Belfast Telegraph

Efforts to encourage more female entrepreneurs go on

From left: John Ferris, Ulster Bank; Suzanne Wylie, chief executive, Belfast City Council; Claudine Owens, portfolio manager, Clarendon Fund managers and Shane O’Hanlon, InterTrade Ireland
From left: John Ferris, Ulster Bank; Suzanne Wylie, chief executive, Belfast City Council; Claudine Owens, portfolio manager, Clarendon Fund managers and Shane O’Hanlon, InterTrade Ireland

By John Ferris, Ulster Bank

One of the key findings from the Alison Rose Review of Entrepreneurship stated that boosting female entrepreneurship could inject as much as £250bn into the UK economy.

Commissioned by the government and issued earlier this year, the purpose of the report was to examine the barriers facing women in business and what measures could be implemented to overcome them.

Given the size of the opportunity, the stakes are undoubtedly high. Put simply, no government can afford to ignore the issue of gender gaps in business any longer, not only because of the moral implications involved , but also with the economic growth opportunity that could be generated from tapping into female talent.

The Rose Review identified a series of problems that still exist for female entrepreneurs, even in 2019. Helpfully, there are clear solutions to many of these issues and these are being addressed right across our network of 12 accelerator hubs based across the UK.

I'm proud to be able to say that within Ulster Bank's Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme last year, 53% of the intake was female. That said, this doesn't allow us to rest on our laurels and we are working hard to sustain and even grow this figure.

A significant factor in fuelling the imbalance is the gender investment gap. This refers to the fact that fewer women raise finance than their male counterparts and when they do, women will ask for a smaller amount than men. Various theories exist to explain this problem but they almost all have to do with a lack of confidence.

Last Thursday more than 250 delegates descended on Belfast's City Hall for Ulster Bank's Female Investment Day where we put many of these problems on the table and invited business leaders, entrepreneurs, funders and advisors to try and get to the bottom of them. I hope that hearing the personal experience of investors and investees will have been a valuable experience for those in the room and want to thank both Yolanda and Irene from We are Paradoxx and Bella Moon, for taking the time to share their story. Many important lessons were learned through the facilitated discussions which took place and we were fortunate that our line-up of high calibre speakers took the time to be involved.

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A common thread through each of the sessions was that collectively, we need to be better at supporting women and equipping them to grow in confidence. I'm glad that this is already an important focus within Ulster Bank's Accelerator programme and, going forward, it's something we plan to concentrate on more. We are mindful of bringing diversity to our panels, bringing in attainable role models as speakers and hope to support a female founders club.

The value peer support can bring to women, or indeed anyone, in business should not be underestimated. Having the encouragement of other like-minded women and creating a space where female entrepreneurs feel confident to ask questions and share insight is an enormous asset. I want to encourage everyone who attended Thursday's event to see it as the beginning of a new network and to keep the conversations going in the months and years ahead.

The Rose Review also revealed that fewer than 6% of women run their own business and that male-led businesses are still five times more likely to scale than their female-led counterparts. Creating a strong network for female entrepreneurs is the first step towards rebalancing this problem and making these stats a thing of the past.

The closing slot of our conference was given to two highly energetic and articulate 11-year-olds who reminded the audience that what they do now paves the way for entrepreneurs of the future. I know everyone will have been inspired by their eloquent pitch and pick up the gauntlet to create more equal opportunities for the next generation.

John Ferris is Ulster Bank's entrepreneur development manager

Belfast Telegraph