Why does less than 1% of investment go to Female Founded businesses?


You came top at everything last term and made us look stupid. 

I was twelve years old. My mother was unhappy with my boarding school and found the only local school with a short-notice place; in 1975, I attended Strickland House, a Hove crammer of over 30 boys … and me. I enjoyed my first term and found the work easy – I was not there for the cramming after all; I left at Christmas with the highest marks across the school, in every subject. 

Returning the next term, three boys pushed me against a wall and breathing heavily into my face said: you came top at everything last term and made us look stupid. If you do that again, we’ll make your life hell. They bullied and abused me throughout the term, said and did dreadful things and yes, made my life hell. I was too ashamed and confused to tell anyone. I failed miserably across every subject and came bottom of the school for Easter Term. I still remember their faces and their names.

Thankfully those boys left and the summer term proved restorative; I returned to form and did well but the experience was dreadful. Later in life I recognise this as male ego gone mad, echoes of which arose very personally, as I built Forte Medical to the opportunity it is today.

If you make your business work and mine fails, you’ll make me look like a c**t

Fast forward some 30 years to 2006, and my then partner tried to persuade me against teaming up with Dr Vincent Forte, my NHS GP brother whose novel invention Peezy Midstream transforms the quality of women’s diagnostic urine collection and testing. I defied his protests of course and after banking £150k of seed funding, found my inbox contained an e-mail forwarded from our investment managers. It originated from the Bastard Boyfriend and whilst I paraphrase here, this is the gist of its content: 

Don’t invest in her. She has no experience, will spend unwisely and fail, taking your money with her. I was asked to explain this, coming as it had from my partner who himself had invested £5,000. Look at the time he sent the e-mail, I replied. It was nearly 3am. He is an alcoholic. I am so sorry.

When challenged, the subtitle above was his exact reply – you can’t forget words like that. Our separation soon after this did not stop him from sending regular abusive texts and e-mails, the last one being just five years ago – ten years after we separated. He cc’d me on an e-mail to some of the company’s shareholders he knew. He told them not to follow their investment into Forte Medical because Giovanna will spend the money on luxury holidays and Prada.

He admitted that alcohol had prompted the attack, but his bruised ego lay behind it, fed by a fury that I was starting to do well. His shares have been transferred to a charity. As to making him look like a c**t – he does that very nicely all by himself. 

Gentlemen of the investment world, if you consider yourself to be very different to the boys and man described above and believe that women entrepreneurs have parity with their male peers, please be my guest and read on ...

Forte Medical‘s original business model for Peezy Midstream raised over £4m investment funding, often with difficulties created by men masquerading as investors; as told in a previous article Mind The Vulture. This has prompted us to pitch with some success to female investors, although they are still regrettably thin on the ground. Investment it seems, is still a male preserve, one which this female co-founder struggles to penetrate.

Similar more recently founded male-founded businesses operating in Forte Medical’s diagnostic space have raised millions without difficulty, the question is why? The longer is takes us to raise funding, the less attractive we appear to be; that male investors don’t back female founders is a big part of that problem. In today’s apparently more enlightened climate, one expects male fears around female success to be misplaced. Reviewing the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship the Financial Times concludes: 

“… when this recession subsides, we may find an unusually high percentage of female founders among those who remain. After all, they were forced to adapt to such harsh conditions a long time ago.”

Forte Medical has pivoted its business model from direct sales to one that favours licencing and royalties and has reached a number of important milestones. Thermo Fisher Scientific, one of the world’s largest and most influential Life Sciences businesses is launching Peezy Midstream into the USA where Owen Mumford Inc has already established a growing customer base. In recognition of the enormous financial savings and healthcare benefits, Medicaid has granted us a HCPCS (reimbursement) code that refunds the physician between $48 and $63 for a device that costs significantly less.

Recent developments in the diagnostic world have led to a fresh business model more apposite to the new landscape and involves close collaboration with those that can influence it. We are moving into a more efficient licensing and royalties model, removing the high cost of direct sales. Forte Medical has become super-lean with commensurately higher profitability. 

We have completed negotiations on our first licensing agreement for a new device that will enhance early stage diagnostic tests for cancers such as prostate, bladder, kidney, pancreas and even lung cancers. This new device will also assist with a novel menopause management system and STI screening. 

Next in line is Peezy@home, a system that captures reliable, guideline-specific midstream urine (MSU) for home testing. Positive dips go straight to a partner lab for culture with targeted antibiotics delivered to the patient at home. With 50% of the global rise of AntiMicrobial Resistance (AMR) having a urinary source, our home kit is designed to protect women from AMR. We have piqued the interest of three home-testing companies for a licensing opportunity. 

This extraordinary progress has delivered a repackaged and relaunched Series A. Kick-backs from the VC world include commentary such as Too early … Too late … We want to see more milestones met … Come back to us when your turnover exceeds £100k, £10m. We are now opening our opportunity to investors who recognise that a British female-led business can be a safe bet, particuarly one with existing revenues and an expanding global reach. We are looking for investors who can help us meet our ambitions.

Our company is significantly de-risked. With Advanced EIS Assurance, we are taking funds in a series of “closes” from the Angel Investment community.

Ahead of our time

Forte Medical has always been ahead of its time. Pre-seed, my brother Vincent and I spent our savings on IP together with R&D around injection moulding a novel corn-starch polymer. By 2006 we found to our cost that it was too novel to be reliable and we had to accept a polypropylene instead (we are still seeking the right affordable and reliable medical-grade compostable polymer in case you know of one). 

Our focus on reliable, early diagnostics 16 years ago was also ahead of its time, becoming more widely acknowledged only when Covid highlighted the need for accuracy in 2020. Yet it took until September 2021 for an NHS GIRFT Pathology Report to acknowledge the significant national variation of urine specimen quality, recommending that all Trusts audit their collection methods to ensure Midstream Urine reaches the labs. Accurate UTI diagnoses and treatment are still a national lottery because there is no protocol for the collection of a reliable specimen.

However, this audit is unlikely to happen or impact the status quo for a perverse incentive around compensation for services means that UK labs are paid per specimen, so a device that reduces false-positives and retests is not welcome as smaller turnover and profit will ensue, regardless of the savings the NHS needs to make. These vested interests stimulated our withdrawal from the UK/NHS market. The rest of the world is our oyster. 

C’mon fellas … show us your money!

Gentlemen, now is the time to invest in the good health of your female friends, mothers, sisters and daughters and in our future devices, which will assist with early diagnoses of your own prostate and other early cancer symptoms.

With your money we can deliver significant returns, enhance your financial growth and make early diagnostic health a much better and safer place for all. Moreover, we will give your reputation for supporting equality the shine of its life. 

Our sparkling opportunity needs your money; write to me.

giovanna@forte-medical.com

About fortewinks

A secretary at 19 and self employed at 26, Giovanna has evolved from PA to PR and now a British healthcare entrepreneur. She is also a bon vivant and mother of two clever and accomplished daughters. Youngest-of-All is a talented Patisserie Chef, founder of MonForte Viennoiserie, Melbourne's finest destination for pastries both savoury and sweet. FirstBorn is a self-employed Aromatherapy Practitioner, a published author and documentary journalist who lives closer to home in East London.
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