Sherry Coutu: Women's businesses are more successful than men's

You live & you learn: Serial entrepreneur and angel investor Sherry Coutu on why women's firms are often more successful and how to spot an entrepreneur in 5 minutes.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 02 Jun 2014

Are women more risk averse? That can be a good thing. We mitigate risk to a greater extent and we don't 'wing it' as much. It's why women's businesses are often more successful than men's.

Overall, I've been stupidly lucky. I make three or four investments a year and I wish I had more time. They're not all successful but I've learned more from the disasters. I know exactly what went wrong with all the companies that went bust. Often it comes down to people. It's hard to get teams to work together.

I don't accept that I'm not an entrepreneur any more. I'd rather make investments than run companies because I have three children, aged 11-14. I have a portfolio of investments, from Lovefilm and Zoopla to fertility monitoring service CTC. I've invested in more than 50 businesses in 22 countries, which have a collective turnover of £2bn.

I never thought I'd be an entrepreneur until someone at LSE told me I should do it. I started my first business, an emerging-markets information service, in the early 1990s with two co-founders. But, with my second firm, Interactive Investor, I had the confidence to do it on my own.

Now I know whether someone will make a good entrepreneur within five minutes. Essentially, it's someone who is dissatisfied with the status quo and is taking steps to change it. And it's someone who can pull together great teams. That's the difference between an inventor and an entrepreneur.

People often ask if what I do is similar to Dragons' Den. I say: 'Absolutely not.' Investing in companies isn't just a transaction, it's about relationships with people and going on a journey with them. I've been asked to be a Dragon but I always say no. I don't want a public profile for rubbishing people who are trying to make the world a better place.

I was the first in my family to go to university. My father was a telephone engineer and my mother a civil servant. I moved from Canada to London to go to the LSE for a master's degree in economics. My first job was as a computer programmer.

I'm involved in a charity that puts founders into high schools. It trebles the amount of kids that study STEM subjects. If teachers have never met an entrepreneur, they're not going to say this is an opportunity for you. I was told I should be a social worker.

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