THE WRAP: 2020 Highlights Interview with Nicole Denholder

by DIANA DORAHY|18 December 2020

The year that was! With Nicole Denholder and Diana Dorahy.

Hello and welcome to Next Chapter Raise, I’m Diana Dorahy.

For many, 2020 was a year to forget but there were still plenty of female funding wins as well as big steps for women entrepreneurs in general.

To go through them, I’m joined by Next Chapter Raise founder, Nicole Denholder.


Welcome Nicole, what a year right? 

For sure, this is the year that caught the whole world off guard. For companies big and small, it meant having to take a good look at business strategy and for many, reworking budgets. One of the big reveals this year was a report that showed that 41% of global startups have less than three months of runway. That was a big wake up call. You need six months at least before you even factor in something like a global pandemic.


There was a lot written about how to handle the change in business environment this year. What resonated with you most?

Experts talked a lot about pivoting but the one piece of advice that resonated with me and our membership was, focus on the customer and KPIs that show customer satisfaction, be wary of any pivots that could negatively impact the customer experience. Focus on the essential products and lastly, during tough times it’s about painkillers not vitamins.


Let’s look at founder wins this year and we had some impressive news within our own membership?

We’ve had lots of member wins this year which has really validated Next Chapter Raise’s launch and our mission to help get female founders funded faster.

Among some of our biggest member wins, Catherine Cole, founder of Motif won the AmCham pitch competition in Hong Kong.

We had two members accepted in the Founder Institute accelerator program, Polly Setunga of Conscious Paper and Mandy Cheung of Zessatin.

Jill from Collagen Lab also won The Founder Institute x Next Chapter Raise Fellowship.

And Natalie Chan of OWN Academy was shortlisted as one of East Asia region’s top 10 female founders in the Cartier Women’s Initiative.


Globally, we saw some big wins for women as well? 

Adore Beauty in Australia became the largest Australian Stock Exchange listing by a female co-founder and the frist women led company in the exchange’s history.

Jane Fraser became the first woman to lead a major Wall Street bank after being announced as Citigroup’s next CEO.

And we saw First Women’s Bank open in Chicago becoming the first commerical bank startup there in more than a decade. The focus? Lending to women-owned businesses.


Now, funding for women decreased overall compared to last year but we still saw some impressive funding in 2020?

Infant formula company, Bubs announced a $38 million dollar equity raise.

Rental kitchen startup, Karma Kitchen had an astonishing run when it set out to raise 3m pounds and ended up raising 252m instead.

We also some big wins in the FemTech space. At-home medical testing company, Everlywell announced a $175 million Series D round. And telehealth startup, Coviu banked $6 million. These guys went from 200 online consultations a day to 25,000.


What were some of your other favourite moments? 

It was wonderful to see Cartier crown its first winner from Australia since their global initiative began in 2006. Joanne Howarth, founder of Planet Protector Packaging won for the South Asia and Oceania region.

My other favourite moment was seeing HerCapital set up in Singapore this year. They’re passionate about getting female founders funded and I think we’ll seee big things from them in 2021.


You spoke at and were involved in lots of funding events this year. Everyone from HSBC Private Banking to the SCMP Gender Lens Investing panel, the Sydney University MBA program and our very own Female Funding Fair. Were there any common denominators from these events in terms of female funding trends in 2020?

That’s a good question. I think what’s clear is that there’s still a long way to go for women to be fully educated in this space. It’s the reason why we’re launching our Capital Club membership in January. Female founders need to understand the funding process at the kind of levels that will allow them to scale.

Plus, I think more women are conscious of the prevention style questions that the industry is trying to address but that’s just part one – recognising that there is a problem. Part two, is being able to answer a prevention style question and I think founders realise they need to get ahead in this if they’re going to master the pitch.

The other common denominator – and this is a positive move – I think founders are starting to realise that there are lots of different funding options available, they just have to look for them.


Who do you think are the companies or founders to watch moving forward?

Caecilia Chu, CEO and Co-Founder of @YouTrip, one of the fastest-growing fintech companies in South-East Asia. Last year, they raised a record US$26 million pre-series A funding, the largest for a fintech start-up in Southeast Asia.

Lucy, a Fintech focused on financial solutions for women has launched in Singapore, and we look forward to its growth.


What funding trends are you predicting next year?

I think we’re going to see more of a data-driven approach to funding, a focus on the numbers instead of the pitch delivery.

As I mentioned, there’s an increasing amount of press around promotion versus prevention style questions. That’s very much on everyone’s radars and I think we’ll start calling it out when we see it. We had an investor session recently and everyone who participated commented how valuable it was. It’s events like this that will help achieve mindset change.

We’ve also seen a real move by some of the big investment banks to focus on female founders and I think we’ll start to see the fruits of those investments.

In the Philippines, we’ve seen the start of gender smart lending.

In Hong Kong, the government has given a lot of money to small businesses to go towards employee retention, plus marketing and technology upgrades. I think that’s helped raise awareness about funding and encouraged all founders to look beyond bootstrapping and credit cards.

I think we’re also going to see more women on boards. The Nasdaq is pushing for the more than 3000 companies listed on its exchange to make board diversity mandatory. That’s going to have a trickle down effect.

Plus, we’re starting to see alternatives to traditional VC investment. Just last week, Tractor Ventures in Australia announced it’s now offering revenue-based financing to founders who either do not want venture capital, or are not the right fit for VCs.


Next Chapter Raise launched earlier this year and in that short period of time you’ve welcomed new members and developed a new community plus, you’ve launched the Raise the Bar podcast, the Road to Funding series and hosted a Female Funding Fair. What can we expect in 2021? 

As I mentioned, we’re excited to be offering our new Capital Club membership from January building on our Savvy Club membership launched earlier this year. The Capital Club provides technical fundraising resources together with expert support and leadership coaching.

The bottom line is, women are going to have be better prepared to be able to operate at the investor level and that’s what the Capital Club will offer.

In our masterclass series this year we covered everything from taking stock of your finances, planning your funding journey, how to make yourself interesting to an investor and legal basics. We’ve got some big topics we’re going to cover next year including Planning for 2021, Nailing Revenue Models and Co-founder How To plus many more.

We’re also going to be doing some more mentoring hours. The response this year to these hours has been overwhelming. Founders are clearly craving that one-on-one time with advisors.

Also be on the look out for more partnerships with accelerator programs.


Let’s finish on a fun note. What do you want for Christmas?

Time with family and friends, and re-energising to prepare for 2021.