In 2018, the UK Treasury commissioned Alison Rose, then Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive of commercial banking and now NatWest Group CEO, to lead an independent review of female entrepreneurship.
Her report shed a light on the barriers faced by women starting and growing businesses and identified ways of unlocking this untapped talent.
One of its key findings was that £250 billion could be added to the UK economy if women in the UK matched men in starting and scaling businesses.
The Government has since announced a plan to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by half by 2030, equivalent to nearly 600,000 additional female entrepreneurs.
NatWest’s team in Birmingham brought together a panel for a special event in the city to discuss some of the key topics in the area of female entrepreneurship.
– Kameese Davis, founder, Nylah’s Naturals and Dragons’ Den contestant
– Peter Flavel, chief executive, Coutts
– Rosie Ginday, founder, Miss Macaroon
– Margaret Jobling, chief marketing officer, NatWest
– Debbie Lewis, regional ecosystem manager, NatWest
– Pam Sheemar, panel chairwoman and director of commercial banking for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, NatWest
– Laura Suffolk, West Midlands regional director for corporate and commercial banking, NatWest
Pam Sheemar, NatWest’s director of commercial banking for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire and global co-chair of its multicultural network, hosted the event which was entitled ‘Rose Review – The road out of the pandemic for female entrepreneurs’.
She commenced proceedings by asking what some of the positives had been which had come about as a result of the pandemic.
Rosie Ginday founded and runs Birmingham-based social enterprise Miss Macaroon which makes a wide variety of macaron biscuits and also has a shop in the city’s Great Western Arcade and Resorts World in Solihull.
She told the event: “For us, it’s been really important to see that we’ve had a much stronger relationship with our customers. Ninety per cent of our business was corporate before the pandemic so we’ve had to move to a direct-to-consumer business and really focus on closer connections to our customers.
“It’s been amazing to keep building and responding to what they actually wanted and, because of that, go into new markets and new ways of communicating. I think people are now much more open to innovation as well.”
Margaret Jobling has been chief marketing officer for NatWest Group for almost two years and has experience of senior marketing roles in the utilities and consumer goods sectors.
She said: “We saw a massive shift to digital but the big thing now is the move to flexible working – I don’t think we’ll ever go back to five days in the office.
“The ability to manage home, life and work is now like never before. We’ve seen a bigger shift in working practices in the last two years than we saw in the last 50.”
There are many barriers which stop female entrepreneurs from launching or growing their own businesses, with both role models and access to finance often cited as being two of the most problematic.
Laura Suffolk, West Midlands regional director for corporate and commercial banking with NatWest, said the issue of role models was highlighted at business events she had hosted which brought together female entrepreneurs and investors.
“We talked about the challenges of gaining equity finance and trying to educate about the investment landscape which, even for someone who works in banking, is a bit of a minefield,” she told the event.
“What I found worked really well was where we had both a female investor and a female business owner coming together. It really opened up and demystified some of the language.
“People got to ask questions, which maybe they thought were silly questions, and meet like-minded individuals. It opened people’s eyes.
“They saw other people go through similar processes and realised ‘My business is like yours’. Having a female investor broke away from the stereotypes of what people thought a typical investor would be.
“I thought it was really positive and great to see that, as part of the next steps of the Rose Review, we are looking to get more female investors because there really aren’t enough at the moment.”
Kameese Davis, from Sandwell, is the founder of Nylah’s Naturals, a range of beauty products for people with afro or textured hair, who also won investment on BBC show Dragons’ Den last year.
She said the biggest barrier for her since launching the business had been access to finance, exemplified by the fact she won backing on Dragons’ Den but turned it down in the aftermath of the show’s recording as she did not feel the deal was right for her.
“It has been an uphill battle – trying to find alternative working capital has been significantly difficult as there are several challenges that we face that are unique to us,” she told delegates.
“Firstly, there is not a lot of representation from female investors so it can be a challenge in understanding the products we are selling.
“The double whammy I have is that I am also serving a niche market so unfortunately a lot of the investors don’t understand the size of the opportunity – it’s an £8 billion market.
“When I have approached investors, I’ve been told I am not quite at their risk criteria so I’ve done more work, reached that criteria only to be told down the line it has changed.
“I know I will find the right investor for me but it’s important not to take something that doesn’t align with what you are as a business and where you want your brand to go.
“We need an opportunity which has been developed especially for people who are under-represented to be able to access the funds we need to grow.
“I’m a mum as well which means the amount of time I would like to spend growing the business, I cannot. I feel sometimes there’s ignorance about the challenges that women and mums face and I feel that needs to be explored and discussed more.”
So in light of these issues, what more can be done by organisations and corporations to help companies grow after the pandemic?
Peter Flavel is chief executive of Coutts, the private bank and wealth manager owned by NatWest Group.
“That connectivity between people, talking about what they have done and how they have overcome barriers, is very powerful but, when it comes to it, you need money,” he told the event.
“We have done a joint venture with the BGF to launch the ‘UK Enterprise Fund’, putting money from Coutts’ clients into that fund which is then invested specifically in diverse and female-led businesses.
“NatWest has a target of 30 per cent investment into private companies led by women by 2030. The UK enterprise Fund currently sits at £50 million and this is a lot of money but, in terms of the scale of what is needed in financial terms to truly meet the needs of female-led businesses, much greater investment is required.
“It’s one of those things where the journey has to start with a small step. Success is building and it’s a really good step but there are a lot more that need to be taken.”
Margaret Jobling added: “There’s a lot more we can do in terms of partnering and we have a big role to play in the industry in terms of how we can put pressure on other businesses and take the leadership stance which is where Alison came from with the Rose Review.
“We have a big voice in the industry so how do we use that to help people access finance and support?”
The discussion concluded with something every entrepreneur needs, practical advice.
Debbie Lewis is the regional ecosystem manager for NatWest in the Midlands and East of England which includes running its accelerator programme for new and growing businesses at its base in Brindleyplace.
She said entrepreneurs needed to surround themselves with a network of like-minded individuals who would tell them what they have learned and discovered and where they did it.
“We call it ‘leaving the ladder down’ so when you have achieved something then help the next woman along,” she said.
“We work with so many community stakeholders who have solutions for you but the trouble is there are so many working in silos that what we actually need to do is work together more collaboratively to help people navigate that landscape so they can get there more quickly.
“We know it’s a full-time job but my ask is for you to be a little bit louder and braver because I am not seeing enough women coming forward and saying ‘I am ready’ and ‘I want this’.
“That’s my challenge to you – if that’s you, then maybe just crank up the volume.”