campaign. Sarah chuckles at the suggestion that she is now a fully-fledged card-carrying political lobbyist. “If you’d asked any of my friends whether I would get involved in anything like this, they would have said ‘don’t be ridiculous’ or something stronger.”
But this is where we are radikl can be, well, radical.
Sarah continues: “There are systems in place to support growing businesses. But in so many invisible ways, they’re not geared towards women, or the businesses we build. So we’re starting by calling on Government to make small, yet powerful changes to one such system – the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). We want the SEIS deadline to be extended from 2 years to 3 years from the start of trading, we want to introduce gender, race and ethnicity reporting and we want to redirect more funding towards women entrepreneurs in their first three years of trading. It’s not difficult. It’s not expensive. And the impact will be felt by both women AND men.”
There’s a personal edge to this. With a week to go to the funding deadline, an investor dropped out unexpectedly. With 48 hours to spare, and eye-balling calamity in the face, they got it over the line. It was a siren call for the challenges many start up businesses faced. SEIS was a key part of the process.
SEIS has already provided £1bn of seed capital since 2012. This is a key source of investment for women – we know they receive less than half the capital as men. We know that they are 30% less likely to know investors. And we also know that we are lagging far behind other nations from US and Canada to the Netherlands and Australia.
Sarah’s rallying cry is direct:
“We know that the odds are stacked against women founders already. That’s why we’re calling on the government to take decisive action, enabling women – and a far wider pool of business owners – to be seen, be invested in, and be part of the country’s economic recovery.”
Launched in May, the campaign is off to a flying start. If you’ve travelled across London, you may well have seen the striking poster campaign. It’s been featured in the national press and primetime TV. It’s growing, gaining pace, garnering priceless press column inches and grabbing the attention of those who will make a difference.
So what next for Sarah and her fellow radikls?
Well, it’s more of the same – which is to say more of the different. Championing the cause, empowering fellow entrepreneurs and being as bold and colourful as the Sneinton market wall graffiti which acts as the backdrop to Sarah’s iconic photoshoot.
It would only be right to leave the last word to Sarah (though you can hear plenty more from her on the cool new Radiklist podcast).
“We know we’re attitudinal. But with a name like ours, it would be rather lame not to be. We know we’re ambitious. And audacious. We know we won’t see equality in our lifetime but we bloody well know that we need to seriously start to make it better and create a meaningful legacy.”
You know what? When Sarah talks like that, you know that great things are going to happen. 100%. Watch this space.
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Not too long ago, we welcomed Jenny Campbell, the inimitable ex-Dragon and YourCash founder, for a nugget-filled session as part of our ongoing, never-ending celebration of female leaders and entrepreneurs. Check out the best bits here.