"A catalyst of change in the fintech ecosystem"

18 October 2021

The Female Innovators Lab, a partnership between Barclays and venture investment company Anthemis, has expanded from its US base. Find out how the studio is tackling barriers facing female-founded startups from the UK and Europe at its new London hub.

“At Barclays,” says Mariquit Corcoran, Barclays’ Group Chief Innovation Officer, “we believe that female founders are fundamental in disrupting the financial services industry. They’re creating products and solutions that are more representative of a broader range of users.”

With Corcoran as executive sponsor, Barclays and Anthemis’s New York Lab was established in 2019, with the aim of ushering in that more representative generation of fintech entrepreneurs – transforming a sector where female founders have historically struggled to attract venture capital funding.

Since then, the studio has supported a number of innovative US companies to launch – from social commerce startup Swaypay, to neobank First Boulevard. Now, the team behind it hope to reach talented founders across the Atlantic as they launch the Lab for the first time in London.

“Unfortunately, the barriers that female founders face in the US are not unique to that region, and it’s always been a mission of ours to expand the lab to the UK and Europe,” says Sonal Lakhani, Global Head of Strategic Programmes and Innovation at Barclays, explaining the motivation behind the expansion.

At Barclays we believe that female founders are fundamental in disrupting the financial services industry. They’re creating products and solutions that are more representative of a broader range of users.

Mariquit Corcoran

Group Chief Innovation Officer, Barclays

Katie Palencsar, Anthemis’s Global Head of Venture Studio, has led the Lab in New York and will continue to drive the programme outside the US. Reflecting on the New York Lab’s efforts to level the fintech funding field, she says she’s encountered a huge number of promising – but underfunded – early-stage startups. “We have met with hundreds of companies across the fintech ecosystem, with more than 40% being BIPOC founders, and supported a number of female founders in building venture-scalable businesses,” she explains.

“This plainly disproves the existence of a pipeline problem as the reason behind female founders’ negligible share of venture funding, and instead points to the vast untapped entrepreneurial potential that needs to be nurtured, networked and funded.”

Data from capital market company Pitchbook suggests that in Europe, companies founded by women garnered just 2.1% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups in 2020. In the US, venture funding for female founders hit a three-year low in summer 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionately negative effect on female and minority-founded businesses.

However, Pitchbook now reports that the tide may be turning. Female-founded companies are currently raising capital at a higher rate than at any time in the last decade as “long-standing efforts to boost representation in entrepreneurship are paying off at an accelerating rate”.

Kester Keating, Head of US Principal Investments at Barclays Investment Bank, adds that in terms of investment the UK expansion represents a “huge opportunity”, with the fintech market “still growing at such an incredible pace”.

The Lab will therefore offer access to Barclays’ investment capabilities, as Keating explains that he’s “always wanted to invest as early as possible – where we can have the most impact, not only through the capital we’re deploying but also all of the additional resources Barclays can bring to the table.”

Uncovering a pipeline of fintechs

Celebrating the first birthday of the US Lab in November last year, Palencsar described the collaboration between Barclays and Anthemis as “a perfect match”.

“We needed great strategic partners that completely understand the industry”, she said. “And in finance, that was Barclays. Even outside of this project, there’s an existing commitment to early-stage businesses through Rise and Eagle Labs.”

We needed great strategic partners that completely understand the industry. And in finance, that was Barclays.

Katie Palencsar

Global Head of Venture Studio, Anthemis

Kathryn McLeland, Group Treasurer at Barclays, adds that “by working alongside Anthemis and the Barclays Innovation team, the Barclays Principal Investments team not only deploys investment into early-stage female-led fintechs, but also unlocks identified barriers of growth for these founders so they can scale at pace”.

The venture combines the bank and Anthemis’s investment expertise and fintech networks, identifying female founders at the earliest stage of their journeys, matching them with capital and support to scale their businesses. Founders who qualify for the London Lab will receive bespoke support and have access to dedicated Barclays and Anthemis office space.

Lakhani says that some Lab participants have “deep financial services expertise and have been in the market for 20 years,” while others are “brand new to the entrepreneurial experience.” What unites them, she explains, is a “passion and belief in their ideas.”

“The Female Innovators Lab embodies the Barclays mission to deliver meaningful support to women-led businesses,” McLeland adds, “and we continue to be excited and inspired by all the US participants to date. By extending the Lab to the UK and Europe we hope to continue to be a catalyst of change in the fintech ecosystem globally, and uncover a pipeline of fintechs to create best-in-class new products and services”.

Success stories from the Female Innovators Lab

Since launching in 2019, the New York Female Innovators Lab has helped exciting female-led fintechs to grow and scale. We share three of the first startups to launch from the Lab.

Swaypay: a social commerce startup that reroutes billions of ad dollars from platforms like Facebook and TikTok into shoppers’ pockets.

“It has been amazing to be able to tap into a huge system of resources. I feel a lot less like a solo scrappy founder and more like part of a massive team.” (Kaeya Majmundar, Founder and CEO, Swaypay)

Nivelo: a company enabling faster automated clearing house payments with a new API security layer, helping to protect digital payments against potential cybercrime, fraud and losses.

“The Female Innovators Lab opens doors to women with a strong ‘why?’ and the willingness to back that up with execution. It’s a wonderful door to go through.” (Eli Polanco, Founder and CEO, Nivelo)

First Boulevard: a digitally native neobank focused on improving the financial livelihood of Black America.

“The Lab team really helped us to see around corners and guided us through the investment process.” (Asya Bradley, Founder and COO of First Boulevard)