Mary-Jane Kingsland - Focusing on the three Fs is the best way to help women in business
21:34 30 November 2012
A couple of triggers have focused my attention on the F word recently.
Or to be prosaic, a plethora of Fs, Funding For Female entrepreneurs.
So let’s start with funding.
In October I attended the New Anglia’s Business Conference in Ipswich, where business minister Michael Fallon confirmed that East Anglia is seen by the cabinet as a growth region.
After being awarded £3m from the government’s Regional Growth Fund, New Anglia intends to create around 500 jobs by offering business growth grants of between £25,000 and £100,000 to SMEs in Norwich, Ipswich, Great Yarmouth and Waveney.
This in itself is intended to lever another £12m of private sector funding and grants will be to a maximum of 20pc of a proposed expansion project.
So far so good.
The second prompt was a rather feisty, wine-fuelled discussion over the dinner table, where I enjoyed a lively and sometimes passionate debate about what SMEs needed to beat the recession and create sustainable business for the future.
I argued that access to supportive funding was inherently more difficult for business women.
While acknowledging our points of difference, we agreed on two important factors: access to the right finance at key stages of a business’s evolution is vital, but finding out what finance is available and/or securing a “match pot” is a major headache.
Moreover, once you are aware that funding is available; how do you know whether or not you qualify?
For example, if you take the New Anglia initiative, what measure of an SME is being applied?
I have noticed differentiation in definition; 75pc of UK SMEs could be construed as sole traders, 95pc in this smaller end of the market employ less than nine staff.
Female owned businesses are generally among this count and figures produced by the Home Office confirm that if women set up businesses at the same rate as men, there would be an extra 150,000 start-ups in the UK each year.
However, female entre-preneurs are historically more cautious about funding their business. Research demonstrates that women finance at significantly lower levels – raising, on average, only a third of that raised by male owned businesses.
The reasons for this are complex, but it may include a greater fear of risk and social expectation, often exacerbated by the lending habits of mainstream banks who, anecdotally, are likely to impose a higher interest rate and demand a greater amount of collateral to support borrowing. The net effect is that women seek and are being given less – and their lack of capitalisation naturally affects their potential for growth.
In my experience, the most often cited factors which encourage more women to set up a business are: greater financial assistance, funding and help with childcare.
In a nutshell, it boils down to three Fs – Female, Friendly, Funding, designed to support female-led businesses, old and new, to really boost the economy.
Mary-Jane Kingsland is a registered growth coach.