Women are a key source of untapped potential which we need to harness to boost economic growth in the UK.”

Cilla Snowball, CBE (Chair)

4. Enterprise: helping women gain the necessary skills to set up and run their own business

Entrepreneur working at a computer

Strategic objectives

Support economic growth, by:

  • ensuring women understand how enterprise opportunities can offer financial independence and flexibility in the workplace; and,
  • helping women to gain the necessary skills to run their own business.


  • Embed enterprise in the education system so girls see enterprise as a viable career option and equipping them with the skills they need to start up their own business.
  • Encourage women looking for more flexibility in the workplace to consider enterprise as a career option and provide them with support.


Women are about half as likely as men to be entrepreneurs

The proportion of working-age women who are engaged in entrepreneurial activity was 6.3% in 2012 compared to 11.6% for men

Source: Global Entrepreneurship Monitor

Women in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

19% of SMEs are majority-led* by women

* Either run by a woman or have a management team that is over 50% women

Where as 49% of SMEs are entirely led by men

Source: BIS Small Business Survey 2012

What is stopping women from starting up their own businesses?

Many women perceive access to finance as a barrier to starting up their own business and currently women-led SMEs are less likely to use external finance than men. However, there is evidence to suggest that those who did apply for finance were more successful than male-led SMEs51.

The evidence suggests that women are less likely than men to think they have the skills needed to start a business and are more likely to be prevented by a fear of failure. In 2011, only 29% of women felt they had the skills to start a business, compared with 45% of men52. This may be linked to wider issues of lacking self-confidence rather than an actual lack of skills.

Speaking to women, we have heard that there aren’t enough diverse female role models to inspire them and show them it is possible to become an entrepreneur.

It is vital that we support women to realise their potential, to equip them with the skills and the confidence they require and to support them on their journey to starting a business.


1. Promoting enterprise through education

Promoting entrepreneurship in early education stages and equipping young women with skills, networking opportunities and confidence is crucial to ensuring a future generation of female entrepreneurs. There are already excellent examples of good practice in this area, for example through the work of Young Enterprise which offers a wealth of practical ways to help young people aged 14-25 to get a taste for running their own business. Lucy Cohen and Sophie Hughes, founders of Mazuma UK Ltd, are a good example of successful female entrepreneurs who attribute their achievements to taking part in Young Enterprise during their college years.

Go to Mazuma case study

We want to make sure this opportunity is consistent and available to all, and to ensure that all young women who are considering setting up their own business know enterprise is a career option and can access the support they need.

What Government should do

  • Research good practice by mapping which colleges and initiatives result in high levels of successful entrepreneurs to see what works and can be replicated elsewhere.
  • Review the effectiveness of the existing youth micro finance schemes for secondary school children and expand these if they are proven to stimulate greater entrepreneurship.

What business should do

  • Utilise the British Chambers of Commerce women’s business networks (supported by Government) and bring together organisations like Everywoman, Enterprising Women, Sistatalk and WiRE to promote an industry-led approach – working with schools to raise girls’ awareness of enterprise as a career opportunity.
  • Support the development and testing of a college and school module on starting up a business to ensure it encompasses the right skills.

2. Increasing the availability of role models

83% of women who have started their own business have known someone else who has done so53. This demonstrates the importance of role models in inspiring women to believe that becoming an entrepreneur is a viable career option.

What Government should do

Promote female entrepreneurs though the newly appointed Entrepreneur in Residence.

Go to Pistashio Rose case study

What business should do

  • Entrepreneurs should sign up to Inspiring the Future and similar programmes, which in turn should expand their range of female entrepreneur speakers who could be utilised by educational institutions and women’s networks.
  • Demonstrate the benefit of business mentoring and tap into existing networks and resources. There are many examples where accessing mentoring services has been key to the success of a start up business.
Go to Clear Direction Life and Business Coaching case study

3. Access to finance

Women consistently say access to finance is a barrier to them starting their own business. We want to encourage more women to consider all the finance options available to them, including from alternative sources such as crowd funding and angel investors, and support them in accessing finance. So, when a great idea occurs to them, they know where to get the initial capital to start their business.

What Government should do

  • Promote access to finance information to female entrepreneurs.

What business should do

  • At a local level the British Chambers of Commerce should share the good practice from their women networks to highlight opportunities to access finance.
  • Financial institutions should ensure they market their services to women who want to set up their own business. Natwest is one of the high street banks already active in this area. They currently have 200 Women in Business specialists throughout the UK and work closely with organisations such as Everywoman, Encouraging Women into Franchising and WEConnect Europe. We would encourage other banks to provide this level of service to women who want to set up their own business.

4. Promoting support for women who want to start a business

The differences between men’s and women’s aspirations, and between the sectors they tend to work in, are not always reflected in the current support services which – women entrepreneurs tell us – can often take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to delivering information. We want to make sure that women who want to start up their own business get good quality information which is relevant to them.

What Government should do

  • Work with business to create a new portal (or app) for advice and support which provides a route map into enterprise, highlights opportunities and provides skills self- assessment.
  • Broaden messages on what an enterprise is and ensure marketing of support services is inclusive, in recognition of the differences between men and women entrepreneurs.
  • The JobCentre Plus Emergency Support Service should include enterprise support and this option should be marketed clearly to women.

What business should do

Next: Next steps