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Oxfordshire entrepreneurship - is the future female? - news article image

Oxfordshire entrepreneurship - is the future female?

21 Jun 2017

4 minute read

There’s an array of support for entrepreneurs in Oxfordshire and a growing number of networking, career development resources tailored for women. Are we seeing a new era for entrepreneurship that is more female?

In this interview Oxford-based Georgina Atwell, founder of successful children’s books website Toppsta, defines entrepreneurship as “anyone who has the vision and the drive to do something differently. Whether you’re spotting a gap … or creating a new market, it comes from deep inside. Your ability to convey that passion and inspire others, will make or break your business.”

The idea for Georgina’s business came to her when her son was young. As she talked with other parents she realised they craved guidance on the best books for their children. Toppsta was born.

Georgina cites ‘Vision, Flexibility and Courage’ as the essential qualities for entrepreneurship. As an accountant I see these qualities time and again in the female business owners I work with, advise and support. Many, like Georgina, started their businesses when their children were young, when self employment can fit well with juggling time and family resources.

But, as any seasoned entrepreneur knows, to get your idea off the ground and turn it into a successfully trading business, takes energy, focus and as little distraction as possible.

You also need to be able to ask to help when you need it.

Are female entrepreneurs on the rise?

Research by RBS and Development Economics, found that female entrepreneurs contribute around £3.5bn to the UK economy. But as a proportion of the UK female working population their numbers have declined in recent years, doubling to 7.1% between 2009 and 2012, but falling to less than 5% in 2015.

Statistics suggest that women are better at getting their ideas off the ground, but tend to close more businesses than men. Between 2008 and 2011, 80% of newly self-employed were women, but the ‘churn rate’ (more startups and closures) is higher among female-owned enterprises. However, a greater proportion of closures are due to personal reasons than actual business failure so this doesn’t mean women are less able at growing their businesses (Office of National Statistics 2013).

What are the barriers?

Reasons for the tailing off of female entrepreneurship will vary across the UK. In Oxfordshire, the barriers for all startups are well known - the high cost of accommodation and wages are massive hurdles. Our regional economy is skewed towards the SET (science, engineering and technology) sectors where nationally there are 10 times as many male-owned than female-owned SET companies (Office for National Statistics).

Women with business ideas are more encouraged by the examples set by successful entrepreneurs. Our region’s success stories, such as Immunocure, Funding Circle and Natural Motion, are all amazing but thin on the ground when it comes to offering female entrepreneurial icons.

It’s also a fact that women also tend to start businesses under-capitalised. I’m sure that for lots of reasons, many begin from a lower resource base than men. The RBS Group found in 2013 that women have lower levels of financial, human and social resources overall than men, knocking their prospects and confidence.

Oxfordshire initiatives

Despite all this there’s no doubt that entrepreneurial activity is flourishing in our region. A recent .UK Domain report crowns Oxford as top for all entrepreneurs who are searching online for a location to start a business.

At Shaw Gibbs we are involved in or support many initiatives to help a whole variety of entrepreneurs. Those who need the necessary business skills to get their idea off the ground we recommend Fab Accelerator. This dynamic training programme gives insight and perspective from business leaders and owners who have ‘been there.’ For women it provides well structured skills training, a chance to pitch to potential investors and, perhaps most importantly, a great source for business connections and networking.

Tech Pixies was founded by social entrepreneur Joy Foster ‘to help Mums upskill and return to work.’ While aimed at all women returning to the workplace, participants in the programme have said it has provided benefits for boosting confidence and networking, which are of course valuable to entrepreneurs.

Joy Foster is also one of the brains behind TechTonic, a major platform to bring together and support women in Oxfordshire working in technology, engineering and science in Oxfordshire. At this year’s Venturefest, the Tech Tonic Conference will address the problem of why too few women-led businesses reach the same economic scale as that achieved by male-led companies, drawing on a report from Barclays and The Female Founders Forum entitled ‘Untapped Unicorns: Scaling up Female Entrepreneurship.

In conclusion, Georgina Attwell certainly hit the nail on the head when vision, flexibility and courage are the top skills required for entrepreneurs. So if you’re a woman with a great business idea, don’t be put off. Pull in as much help that you can and, before you know it, you’ll be our region’s next business icon.

Oxfordshire entrepreneurship - is the future female? - news article image


Sarah Gardener

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