Since its launch in April 2014, the ELITE programme has welcomed five cohorts of executives from exciting and ambitious private UK based companies, to help prepare them for their next stage of growth.
The ELITE programme is a partnership between Imperial College Business School and the London Stock Exchange, which aims to prepare ambitious SMEs for their next stage of growth. The programme has been running at Imperial for 2 years, working with 78 companies over that time. In a move to increase the support given to ambitious businesses through their scale-up challenges, as well as backing female-led businesses and their leadership teams, Imperial College Business School has introduced a new scholarship for female CEOs of the ELITE programme.
Dana Denis-Smith is founder and CEO of Obelisk Support, an award-winning business that pools together extremely able ex-City lawyers to provide high quality, adaptable and affordable legal support to law firms and in-house teams globally. Dana joined the ELITE programme in 2015 and is a recipient of the Imperial College Business School ELITE scholarship. In a recent interview, Dana expressed her gratitude for the scholarship saying, “I would not be on the programme without it!” Successful candidates for the scholarship must demonstrate their entrepreneurial ambitions and high potential to drive their businesses forward, as well as their determination to act as role models for other women, which is something Dana champions in the Obelisk Support workplace.
Obelisk Support was recently recognised as one of the best workplaces for women in London in the Times Top 50 Employers for Women – an accolade that is a testament to Dana’s leadership and pioneering efforts in the legal profession. Dana believes that her holistic approach to the workplace is what makes it unique. “We look at a woman’s life as opposed to looking at women just as workers. By looking at people’s lives in the round, it gives us more opportunity to allow people to work as they need as opposed to working against deadlines we impose. Trust, and the belief that women have a lot of talent to contribute and are a massive economic force, together with a business model that was built around them, are probably some of the reasons we stand out,” explained Dana.
Imperial College Business School introduced the scholarships as a way of championing women in business, particularly those who act as role models for other women by leading, securing funding and building a diverse board. This is important to the Business School, as Associate Dean of Programmes Diane Morgan explains: “We have a history of providing funding, networks and access to investors to female entrepreneurs at early stage development. Examples of this are seen through the Althea-Imperial Programme for current students and Imperial Innovations, which works to develop university research through to commercialisation. It is natural that we would include female led businesses set to scale up and contribute significantly to the UK and global economy.” This is particularly important when it comes to funding, as Diane adds: “According to the Diana Report[i], only 3% of the $50.8bn in venture capital invested from 2011-13 went to start-ups with female CEOs.”
Diane is confident that the work of the Business School, and in particular the ELITE programme can help encourage investment in women entrepreneurs: “The ELITE programme connects CEOs with advisors and investors looking for the next big business venture and our aim is to match the work of the 30% Club and ensure that 30% of the CEOs on each ELITE cohort are women. If the investors and advisors have access to female CEOs, we are sure the amount of investment to women entrepreneurs will increase.”
For Dana, it is also the peer-learning aspect of the programme that adds value: “being the founder and the CEO isn’t an easy role – I really value learning from [my peers]. The ELITE team is a great ‘glue’ to facilitate an intelligent and challenging environment for these discussions. It is also reassuring to know that most of the crossroads we face have been faced by others, and so I can be inspired by them in terms of how to deal with challenges”. Dana’s classmates include fellow scholarship winner Dr Rowena Sellens, CEO Econic technologies, a chemical start up that is transforming CO2 Waste.
The fifth ELITE cohort comprises 16 UK companies representing a diverse range of sectors, including a liquid collagen supplement manufacturer, peer-to-peer mortgage platform provider and a biometric technology security firm. Within this are two additional ELITE scholarship recipients: Virginie Charles, Founder of ToucanBox and Susan Ralphs, Managing Director of the Ethical Property Company Limited.