If we’re going to see more women start up their own businesses, with all the benefits to the economy and society this would have, then we need to understand what the barriers to entrepreneurship are – and what support is needed. We asked our female entrepreneurs for the measures and support they would like to see in order to encourage more women to start up.
Better access to funding, mentoring and childcare cropped up often – but it was interesting to see the emphasis on attitudes needing to change too, with founders peaking up about sexism in business and their frustration at not being taken seriously. It’s clear that change needs to happen, but great to see the issues being recognised and discussed. Below is the help that ten female entrepreneurs supported by Virgin StartUp would like to see.
Kerry Hector, founder of MoviMobil
MoviMobil is a bus offering a mobile cinematic experience bringing movies to young people in their local environments. Kerry received a £25,000 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
I believe the thing that would most help female entrepreneurs is for those who have already taken the plunge and started up to reach out to other aspiring female entrepreneurs. This would help build their confidence to get involved and get started. It would be great if we had some government backing to ensure we could dedicate some of our time into making this happen.
For me, building a community is key and will create a place where those who are just starting out can go for mentoring, advice and support, along with those who are already on their journey - the more women who see becoming an entrepreneur is absolutely possible, the more women we'll see running successful businesses.
Gemma Lewis, founder of Dark Matters
Eat Dark Matters create delicious brownies which are sold online and at markets in the southwest. Gemma received a £4,700 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
I think female to female mentoring and networking is key. We need feel confident to take up more space and push harder in male-dominated environments.
Sacha Atherton, founder of Premier Parents
Premier Parents is a recruitment agency that provides opportunities for parents looking to find flexible work opportunities. Sacha received a £10,000 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
Self-employment could help a lot of parents out of unemployment and help improve the lives of lots of families, but there needs to be more funding and support. The other thing is the type of people engaging with the parents - they have to be representative of the demographic that they’re communicating with. Successful business leaders can be very intimidating, I have experienced that myself. I remember being at a networking event full of successful, older white business owners, most of whom were male, and thinking “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”
I think challenging the definition of success and demonstrating its various forms would also help. Not everyone wants to own a million pound business and drive a Ferrari; some people just want to be able to have a car of their own, a bit of freedom, and a bit of what they love.
Jenni Bailey, founder of Calla
Calla create stylish and comfortable shoes for women with bunions. Jenni received a £15,000 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
I would like to see more high-profile female entrepreneurs given the media attention they deserve. I think women business founders are often braver and take more risks than their male counterparts, but they just aren't given the high profile recognition in the same way. We need more role models to inspire us, more stories to help us believe we can do it too, and for us to be braver about shouting out why we're so brilliant.
Holly Cram, founder of Aspire USA
Aspire USA helps UK athletes find and apply to scholarships globally. Holly received a £2,000 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
In the current climate, it has never been a better time for entrepreneurs to 'give it a go'. But still we are outnumbered. I feel the biggest impact on increasing the number of female entrepreneurs is to provide and promote successful female business role models. For me, coming from a sporting world I can see young, aspiring female athletes having strong, successful role models inspiring them every day and giving them the confidence to succeed on the world stage. Look at the impact Jess Ennis, Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey (and many, many more) have on creating an environment where competitiveness is celebrated, showing hunger to succeed is attractive and where losing is a good thing, as long as you learn from your mistakes and move on even stronger. We are starting to celebrate women in business who demonstrate these same qualities but there isn't the same exposure for them.
Jenni Davis, founder of DS London
DS London is a new British accessories brand that specialises in luxury handbags and holdalls. Jenni received a £7,250 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
Being a female CEO is hard enough without having to deal with men not taking you seriously. I get frustrated by back-handed compliments such as "You're doing so well, I didn't think you would get this far!" So I feel emotional support is required more for female entrepreneurs, and strong online or physical communities here we can share success stories or get advice.
Lois Wilson, co-founder of St Aymes
Lois Wilson is the co-founder of St Aymes, who create luxury confectionary that’s almost too beautiful to eat, and received a £6,000 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
I think that fostering entrepreneurship in school is important for women and also offering access to funding would encourage and help more women who are in business to succeed. I think a lot of women want to start businesses but access to child care and expensive living conditions create a barrier to being able to take on the financial instability of a new business. Women are more likely to be put off of instability, so grants and funding that make the step less scary would encourage more women to start up.
In addition I think business talks on being assertive and saying no in business and negotiations would do well for women. Women often want to please whilst men are praised for being assertive. When a man says no it's respected, but when a woman says no it can be seen as not a final decision or something negotiable.
Natasha Clark-Withers, founder of Get Her Trade
Natasha is the founder of Get Her Trade, a UK directory for professional tradeswomen, and received a £25,000 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
We need to take it back to schools and let girls know and see that their ideas are worthy of becoming businesses!
Frankie Fox, co-founder of Foraging Fox
The Foraging Fox create delicious beetroot ketchup. Frankie received a £500 Start Up Loan from Virgin Start Up.
Childcare is always an issue, especially during school holidays. Managing the routine and day to day demands of raising a young family, alongside long hours and a hectic work schedule of building a start up - even with the help of your spouse, family and friends - is really difficult.
Sonia Padam, founder of Eight Hour Studio
Eight Hour Studio create beautiful block-printed loungewear. Sonia received a £25,000 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
The support networks out there currently tend to be women helping other women, while there are hardly any males on the scene - and I have no idea why that is. While it is amazing to meet and know so many incredible women, perhaps having more input from men would provide a different perspective and some balance, and would help female entrepreneurs think about tackling challenges in a different way. It can feel as though often it's a 'man's world' and investors and big business don't want to take a gamble on us.
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