Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank: Supporting female entrepreneurs' ambition to succeed

My view: Ellvena Graham, head of Ulster Bank Northern Ireland and managing director, SME banking

At Ulster Bank, we provide support and advice to many great female entrepreneurs right across Northern Ireland every day. I firmly believe that encouraging more women into business is a necessary step in building a stronger economy.

In my own experience, being a woman hasn't been a disadvantage in the business world. However, Ulster Bank is committed to supporting and driving initiatives that make sure this is the case for all female entrepreneurs.

We do this in part by celebrating successes. It's fitting that the Judge's Special Recognition award in this year's Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards went to Janet McCollum, chief executive of Moy Park, one of our most prominent local firms.

I was also pleased to see the women-led Business Award at the same ceremony going to Helen Arnold from TVM. We added this section to the awards to ensure due recognition of our female entrepreneurs - but it's clear that they have a significant presence in all. Seeing those who have secured success and understanding why they are successful provides a benchmark and an inspiration for individuals (of any gender) at an earlier stage in their plans for business growth.

In order to help those people take the next step up, a significant part of the support we offer comes through Business Women Can, part of the Small Business Can network, which itself has 20,000 members and 600 bloggers.

Starting a company from scratch can be tough, and this site provides a learning resource powered by the experience of others, offering access to people's authentic experiences of the highs and lows of running a company. Business Women Can also includes opportunities for women in business to receive mentoring support through a network of ambassadors, local entrepreneurs and Ulster Bank employees, who can provide helpful tips and advice to those just starting out. Ulster Bank's Business Women Can ambassadors are trained and focussed on understanding the products, services and practical support tools needed when starting or running a business and are committed to supporting businesswomen across Northern Ireland.

As part of connecting members with these ambassadors, we recently hosted a market event for local business women, offering them the chance to network with their peers and get a head start on their Christmas shopping.

With more than 60 guests hearing from leaders such as Ruth Wilson, founder and managing director of Beaufort Interiors and Brenda Shankey, co-director of Jason Shankey Male Grooming, it represented an excellent opportunity for people to see tangible proof of the talent pool of female entrepreneurs.

Our Enterprise Minister, the head of our Chamber of Commerce and the head of our largest company are all female leaders with significant sway in our local business culture.

A recent report by BNP Paribas highlighted that women entrepreneurs typically launch about five businesses compared to 4.3 for their male counterparts, and the average turnover of the primary business of women entrepreneurs, at $9.1m, is higher, compared to $8.4m for men. We all stand to gain from increased opportunity for businesswomen. As we continue to grow as a services economy, and compete internationally for investment and export opportunities, we are best served by creating a level-playing field for all our entrepreneurs.

As a bank, one of the ways that we can help with this is committing to provide sustainable funding and support. Through our day-to-day business banking activity, our staff provide guidance and services to many women. We can help support ambition because we understand our customers. We want to ensure that Northern Ireland develops many strong, female-led businesses both now and in the longer term.

For more information on what's available to female entrepreneurs, you can visit

Belfast Telegraph