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Angel Investor Jean Winter on Supporting Startups During Pandemic Times

How An Open Invitation Turned into a Talent Agency With a Heart

The world has experienced various crises over the years which have disrupted national, regional, and even global economies. Although the disruption due to COVID is not novel, its magnitude may be the greatest so far. Recent research into the impact of COVID on EU industries found that the EU is likely to experience a slower pace of recovery, with a growth forecast of 4.2% for 2021. The pandemic has made it particularly challenging for early-stage investment as well. 

Investors may depend on wealth from a number of different sources (property, business interests, stocks, shares), however, the impact of the pandemic on all of these factors and the uncertainty COVID caused most likely have made some investors think twice before taking an unnecessary risk. For Jean Winter, an angel investor and entrepreneur, the impact of the pandemic on female-owned businesses was hard to ignore.

In an exclusive interview, the angel investor (who prefers to remain out of the limelight) revealed: “COVID affected so many businesses, so many closed down. So if I want to invest in people, who would I want to invest in? Female businesses that are affected badly by COVID, because some of them I know have put their heart and sweat and tears in.” Offering to be an angel investor, Jean extended an open invitation to a female entrepreneurial group on Facebook in Dubai, inviting prospects to write to her as a fellow female, promising to respond to every email received. 

“I received 96 emails. It shocked me on so many levels, because of the number of people in need, number one, and, number two, the very fact that I promised to reply to every single person,” Jean recalled. For the next two or three weeks, she would stay up until the early hours of the morning to reply to emails requesting aid. It was during this time that her path with Jessica Smith would cross again. Pre-COVID the pair would often run into each other at formal events. “We saw each other at events as personalities, you know? Like, ‘Oh, hi! How are you?’ But we never really sat down for coffee and talked,” Jean details.

Jessica Smith: Normalizing Disability

Jessica Smith’s life story is one of triumphs and tribulations. Born missing her left arm, she suffered an accident as a toddler sustaining burns to 15% of her body. She would go on to defy the odds and represent Australia for seven years in the sport of swimming, culminating in her selection onto the Australian Paralympic team in 2004. As an accomplished motivational speaker, Jessica has taken the stage at schools, universities, businesses, and community organizations (including the UN) where she shares her personal journey on diversity, inclusion, and equality. In acknowledgment of her advocacy work, Jessica Smith was awarded “Emerging Leader” by the Australian Government at the Positive Body Image awards. Most recently Smith was awarded one of Australia’s highest honors: the Medal of Order of Australia. 

It was during Jessica’s search for a sponsor for her book that an idea sparked in Jean Winter. Jessica is the COO of Touch. 

The Bigger Picture: Touch

Seeing potential beyond sponsorship Jean said: “Okay, I’ll sponsor your books. I want it to go out to schools and I want to use the launch of the books to launch Touch because I don’t just want to help you, you’re one person. Let’s help all of the people of determination in Dubai, let’s give them a platform where we can help tell their stories. We can tell their stories in so many ways, through more books, through their speeches, through their stories, and if some of them are too shy, we will tell the story for them.” 

The Three Pillars of Touch 

Described as a talent agency with a difference, Touch, rests on the principle of being a truly inclusive platform. “We want to promote the stories of people, not just people who can tell their own stories, but also people that can’t tell their stories,” founder Jean explains. For persons who can not tell their stories on their own behalf, a Touch speaker will go out and tell their story on their behalf.

 “Pillar one is where we represent all the creatives, all the talent, whether they can speak or perform a talent, or inspire people through their talents, whatever it might be.” The talent pool is wide and varied. From an F1 racer to a professional footballer, models, and motivational speakers to cancer survivors who inspire with their courage. The goal of the talent agency is ultimately to nurture kindness and foster true inclusiveness by looking past the traditional barriers of appearance and wealth. A crucial difference between Touch and a traditional talent agency is that while traditional agencies may charge their talents a fee for creating a portfolio, Touch does not. On top of that Touch wants to advocate for people of determination to receive fair compensation. 

Pillar two is mentorship programs aimed at personal growth and development. The mentorship program is designed to zoom in on the areas in which an individual needs mentorship. “We are trying to support and tell the stories of people who may not have the platform or opportunity to do so. And in the process, mentor them to eventually tell the stories themselves, but through the entire process we will make sure they are being paid as talents,” Jean Winter said. She continues: “This is not a charity. We hire the talents and pay them a fair fee. That is where inclusiveness comes in. We represent a talent pool that is inclusive, so when you pick us, you get to pick talents for who they are. And we come from a very different angle. We’re not here to talk about our successes, but how our talents enable us to inspire more kindness and positivity in the world.”

With the autism center on board as a partner, Touch is looking to create a program that will enable children to normally interact with other children who have been diagnosed with Autism. “Kids with autism don’t get to be included in normal society,” Jean Winter notes. She hopes the program will create an environment that will foster empathy and kindness, banishing the stigma associated with being different. 

Pillar three is community outreach, which will see Touch representatives and talents go out as a team to touch lives in various ways. “I don’t expect anything from the talents, in fact, I’m doing everything for them.” Jean continues, “My only request is that all our people come together twice a year to give back to the community as a whole.”

A Word from the Founder

“Stories can inspire beyond language, beyond distance beyond countries, we are here to prove that we can make it work through anything. I’ve got friends who have kindly offered to translate from Arabic to English so that we can hear the stories of Arabic families, and then we can transport their stories to the rest of the world. Nothing can stop us now, because now we are also showing that there is no barrier to religion and language. And that is what is tearing the world apart. I remember my mum saying, ‘I hope that when I pass, people remember me for the good things.’” – Jean Winter.

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