Getting funding and support for a female-led business is challenging despite mainstream efforts to increase opportunities for women and to boost equality in the workplace and wider society.
A study by investment site SyndicateRoom found just 10% of the fastest growing UK-based start-ups have women founders, which highlights how difficult it can be for women to translate a great idea into a fully functioning enterprise.
Fortunately, there is an infrastructure in place to help female-led start-ups in the UK get up and running. This growing network includes a number of organisations working hard to change perceptions and provide funds through business support packages, cash grants and other valuable endeavours that can change lives.
The government is also trying to address the issue and boost diversity in business. It started The Women in Innovation Awards in 2016, an initiative that provides a £50,000 grant and personalised coaching and mentoring to eight or nine innovative female-led enterprises every year. Any female who is either a senior decision maker, founder or co-founder of a business can apply for the grant.
The Women Who Tech is another European campaign that showcases and funds women-led start-ups through a £45,000 cash grant and one-to-one mentoring. The entry criteria is a bit more stringent than the UK government initiative as ventures need to be tech based and already delivering high levels of growth.
Luciana Lixandru, who works with venture capital fund Accel, believes building a support network and forging relationships with people in the appropriate industries is crucial for women as they often struggle to gain access to the resources they need to get ahead.
She notes: “Women should help women and men should help women as well. Part of my career has certainly been due to the fact I have a very strong support network of men around me”.
These sentiments are echoed by LaborNet co-founder Gayathri Vasudevan, who believes it’s very important to come forward and ask for assistance from any contacts you have or colleagues you currently work with or have done in the past. She adds: “Ask, ask, ask”.
Being confident and asking for help is crucial as women already face a number of obstacles in finding the right support for a business. If you need a success story for inspiration then look no further than Lady Barbara Judge, a lawyer and executive who has achieved notoriety for serving in high leadership roles of leading organisations including the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).
Going to conferences and events can put you in contact with these high achievers and the right people to get your business started. The Festival of Female Entrepreneurs, for example, hosted by Enterprise Nation is an annual event in Bristol that brings together the brightest minds and most influential entrepreneurs. Women who are already leading the way can offer you much needed advice and support.
If you want to go a step further, the Female Founders Accelerator is a six-month long course where 100 female founders impart advice and tuition. All you need is an early-stage business idea. After applying, you will gain access to workshops and mentoring with a view to developing a product. You will also gain skills for the sales, marketing and financial aspects of running a business.
Female Founders Accelerator is just one of the “accelerators” and co-work spaces that can provide support and mentoring for women with big ideas in business. A few other initiatives include Plexiglass, Huckletree, Blooms and the AllBright Collective.
Networking also acts as a springboard for success as noted earlier. The British Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAWE) continues to work tirelessly as a non-profit organisation to encourage the development of female-led start-ups through training, conferences and other events.
One common theme that crops up when experts talk about start-ups is coding. Learning tech-based skills can give women the edge when trying to get a business idea off the ground. If you want to get into coding, Code First: Girls is a campaign aiming to teach 20,000 women the necessary skills. As coding is the future of business with skills in high demand, this is a great area of tech to focus on.
Research by Venture Capital found all-male teams are four times as likely to attract funding for a project compared to teams with even just a single woman in a high profile position. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence enterprises led by women are in any way less resourceful, successful or valuable.
While these biases are especially frustrating and may endure, getting support for a new business has never been easier thanks to the wide reaching network of events, initiatives and conferences, which you can supplement with your own personal networking on social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn as well as a work ethic and drive to succeed.