Helping female-founded businesses to upscale

Karen Holden, founder of A City Law Firm, talks to about her new Female Founders project to help female-founded businesses to upscale.

woman with lightbulb above her head


Karen Holden, founder of A City Law Firm, has set up the Female Founders Growth Programme which aims to provide practical support to female-founded businesses which are keen to grow. Research shows that, for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams get less than 1p, while all-male founder teams get 89p. Her Female Founders organisation will help level the playing field a little. From 27th July, the Female Founders programme will be providing two days of bespoke one-hour workshops and investment panels hosted by supporters dedicated to female founders’ success. The event is aimed at those who have already received seed/grant funding and are now looking for rapid growth investment. Supporters include the Angel Investment Network, Silicon Valley Bank, The Gender Index and How did the Female Founders programme come into being? When did you first start work on it and was that linked to your own experience as a female founder?

Karen Holden [pictured below right]: As a female founder myself and having worked with many companies scaling and seeking investment I noticed:

  1. Women rarely attended the mainstream pitching events or gave talks about funding
  2. They would only ask for the exact sums needed, at the time, so venture capitalists [VCs] and banks were saying that was too little
  3. They over-thought how much they needed to know compared to many men who will apply if only aware of 80% of what they need to know
  4.  Not all VCs , but many, never took them seriously

I have worked with many businesses and have seen their success stories and how calculated risks can reap rewards.

I want to help these businesses grow and if we can help change the dynamics and work with our strengths this is what I want to be doing.

wms: What challenges did you face when you started A City Law Firm?

KH: I always worked and perceived myself to be a business owner and solicitor not a woman in business. If I was knocked back or treated differently I didn’t care. I just fought past it and tried alternative avenues.

That’s because as I started my career I faced questions about when I would get pregnant; I faced harassment and bullying from male bosses; and I decided to instead do it my way.

I am not part of the male network, in the old-fashioned way. I am sure I am treated less favourably than men in some sectors, but I am now blinded to it as I simply don’t care. I have made and will continue to make it, on my terms, with men and women working side by side equally.  However, as a founder I struggled. I have made many mistakes and setting up a law firm in the City has been anything but easy, especially when I started a family.

wms: What does Female Founders seek to do and offer?

KH: We will offer a programme where founders will ultimately have a viable business to scale and take internationally and, if desired and required,  can take on investment.

This is by affording them advice and support which is practical and essential, including: tax efficient structuring; financial and cashflow modelling; legal support; support for creating a good pitch deck/business plan and covers cash flow and recruitment initiatives and protected Intellectual Property and branding; offers a city meeting room, international exporting support and a working space and access to an ecosystem and funders.

This is not about mentoring; it is about working with peers, advisors and funders to fully wrap your idea into a successful operational business.

wms: Why is there a need for it?

KH: We want to encourage equality so we need to change who is in the room; improve the confidence of women to fight for it all and for the support they need to be brought together in a safe and proactive environment so they can thrive.

This means a space to grow, meet the VCs and investors one on one, access to knowledge about how to secure their investment and protect themselves legally with active support so if they get burned they can dust themselves off and try again.

wms: How easy has it bee to engage others to partner with?

KH: It has opened many doors as everyone sees the need for a transparent and dynamic platform. Each partner has offered their time and energy. I am inspired by how much support and traction this has generated.

wms: What have been the other main challenges as you have built the organisation?

KH: Capacity and time to have all the calls and follow-ups, but once we are live we aim to hire someone full time. I am passionate about this so setting time aside has been vital.

Convincing female founders that this is not just about more coaching sessions, that it is real bespoke work that every business needs to operate has also been a challenge. This includes holistic support but also technical, tailored and commercial support.

Also you get what you pay for and if you give away equity or something is given free of charge it’s not going to be the same quality as us working with founders to encourage them to make it work.

wms: How important is the networking aspect?

KH: It is key to be among your peers, as in my experience, you learn a lot about supply chains, resolutions and solutions by sharing information together. Meeting investors and advisors creates an ecosystem for you as you grow your business, including your services, customers and suppliers and you learn who to trust. It also develops confidence and relationships.

wms: What have you found founders most struggle with?

KH: Funding is often a number one consideration along with who to trust and cash flow.

It’s important that you spend your money wisely so we discourage cheap template documents or working off a handshake, but understand boot strapping may require this in the beginning.

It’s important, if not vital, to look after your IP and contractually secure yourself and to know how to do this without it eating all of your investment. Many also need guidance when it comes to the preparation stage.

wms: When is it launching?   

KH: The launch will be on 27th July with a series of interactive workshops and investment/expert Panels. People can contact us if they want to take part.

wms: How can people get in touch if they are interested? Are there any eligibility criteria?

KH: They need one CEO/founder who is female; they need to be looking for 250K or more (and to already have seed funding or a grant or research and development funding so they are able to fund the programme). And they need to aim to scale or get funding to scale within three to six months.

*You can contact Karen at [email protected]. For more information go to

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