At the age of 23, Olivia Molesworth started her own capital fund from her home, loaning almost $1 million to businesses in its first year, 40% of which were women-owned.
Olivia is one of many women in the VC, startup, entrepreneurial and technology spheres operating and succeeding in a male-dominated environment, and doing her utmost to support other women in these fields.
In this interview, Olivia shares why and how she started her own capital fund, Bromleigh Capital, the biggest challenges others in the industry should watch out for, and guidance for those considering starting their own fund.
- What sparked the initial idea for Bromleigh Capital?
Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed working in the financial services industry at PwC and am appreciative of the technical foundation I acquired there, I felt drawn to the entrepreneurial aspects of business and decided to pursue a career in the start-up space. I therefore left PwC and successfully worked at two eCommerce start-ups. These roles allowed me to develop a strong strategic and operational knowledge of early stage businesses.
While employed as the Head of Operations and State Manager respectively for these two start-up businesses, I quickly identified a desperate need for affordable and sustainable debt funding for small businesses to be able to grow, employ people and support themselves. Both of the businesses I worked for struggled to reach their growth potential due to an inability to access affordable capital. I have also had a deep personal interest and belief in micro-financing and the role that such financing plays in allowing people, particularly those that do not have a highly educated background, to reach their full independent potential.
After extensive market and regulatory research, I began to understand the predatory lending behaviour exhibited by the banks and online lenders that was commonplace in the market. Prudential changes and the Financial Services Royal Commission had meant that the large Australian banks had significantly reduced small business lending, and it was increasingly difficult for small businesses to access traditional funding without extensive physical collateral. This vacuum was being filled by the emergence of unethical online lenders and credit providers operating with opaque structures and pricing.
In exploring the idea of Bromleigh, it became apparent to me that there was real investor interest to gain exposure to classes of ethical investment, and Bromleigh could offer a unique conduit for investors to fulfil their social investment goals.
Bromleigh was therefore established as Australia’s first ethically focused small business financier, fully dedicated to ethical lending and serving impact businesses. We offer unique products with simplistic pricing, being simple no-fee fixed-rate revolving and term facilities, together with business mentoring services.
- What was the original purpose for the organisation? How has this changed over time?
The original purpose of the organisation was to provide affordable and sustainable debt funding, in an ethical manner, to impact small businesses. This goal has not changed, and we are committed to supporting impact businesses more than ever. If anything, we have developed an even narrower focus, with a particular passion for female founded programs and young entrepreneurs. We try to do everything we can to propel minority founders that struggle to access capital otherwise.
Over time we’ve tried to increase the importance placed on rewarding businesses attempting to create meaningful impacts within their communities. While there has been great progress regarding impact equity funding in Australia and many other countries, there has been effectively no focus on providing debt financing solutions to this sector. We have developed a program which financially rewards high impact Australian small businesses.
- What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with building, developing and growing Bromleigh Capital? Why?
Raising capital as a young, relatively inexperienced female founder in a male dominated industry was definitely a big challenge, and it continues to be an ongoing challenge, one I know so many other female founders similarly face. My own personal experience has only furthered my desire to continue working in this space, attempting to improve the industry’s attitude towards investing in female founders.
- What’s your advice to others considering starting their own capital fund?
I would give three simple tips to those considering starting their own capital fund:
- Get your books and backend systems in place. This is a highly regulated industry, with stringent compliance rules. It is imperative that your backend systems are transparent, compliant, and run efficiently. Taking out loans is a stressful task for many small businesses, so the user experience needs to be seamless for the customer.
- Ensure that you have a clear and narrow vision. What is the purpose of your fund? Who do you hope to provide for? What is the gap in the market that you’re trying to fill? What is your vision for your customers?
- Establish the right networks and ensure you have the right relationships in place. Starting any kind of business is a huge challenge, let alone one in such a regulated space. Asking for help is inevitable, so you will need to surround yourself with mentors and networks that can support you.
- What are the biggest changes you noticed in the capital funding sphere in 2019, and how do you expect them to impact the industry in 2020?
The markets in 2020 are likely to be beyond anything we expected due to the coronavirus outbreak. 2019 was a unique year as it was the first year after the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. We saw significant tightening of capital for small businesses, resulting in a decreased availability of funds.
Due to the coronavirus we are now in unchartered waters, the effect and depth of the pullback is something which we can’t yet predict. However, what is certain, is that it will harder than ever for small business to access funding.
About the expert
After working in the start-up space for over two years, Olivia identified a common struggle for young businesses to access funding. Olivia founded Bromleigh Capital, a FinTech business providing affordable and sustainable financing solutions to Australia’s small business working capital needs.
Olivia is responsible for all marketing channels and underlying marketing strategy, including dictation of direction and management of digital marketing strategy and execution. She manages all customer relations and customer service, including all interactions with potential and existing clients. Olivia is responsible for creation and maintenance of branding, communications and community presence.
Olivia overviews financial due diligence and credit check procedures undertaken for all potential clients. She overviews of all company financials and all external relations relating to company finances. Olivia is responsible for all elements of capital raising and investor relations and partnerships. Olivia has ultimate responsibility of all internal systems and operations, data collection, technical infrastructure and operational management.
Outside of her work, Olivia is an accomplished musician and plays violin in the Old Scotch Symphony Orchestra, where she sits on the committee as Treasurer and Vice-President. Olivia is committed to women’s education and sits on the committee of the St Catherine’s Old Girls Association as Treasurer. Additionally, she sits on the committee of the Toorak Liberals Branch as Secretary and sits on the Marketing and Fundraising Committee of the National Trust, being passionate about heritage and conservation.