Dawn Bebe is co-founder and director of Crowdfunder, a platform that helps all types of organisations raise anything from £200 to £2.5 million by offering rewards or community shares. Dawn has more than 25 years’ experience in communications, having joined EMAP plc to work on a range of media from Just Seventeen to New Woman, before going on to run a highly profitable media portfolio including Red, Elle, Elle Deco, More! and Bliss. In 2004 Dawn developed the £16 million launch plan for UK Grazia, subsequently setting up the creative communications consultancy, Onshore Media.
“…Typically over 70% of project owners are female, and 54% of project backers are female, so crowdfunding seems to increasingly offer women real access to finance to make their ideas happen…”
Dawn, please can you tell us about your career to date and how you ended up co-founding a crowdfunding platform?
My background is journalism, and I have always been excited about the positive social impact media can have. I started in young women’s magazines, where I felt I could play a part in raising aspirations and inspiring positive change. Having helped launch Grazia for EMAP, I was challenged to look at ‘what next?’ in media and realised the power of the Internet going forward as a channel for change.
After setting up Onshore Media, a multi-channel PR and communications agency, I met my co-founders and we stumbled upon crowdfunding, when it was pretty unheard of. As entrepreneurs, we could see the opportunities it could offer communities and early stage start-ups. We received early funding from Nesta and Plymouth University – and it went from there.
How do you balance your time between your different roles?
It’s always a challenge! In the early days with a new business there was so much to do, with so little resource, we all worked 24/7 on everything! Now the challenge is to make sure we constantly focus on what will ‘move the needle’ for the business.
You’ve had a hugely successful career as a journalist. What made you want to try new ventures?
I am a communicator and entrepreneur. Telling great stories is still fundamental to what I do – it’s just now more related to the business of crowdfunding, as well as the social and economic impacts it can have.
Please can you tell us more about the different types of crowdfunding supported by Crowdfunder and how to determine which is best for any given campaign?
Crowdfunder offers different types of crowdfunding. ‘With rewards’ crowdfunding projects offer a product, benefit or service in return for pledge so cash. ‘Community shares’ is where a community project (typically a pub or community asset) offer shares in return for pledge of cash. We also offer equity crowdfunding, in partnership with our sister company, Crowdcube, so that projects can offer shares in their company in return for pledges of money. We’ve raised over £2 million for ourselves that way.
What is the gender split across the platform and how does democratising access to finance help female entrepreneurs in particular?
Crowdfunder has raised over £30 million for thousands of projects across the UK. Gender split is really interesting. Typically over 70% of project owners are female, and 54% of project backers are female, so crowdfunding seems to increasingly offer women real access to finance to make their ideas happen.
How is Crowdfunder working with organisations like the Cabinet Office and Nesta?
Nesta has invested in Crowdfunder and, as our relationship has developed, it’s also helped us launch an Arts Council campaign and Heritage Lottery campaign – with over £120,000 to pledge on suitable projects that meet their criteria. The Cabinet Office is following what we’re doing really closely and we’re discussing new ideas with them.
You’ve raised a seven-figure investment sum from the venture capital market. How can women defy the odds and secure finance this way?
The most important thing is to have a great – sustainable – idea, work with experienced people who are highly networked in the sector, and are able to turn that idea into reality. Then just be really brave – believe you can do it – and everyone else will too!
What is coming up next for you and Crowdfunder?
We’re really excited about working with local authorities like Dorset, Birmingham and Frome Councils to offer local crowdfunding campaigns with funds to pledge on ideas in the community that meet their funding criteria. But nationally we’re also working with Virgin Media Business’s VOOM to offer businesses the chance to win their share of £1 million in cash, money can’t buy prizes and the chance to pitch to Richard Branson – as well as a regional competition next year.