A space for female founders to grow

Female founded-businesses are thriving, but they need more investment and support – a new programme provides just that.

female CEO

CEO owner leader company staff member portrait, possibly finance, accountant, attorney, manager

Today marks the launch of the Female Founders Growth programme, which aims to help female-founded businesses looking for investment of 250K or more to upscale. Set up by Karen Holden [pictured below], founder of A City Law Firm and one of workingmums.co.uk regular contributors, the sold-out inaugural programme provides much needed space and support. It comes after the Government launched a taskforce to support fast-growing women-led businesses last year. and amid figures from the Gender Index showing only 0.8% of venture capitalist investment currently goes to female-led businesses, a tiny amount which shows how far we still have to go to get women-founded businesses on an equal footing to those founded by men. Nevertheless, the statistics show that women-led businesses are growing at a faster rate than those led by men and studies suggest they deliver higher revenue than those founded by men.

The Female Founders Growth programme gives women founders practical advice, drafted documents, investment and infrastructure through workshops, pitching opportunities, one-to-one consultations and weekly peer meetings as well as office space.

Over the years workingmums.co.uk has interviewed many female founders, most recently a whole set of everywoman winners in a range of different industries – all of them hugely resilient and creative. They have to be in today’s turbulent economic climate. All of them tell it like it is in the interviews. Too often in media interviews with businesswomen the focus is on positivity and ‘success’, but that doesn’t help anyone because it doesn’t reflect the reality of founders’ struggles and the extent of their achievement and it doesn’t prepare those following in their footsteps.

Suzy Dean founded her IT business AddIn365 in 2015. She worked around the clock to get it going in the early years and has had to overcome a lot of male bias in the tech sector.  In the interview she mentioned going to a CEO meeting where people complained that she did not deserve to be there.  She tried to talk to people at events and they turned their backs to stop her joining conversations.  She worked through two pregnancies and returned to work three days after giving birth to her first child. Her second was born in the Covid lockdown. During her maternity leave she managed to increase turnover by 47% and bring 16 new products to market, making her first million in profit.

Liz Colleran of sleep product company Duvalay says her time as a business owner has been driven by hard work and facing up to challenge after challenge. Liz says her approach is to give herself 24 hours to come to terms with the problem and then she carries on. “I think ‘that’s it – stop feeling sorry for yourself’,” she says. “There have been a lot of challenges, but in the last three to four years, apart from Covid, things have been getting better and more stable or maybe I’ve just got used to it. You just pick yourself up because no-one else will.”

Sarah Pittendrigh speaks to a lot of women founders and CEOs through her mentoring business. She says many have hit a wall. Part of this is also because there are so many unrealistic stories around which give a false idea of what it is like being a woman running a business. These make others feel like a failure and unable to seek the support they need. “Social media can do so much good, but if people are lying on it it gives a false sense of reality and that is making people ill,” she states.

Pittendrigh knows what she’s talking about because she has been there herself. She has seen the ups and downs close up. When the corporate events business she helped to build up collapsed as a result of a contract with a large hotel group and the recession, she was in danger of her house being repossessed. A single mum at the time to a nine year old son, she turned her life around, shelving all her self-doubt and pivoting to running Simply bows and chair covers, a high-end linen business that caters to hotels offering luxury experiences. Within 14 months she was turning over 79K pounds with a 30K pound profit. She saved her house and won several awards.

She, like Karen Holden and many others, are paying it back now, giving other women founders practical tools and a safe space to negotiate a business world that is slanted against them. Long may they prosper.



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