A 2019 Boston Consulting Group report estimated that if women and men were treated equally as entrepreneurs, the global economy could be boosted by up to $5tn annually.
That untapped potential is one of the reasons British bank HSBC has established the Female Entrepreneur Fund — a $1bn debt fund aimed exclusively at women-led businesses.
The fund is part of a larger initiative HSBC is running to help women entrepreneurs. Together with Allbright — an organisation that supports women in business — the bank has set up HSBC Roar, a programme that hosts networking sessions and advises on topics like fundraising.
Why HSBC established the fund
Sam Cooper-Gray, a 22-year veteran at the bank and global head of market strategy and engagement, tells Sifted “there was a clear business need to help female entrepreneurs”, which led her to spearhead the initiative.
“Female-led businesses have a really good reputation for doing well, they use less capital for bigger returns. A Kauffman report from 2013 reported 35% higher returns, but for less capital,” Cooper-Gray says.
The fund aims to solve the key problems facing women-led businesses established through research commissioned by HSBC, its private bank and Allbright back in 2019. The "She's the Business" report showed four major hurdles female entrepreneurs face when growing and scaling a business: poorer access to networks, a lack of strong female role models, less knowledge about investment and more investor bias.
Inside HSBC's Female Entrepreneur Fund
The Female Entrepreneur Fund is a standard bank loan programme focused on profitable women-led SMEs with an annual turnover up to $50m who aim to grow.
“The reason why this is a separate fund is that we want to show that HSBC wants to appeal to women to bank with [us], to come and talk to us about lending. If you look at the research around female entrepreneurs, they are less likely to ask for lending, they're less likely to want to try and navigate that space,” Cooper-Gray says.
“And therefore we're trying to make sure that they know that we want to help them, we want to talk to them. So it's about increasing that awareness for female entrepreneurs around the world.”
The fund is available for women in 11 countries, including the UK. When entrepreneurs borrow from the fund they also get access to a networking suite through which they can connect with other female entrepreneurs who have borrowed from the fund.
It's a billion-dollar fund, I want to lend a billion dollars
The HSBC lending fund follows a successful pilot programme called HSBC Roar — run by the bank in 2021 in Hong Kong, the UK and US — that HSBC has now expanded into a full-blown programme available to women entrepreneurs in nine of the bank’s main markets: the Channel Islands/Isle of Man, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the UK and USA.
The Roar pilot gave Cooper-Gray’s team some valuable insights on how to expand the programme. The women on the programme said they wanted connections, access to funding and a network.
“You've got the unicorns, the fast-growing businesses, the entrepreneurs who really want to grow at pace and really scale quickly and are looking for more seed investment or VC funding, but don't really know how to navigate,” says Cooper-Gray.
“The Roar programme is designed to really support them with experience, relationship management support, and also for us to work with a wider network of seed investors and VC funds to enable the companies to do pitch days so that they can then drive that business and grow.”
The programme also includes one-on-one sessions with experienced commercial bankers the firm provides, and networking events with possible customers.
Outside of the Roar initiative and the Female Entrepreneur Fund, the bank’s venture capital arm HSBC Ventures has reserved an additional $100m venture debt fund aimed specifically at women entrepreneurs and founders from minority backgrounds, and Cooper-Gray adds that “where appropriate, we can support women in that direction if they're at that stage.”
Lend a billion dollars
Cooper-Gray doesn’t only approach this fund with her banker hat on. “The biggest thing for me, and this is a personal thing rather than a bank thing, is that from meeting a lot of these entrepreneurs, I am genuinely in awe of the amazing female entrepreneurs and the drive and ability to deliver that they have. I sit in meetings and lunches with some of these women and just think, ‘Oh, my God, there's just so much talent out there.’”
She grins when asked what her goal is for the programme. “It's a billion-dollar fund, I want to lend a billion dollars.”