By Ellie Duncan
Increasing numbers of women are launching businesses in the UK, but female entrepreneurs face many challenges – especially when it comes to funding. A report published this year by The Female Founders Forum, called ‘Untapped unicorns’, found that male entrepreneurs are 86 per cent more likely to be venture capital (VC) funded and 56 per cent more likely to secure angel investment than female entrepreneurs. In recognition of International Youth Day on August 12th, UN Women NC UK spoke to three female millennial entrepreneurs about what inspired them to start their businesses and the challenges they overcame in the process.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
My background was in investment banking. But I managed a hip-hop artist in my spare time and I was going to a lot of entertainment events, and it dawned on me it was still quite difficult – especially in the mid-tier events space – to promote those events and sell tickets for them. When people are looking for something to do on a Friday, they will come onto our platform, discover a great event and then buy a ticket.
How did you feel about giving up your job and the security that came with it?
It actually wasn't that tough a decision in terms of starting the business. I was running the business alongside working full-time, just for a little bit while I was getting it off the ground.
What were the main challenges to overcome in starting up the business?
One of the key challenges was funding. I actually applied for an accelerator programme based in Silicon Valley, which is called Y Combinator. Doing that enabled me to get the seed investment I needed to fully concentrate on the business and hire the staff I needed.
What can the UK government or private sector do to encourage more young women to start businesses?
A challenge I have, still to this day, is I’m not technical. I’ve had to rely on other people to get my vision out there. Even if it’s not a tech heavy business, most businesses today are going to be tech enabled, so encouraging more girls to get involved in Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects is going to be critical. That’s really important for girls to be encouraged to code.
Why did you start your own jewellery business?
I really wanted to incorporate making something, with the spiritual principles I had shifted my life around. The idea behind the jewellery is it’s supposed to be empowering.
What were the main challenges you had to overcome to start the business?
For us, the biggest challenge was the production process. Everything we do is ethically sourced. Even when our stones, our crystals, our diamonds are produced, we make sure we know where they’re coming from. We’ve always overcome those production problems. Getting that right is the key to a successful retail business.
Is there enough support in the UK for young women who want to start their own company?
I think generally there is a lot of support. Our first ever office was a subsidised space. It was a collective in Camden and the rent was really cheap and they offered accounting support, and I think that was a really important phase for us, both practically and emotionally, to have a support network.
What can the UK government or private sector do to encourage more younger women to start businesses?
As a woman, statistically you’re much less likely to get investment than you are if you’re a man running a business. I think that could be slightly balanced out by government investment grants and schemes that support young women in starting a business. Out of chance, I only employ women. They get a very flexible schedule, and I think that’s a really lovely part of being a female business owner, is creating the culture you always wanted to have.
Where did the idea for Miss Macaroon come from?
I trained as a chef, then went into pastry. I wanted to set up a social enterprise. I was just looking for the right product and became obsessed by macaroons.
How does the business model work?
Miss Macaroon is a community interest company, so it’s a limited company but we’re also regulated. Our social aims are to provide training, employment, work experience and mentoring opportunities to long-term unemployed young people. We sell mainly to large corporates, we do a lot of wholesale and now [we have] our own retail store in Birmingham city centre. We sell really good products and then we use the profits we make to provide training opportunities through our ‘Macaroons that make a difference’ training course. To date we’ve had 26 young people on that course.
Is there enough support in the UK for millennial women who want to start their own company?
I’ve been on numerous courses that have been absolutely invaluable. The last one I went on was the Entrepreneurial Spark programme, powered by Natwest, and that’s a fantastic support programme.
What else do you think the UK government and private sector can do to encourage young women to start businesses?
What’s worked well for us is having our board members and mentors available. For me, having that sounding board, that strategic insight, just people to bounce ideas off, and just to provide that extra guidance has been fantastic. I actually probably use them much more now, as we’re scaling [the business], than I did in the beginning.