Women start up founders offer insight to aspiring entrepreneurs
Only one in five businesses in the UK is run by a woman. Access and awareness of funding, as well as family responsibilities, are often listed as top reasons that prevent women from making the decision to work towards becoming successful business owners.
Since 2012, the government backed Start Up Loans programme has delivered 36,446 loans and provided over £306m of funding to women-led businesses. This accounts for around 40% of the programme’s total delivery, around double the level of women business ownership in the UK.
Below, women recipients of a Start Up Loan share some of the challenges they faced on their entrepreneurship journey and offer tips to others who might be considering starting a business of their own.
Noticing a gap in the market for eco-friendly stationery, Aoife Doherty secured a Start Up Loan of £9,000 to launch her own zero-waste stationery company based in Cardiff. With a natural flair for creativity, she wanted to harness the skills she learned during her graphic design studies at the University of Reading and turn them into a business. She used the funding to help support the manufacturing of her products and design tools.
Aoife Doherty, founder of Floris said: “One of the key challenges I think women face in business is gender related bias from investors or other business owners who they are looking to collaborate with. I have found there’s always an undertone of ‘are you capable of this’ in conversations with men in business, particularly if you’re a young female. I’d encourage women to go for it and pitch their product to customers even when things aren’t going so well.”
At just 24 years old, Eleanor Howie underwent a risk-reducing mastectomy after doctors diagnosed her with a genetic mutation that significantly increased her risk for breast cancer. Post-surgery, she found that the clinical underwear available was outdated and significantly impacted her self-esteem. In Spring 2020, she secured funding of £6,500 through Start Up Loans delivery partner Virgin StartUp to start her lingerie brand for women who have been impacted by breast cancer or risk-reducing mastectomies.
Eleanor Howie, founder of Valiant Lingerie said: “Deciding to start your business is exciting, exhilarating, and daunting! My advice would be to take time to create your business plan. Do your research to understand your competitors and the market you’ll be going into. I would also recommend anyone starting out to look into finding a support network or mentor. It really can be game changing.”
Disillusioned with corporate life, Caroline decided to leave her well-paid job in communications and engagement. In May 2020, she took out a £25,000 loan to realise her dream of opening a luxury bridal boutique. Named after Caroline’s two sons, Ellison Gray Bridal offers brides in the Northeast and beyond a high-end retail experience with bridal gowns to match.
Caroline Potts, founder of Ellison Gray Bridal said: “Go for it, you can 100% do it. I think a lot of women don’t believe they can do it. We often look at other successful women and see them as different to us and use that as a reason to undermine our own abilities. But in reality, we are all just chasing our dreams and working hard.”
Richard Bearman, managing director of Start-Up Loans, said: “I am very proud that Start Up Loans has provided more than £300m of funding to women entrepreneurs around the UK. No matter your gender, one of the keys to starting a business is having the encouragement and support to do so. As we approach International Women’s Day, it’s always fantastic to see our women business owners speaking up to inspire others to navigate the challenges and ultimately reap the benefits of being their own boss.”