Women in VC Part II: Q&A with Christine Hockley, director of investments at British Patient Capital

Woman making a presentation

Tuesday 13 October was Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord Byron and his wife Lady Byron, is recognised as one of the pioneers of computer programming through her long working relationship and friendship with Charles Babbage, 'the father of computers'. In honour of women's achievements in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), PEWire is publishing a mini-series of three Q&A interviews with women working in venture capital.

Second up is Christine Hockley, director of investments at British Patient Capital which makes long-term investments in innovative companies across the UK.

Can you tell me a bit about your background and the journey that has brought you to where you are today?

I selected sciences at A level and began to develop my enduring fascination for STEM subjects as I studied. I was encouraged to take sciences further by an inspirational female chemistry teacher and I studied Materials Science at university. While at university I was fortunate to be sponsored by car manufacturer Rover Group. 

There I was introduced to the world of manufacturing. I worked in the research lab and had exposure to the car assembly line, which in those times was quite intimidating for a female. It didn’t put me off and I learnt a lot about the practicalities of engineering including how to weld and was delighted to find I was good at it!

After university I moved to sales and marketing for an industrial gases company I built on that commercial experience through studying for an MBA, and moved into finance initially in M&A advisory and then into investment in private equity and most recently venture funds.

My STEM background has served me well through my finance career. Early transactions were in the manufacturing space where I had an advantage and latterly my fascination for STEM is well served by the new technologies our portfolio of venture and venture growth fund managers invest in. 

What barriers do women in STEM face in your industry?

Venture capital is predominantly invested in tech driven businesses that require STEM skills. The British Business Bank published research last year which found that for every GBP1 of VC investment in the UK all female founder teams get less than 1p. Also 83 per cent of UK deals involved founding teams with no women.

One reason for the imbalance in investment in female teams is the low number of women working in the sectors focused on by VCs, for example software, AI and medical technology. A further suggested reason is the network effect. All-female founder teams are less likely to gain a warm introduction to a venture capital firm than a male team. 

It is encouraging that there is now a focus on understanding the requirements to encourage more female founders. At British Patient Capital we have adopted ILPA guidelines on diversity and inclusion which consider the diversity of the fund managers we invest in. This is a route to reduce the barriers for women in venture capital - both fund managers and entrepreneurs.      

What advice do you have for other women working in STEM?

Firstly to fully research the options open to you as there can often be a surprising diversity of choice. 

Believe in yourself and don’t be put off if your chosen career appears to have less females. Seeking out a mentor who has trodden a similar path before you can be a tremendous help.

Finally be tenacious as barriers can be brought down but recognise it may need several attempts. 

How does Ada Lovelace inspire you? Which other women have inspired you throughout your career or inspire you today?

Ada Lovelace is inspirational as she heralds from time when it was challenging for women in science yet she wrote and published the first computer algorithm. Her work is said to have inspired Alan Turing’s work on computers. 

I have been inspired by the story of Beatrice Shilling. She was one of two female graduates on the Manchester University Electrical Engineering course in 1929 and went on to study for an MSc in Mechanical Engineering. She took up motorcycle racing using her engineering skills to keep her bike in racing condition and was later awarded with the Brooklands Gold Star for outstanding performances in track and road racing. During her career she researched supercharged single-cylinder engines and became a leading specialist in aircraft carburettors at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, RAE.

During the second world war she devised a solution to the problems the Spitfire and Hurricanes were having with their carburettors. Travelling round the airfields fitting the new part she gained the respect of the RAF pilots. She continued her career at the RAE until her retirement gaining an OBE along the way. I think Beatrice was a brave and talented trailblazer for female engineering.