Having started her career at one of the big four accounting firms mainly in advisory around capital markets and the experience she gained there over 12 years really helped her understand how companies are valued and what makes them attractive investment opportunities. Sadly, it also highlighted just how few women there were on both sides of the table. She kept meeting these bright and highly capable women with big ideas that failed to be realised and it was then that she decided that’s what she wanted to do next – help these women get funded.
Based in Hong Kong, Nicole Denholder is the Founder of Next Chapter Ventures, where she is redefining partnerships for Female Entrepreneurs, Investors and Funds. An advisor to female entrepreneurs and a regular speaker on investing and crowdfunding, Nicole has successfully launched the Next Chapter Crowdfunding platform and is soon to launch Next Chapter Raise – a digital community connecting female founders and the investor community and financial institutions.
Here she takes out time to exclusively share her insights with AsiaBizToday
Can you tell us briefly about the activities that you undertake?
Like most entrepreneurs, I’ve had to wear lots of hats from operations and accounting to human resources and marketing / communications. My strength really lies in project management, I love a good to-do list and mapping out a business journey from conception to execution. For me, the key has also been in recognising my own business strengths and weaknesses and building a team that can carry out these tasks better than I can.
What was your trigger and motivation to get into this?
After I had children, I wanted to create a better work / life balance so I could be at home more. I used to travel 30 plus weeks a year and that wasn’t feasible as a mum with two young children. I really wanted to work with entrepreneurs to help realise their potential and I knew that meant guiding them about funding. That’s when I started my first venture, Next Chapter Crowdfunding. We’ve already had some great success, with 95% of members reaching their funding goals. But there are so many funding options to choose from and I wanted to expose these founders to as many opportunities as possible while helping them become more investment savvy. And that’s when Next Chapter Raise was born.
What have been your experiences in this leadership position?
Many and varied. We have a small team at Next Chapter Raise and all of them are specialists in their field from graphic design and business development to investor relations and PR and communications. As I’ve brought more team members on board, I’ve been able to delegate the tasks that I used to do myself. There’s huge practical relief in that but of course, there’s always a danger then of micromanaging, of telling people how you want it done rather than asking these specialists, how would you do it? I’ve been conscious of not doing that. Juggling the requirements and performance of third party suppliers is especially challenging but again, taking the macro approach and empowering them to deliver has made a difference. As a leader, I really believe my role is to oversee, to encourage and to learn.
Which are the important factors that keep you going?
My family are the ones who really keep me going and not just because of their unconditional love and support. Being a wife and mother who also runs a company means that I have to work quickly and efficiently. I have to be creative in the way I use my time and that’s an excellent business skill to develop, particularly as a leader. At the same time, it helps put things in perspective, particularly during the past twelve months in Hong Kong when we’ve faced protests and then a pandemic. In practical terms that’s meant putting family first and not taking myself or the business too seriously. Letting things that go wrong wash over me, finding the humour in things that would normally cause stress, getting lots of sleep and taking simple pleasure in things like going for a walk. Catching up regularly with female entrepreneurs I’ve built close relationships with is also very motivating plus I’m always learning from their experiences. Those discussions have helped me understand the different pain points an entrepreneur goes through when applying for funding.
What are some of the challenges that you face?
Like any entrepreneur, I’m navigating obstacles every day; deadlines that can’t be achieved, technology that can’t be properly harnessed and plans that have been interrupted because of things beyond my control. At a business proposition level, one of the challenges has been explaining to some investors the need for this type of venture and how identifying and working with female founders will ultimately create better and more diversified deal flow. There are also lots of mindset challenges working with both investors and female founders. There’s the prevention versus promotion issue where investors tend to skew questions to female founders that are challenge-based and not growth-based e.g. How do you intend to monetize this versus when do you expect to break even? For founders, the mindset challenge often centres on credit-worthiness. Helping women understand that self-funding a business and/or not taking a salary is not only detrimental to their bottom line but actually prevents significant growth.
Where do you usually find inspiration from?
All sorts of places but outside of my family, it’s female founders who’ve successfully grown their own businesses. These are hardworking, determined women with a growth mindset who are willing to learn new skills, put themselves out there and really reach their potential. At Next Chapter and through the Women’s Entrepreneur Network (WEN), I’ve met and mentored hundreds of women and they’re the ones who keep me inspired.
What’s your proudest moment so far?
My proudest moment was launching Next Chapter Crowdfunding after making the big and scary move from safe, secure corporate life to being self-employed. To see these women transition from hobby-business owners to fully-fledged, funded entrepreneurs was a huge professional buzz. As more female founders connect and they become more educated around funding options, I expect the same kind of buzz, if not more with Next Chapter Raise.
How would you define success?
Success is a very personal thing. It’s not defined by a particular number either in terms of sales, revenue or amount raised, it’s about women reaching their full potential. It’s also about investors seeing the value in and backing more female-founded businesses. Overall, it’s about changing industry mindsets when it comes to supporting female entrepreneurship. Whether that translates into more women on boards, more female venture capitalists or more women in deep tech it doesn’t matter. As long as that change is being made, I think as a society we can say, success is being achieved.
What advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially Women?
Change your thinking and adopt a growth mindset. Think of it like your investment portfolio. Put simply, you’ll never earn enough money. The only way you can experience financial success and freedom is if you invest what you earn, whether it’s in property, shares or alternative investments. Why? Because your salary is rarely going to double in five years but your investment property might if it’s in the right location and subject to capital growth predictions. Your business is exactly the same. Unless you’re prepared to invest a significant and ongoing chunk of your own money, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to achieve significant growth on your own. You have to take on investment whether it’s through start-up capital, debt or equity. Demystifying that process is your first challenge, the second is acting on it through education, community and access to investors.