Ulster Bank sets up crowdfund project to give boost to female entrepreneurs
A new partnership between Ulster Bank and Crowdfunder will open up a new realm of funding for female entrepreneurs here and begin to "move the dial" on barriers facing female-led start-ups, an RBS chief has said.
Alison Rose, chief executive of commercial and private banking at NatWest, said the partnership, Back Her Business, follows on from the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship which sets out recommendations to improve female start-up and scale-up rates and contribute £250bn of new value to the UK economy.
"We did an evaluation of the barriers facing women and we looked at the statistics, and worked out that if we could get some of the best-in-class rates in other countries like Canada in terms of female entrepreneurship, you could be adding £250bn contribution to the economy, which is substantial," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
The Rose Review revealed only 5.6% of women run their own business and further data also shows that women are half as likely as men to start a business.
Ms Rose said she looked at a "practical set of interventions that will hopefully start moving the dial, because what I didn't want to do was just produce a report that stared at the problem".
The result is Northern Ireland's first female-only crowdfunding programme developed in partnership with established provider Crowdfunder.
Crowdfunder will provide the infrastructure and access to its wider network of partners and entrepreneurs, with the bank acting as a connector and enabler.
Though most of the funding will come from 'the crowd', the bank will provide a top-up in funding of £1m per annum and will be offering up to 50% of an individual's fundraising target (capped at £5,000) for certain successful projects.
The initiative will not be equity crowdfunding but donation and reward-based. Funders will be given a discount towards products or services in return for their donation in some instances.
Ms Rose said the programme was also a response to the confusion surrounding current financial start-up offers out there.
"There is a huge amount of venture capital money available but only 1% of female entrepreneurs were aware of the types of funding and where to go for help. There's also a lack of female representation in VC firms so this partnership is an extra source of funding," she said.
Women from all sectors are able to join and launch their business idea for crowdfunding. The programme forms parts of Ulster Bank, NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland's wider commitment to help, inspire and support a further 400,000 female-led businesses by 2025.
Back Her Business will also complement Ulster Bank's Entrepreneur Accelerator programme which has the highest female participation (53%) across the 12 programmes UK-wide.
Ms Rose, who is tipped to be part of the line-up to succeed current RBS chief executive Ross McEwan when he leaves next year, added: "This is a non-competitive sport. If we actually all lean in together, we can make a substantial difference to the start-up and business ecosystem and, in the end, the wider consumer.
"For too long women have been put off from starting a business by a number of factors; we want to make this a thing of the past because the opportunity and potential is there, and if you can move the dial you are really making a contribution to female entrepreneurs and the economy."
Asked if she was interested in pursuing the top role at RBS, Ms Rose said: "I'm very focused on my day job."