£250bn could be added to the UK economy if women matched men in starting and scaling businesses
According to the British Business Bank, only 1% of UK venture capital goes to businesses with female founders.
The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, launched in 2019, highlighted that female entrepreneurs launch businesses with 53% less capital on average than men, are less aware of funding options and are less likely to take on debt, limiting their chances of scaling up.
The report also noted that female entrepreneurs have less access to support networks and mentors and are twice as likely than men to consider family commitments a barrier to starting a business.
Since July 2019, 134 institutions with an investing power of nearly £1tn have signed up to the Investing in Women Code – a commitment by financial services firms to provide more access to the tools, finance and resources that female entrepreneurs need to launch their own business or scale up an existing one.
This is a move in the right direction with female entrepreneurs beginning to access greater levels of investment and mentorship – 140,000 all-female-founded companies were created in 2021.
Yet there is still a gender divide when accessing finance.
If women were able to access venture capital and scale their new business at the same rate as men, it is estimated that this could add an additional £250 billion to the UK economy.
Vicky Whiter, CEO of Stamford and Peterborough’s fastest growing dry cleaning company, Peters’ Cleaners, has launched two fully automated dry cleaning and laundry pods.
Over the last 12 months, she has secured a total of £551,660 from friends and family as well as venture capital.
The investment has enabled Whiter to continue with a pilot scheme installing and testing the innovative dry cleaning and laundry pods in Peterborough, with the aim of rolling the concept out across the UK.
“My business started from me being unable to access dry cleaning facilities outside of regular working hours,” said Whiter.
“I travelled a lot for business, and am also a mum, so was constantly busy. Consequently, getting to the dry cleaners was low on my priority list and two thirds of my work wardrobe was regularly out of action. I realised that I couldn’t be alone in this.
“When Peters’ Cleaners came up for sale in 2016, I thought it was the perfect time to shake up the domestic dry cleaning market and place greater emphasis on convenience and sustainability.”
While initially Whiter’s focus was on modernising and developing Peters’ Cleaners, Covid forced her to reassess her strategy.
“Nobody was getting anything dry cleaned during Covid and our revenue plummeted. Because we were classed as an essential business, we had to keep the shops open, pay staff and were not able to access the same level of grant money as other retailers so it was tough.
“In February 2021, I realised I had two choices – close or go big. And I thought I’d got so far developing the concept for the pods, that I decided I was going to make it happen.
“I contacted a person that I’d spoken to a few times and really liked called Martin Avison, who ran a Business Angel’s network, and he offered me coaching on how to get Angel-pitch ready so that’s where I started.”
Whiter learned a lot from Martin Aviso, but was unable to pitch in person due to Covid restrictions and looked to crowdfunding to raise capital for her dry cleaning pod innovation.
“I contacted a couple of platforms and decided upon Seedrs as the best route for us,” Whiter added.
“I worked with ISQ to get crowd funding ready.
“In my experience Crowdfunding is far more marketing intensive than I anticipated. It’s not about you, it’s about how you present and position the business.
“While the crowdfunding helped us to raise some investment, we still weren’t able to raise enough.”
Whiter puts her success down to building the right leadership team, having brought Clare Gill into the business as marketing director. Through Seedrs Whiter met Andy Mee who joined her Board in an Advisory capacity but had background experience as a financial director as well as having built and sold his own business.
“Nobody knows your business or believes in the vision for the business like yourself. But to have other people believe in it, really intelligent people and very successful people at that, is hugely inspirational for me.
With her team around her, and face to face pitching opening up again, Vicky pitched to the Lincolnshire Business Angels once more and received a standing ovation which has never been seen at any of their pitching events previously. In addition to Angel investment, the presentation led to the appointment of her most recent board member, Sandy Reid from Mercia, who has subsequently helped Vicky to secure an additional £250k from the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund.
Network manager for Lincolnshire Business Angels, Laura Mallaburn said: “Having spent over 10 years running my own businesses, I’ve experienced many of the barriers women face in launching, running and scaling their business.
“I knew Lincolnshire Business Angels could be part of the change to help women access finance and I wanted us to show our commitment by signing the Investing in Women Code. Angel networks and funders across the country are now targeting women led businesses to invest in them.
“Recently we ran our first female-focused investment readiness programme, supported by the British Business Bank, and it was great to have Vicky on board to inspire other local businesswomen with her success story.”
Whiter concluded: “What I’ve learnt is that investors aren’t just about the money and a cheque, they are personalities that are going to sit with you and go through this journey. So, finding the right people is so important.
“People also shouldn’t underestimate how time consuming and emotionally draining it is to raise investment and get people to believe in your vision. I’m glad I didn’t give up, but it was undeniably hard.”
As well as paving the way for other women-led businesses to break the glass ceiling on the UK’s 1% statistic, Vicky will be working towards securing another round of funding in 2023.