The number of women-led startups in the UK is on the rise, with over 140,000 new businesses launched last year. But while the presence of female entrepreneurs has increased, the long-lasting impact of Covid-19 could threaten progress towards gender equality.
During the pandemic, more women worked in sectors that were forced to close than men. Women’s businesses were also predicted to be less likely to recover. Such disparity extends beyond the UK; women across the globe have experienced poorer job security and higher profit losses compared to their male counterparts.
The latest Rose Review Progress Report, published in partnership with NatWest, recommended several measures to aid women-owned businesses, including boosting the number of female angel investors to improve access to funding. Although a lack of investment is a prime barrier to success, a multi-layered approach is needed to prevent the gender gap from widening once again.
To help nurture a diverse business community in the UK, we’ve put together a collection of women-centric groups and organisations that are dedicated to providing resources, networking opportunities, mentoring, and funding.
The British Association of Women Entrepreneurs
The British Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAWE) prides itself on being the only entrepreneurial network specifically for women with capital at risk in Britain. It was established in 1953 to offer members the opportunity to form prosperous relationships and garner support from like-minded business owners worldwide.
BAWE membership, which is open to founders and directors with valuable connections, grants access to exclusive events, educational workshops, promotional opportunities, and industry discounts that support business growth. Membership starts at £250 per year and is by application only.
The AllBright club provides a unique environment for women to meet, create, and collaborate through digital and physical community spaces. Since launching in 2017, the platform has aimed to promote female entrepreneurship with high-quality training, events, content, networking, and coaching opportunities.
AllBright's free membership includes access to a range of helpful resources such as e-newsletters, blog articles, online courses, and a member directory. Paid plans start from £8.33 per month and offer daily virtual events, exclusive networking, sisterhood matching, and tailored peer groups.
Female Entrepreneurship Association
Manchester-based Female Entrepreneurship Association (FEA) aims to empower women to run successful businesses, with 650,000 women worldwide joining its network since 2011. The online hub is packed with free tools to help women at all stages of their business journey. For example, business owners can tune into the weekly 'She Means Business' show to hear from other entrepreneurs and learn from their experiences.
FEA membership includes a business checklist, expert masterclasses, live Q&A sessions, networking opportunities with 5,000 entrepreneurs, and an array of other resources. Enrolment is currently closed, but you can sign up to a waiting list here.
Women in Business Network
Women in Business Network (WIBN) invites women who own a small business, are self-employed, or provide a service to SMEs to join their community. In doing so, women can find new ways to collaborate, share knowledge, form professional relationships, and discover word-of-mouth referrals. Networks are underpinned by regional or national groups that host regular, structured meet-ups, either online or in person. All sessions are held during school hours to accommodate those with caring responsibilities.
Via the WIBN Networking Portal, members can set up a business profile page, directly contact one another, and visit online forums. Members also received brand exposure through listings in the Member Directory, guest writing, and social media promotions. Annual membership fees start from £240 and can be paid monthly or annually.
Women in Rural Enterprise
Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE) is a national business network aimed at women in rural settings. The organisation was built on the premise that networking is the best tactic for business improvement. Across its 50 networks, WiRE supports and promotes women whether they’ve just launched a startup or run a revenue-generating enterprise.
WiRE membership allows women to share their expertise and knowledge with others looking to grow their businesses. As part of your membership, priced at £50 per annum, you’ll receive a listing in WiRE’s online marketplace and be invited to attend in-person or virtual meetings, depending on regional availability.
Women Mean Biz
Women Mean Biz (WMB) is a network of businesswomen from companies of all sizes, from startups to large corporations. As a subset of We Mean Biz, these all-women groups meet every month for a two-hour lunchtime session, during which members can share ideas, swap contacts, explore partnerships, and get peer advice.
There are five membership levels available by application only. Each brings benefits such as monthly networking lunches, expert talks, webinars, skills workshops, speaking slots, and industry discounts. All members have an in-depth profile listed in an online directory and get free access to training sessions. Workshops are also available to non-members for a small fee.
First launched in 2020, the ‘Women Business Leader’s Mentoring Programme’ has re-opened following two successful intakes. This year, Santander will pair over 200 women with experienced business owners from different sectors to stimulate innovative thinking. The mentorship scheme forms part of the bank's commitment to improving women’s access to tools, resources, and finance as a signatory of the Investing in Women Code.
Registration is currently open for the 2023 edition. To apply, you must be a woman and be the owner or majority shareholder of a business with an annual turnover of up to £6.5 million.
Women in PR
The Women in PR Mentoring Programme was set up in 2014 to increase the presence and diversity of women at leadership level in PR and communications. Since then, the scheme has supported 75 women from a range of backgrounds in achieving their career goals. Participants receive 12 months of mentorship, which includes three comprehensive sessions plus additional support at their discretion.
Applications for the 2022 mentoring programme are not open yet, so check the website for future updates. Alternatively, you can enrol as a member for regular networking events, meetings with other business leaders, and exclusive discounts. Membership is open to senior and middle-management women, costing £100 per year.
Women in Business NI
Women in Business (WIB) NI is Northern Ireland’s leading support network for businesswomen, helping them build working relationships, develop skills, and reach their career goals. By equipping women with the necessary skills to start or grow a business, WIB aims to expand women's role in the economy.
Membership is open to business owners, sole traders, CEOs, and managers. As a member, you can benefit from online events and workshops, guest writing opportunities, training courses, and the WIB Mentoring Programme. The 12-month programme is open to new candidates three times per year and matches 30 individuals per intake. Individual membership is priced monthly at £5.
Female Founders Fund
The Female Founders Fund (FFF) is an early-stage tech fund that invests exclusively in companies led by women within the B2B, consumer, healthcare, and fintech sectors. While based in New York, it has also made investments in areas including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London. Following a third round of funding in 2021, FFF now has the largest seed capital fund earmarked for women.
The investment group makes between six and eight investments each year, typically ranging from $500,000 to $750,000. Alongside its investment pot, it also provides valuable resources such as a podcast, interactive events, and community connections.
Cartier Women's Initiative
Cartier Women’s Initiative, founded in 2006, is an annual programme that aims to drive global change in entrepreneurship. It’s open to women-run and women-owned businesses from across the globe that seek a positive social or environmental impact.
Three fellows from each region in the awards scheme receive a grant of up to $100,000 depending on their place in the judging. Aside from the financial rewards, the initiative also provides support in the form of mentorship to instil fellows with the skills to grow their businesses and improve their leadership. Applications for the 2023 awards open on 16th May 2022 and close in July.
Angel Academe is an award-winning angel network that launched in 2014. Its aim is to increase women’s share of investment within the UK technology industry by growing the number of female angel investors. Angel Academe’s panel, comprised mostly of women, seeks investment opportunities in ambitious, scalable businesses with one or more female founders. Since its inception, members have invested in 35 companies, including EnterpriseAlumni, The Dots, and Higher Steaks.
Prospective applicants can submit their interest online without introduction. Those who pass the initial screening and selection process are invited to attend a monthly pitching event to present to investors.
Fund Her North
Fund her North was established in partnership with NatWest in 2020 to improve access to funding for female-led businesses in the North of England. The volunteer collective includes over 30 women from venture capital firms, funding organisations, and angel networks with a combined investment power of over £650 million.
Fund Her North has a free membership package with the opportunity to apply for mentorship, access educational resources, and attend industry events.
Since launching in 2014, Fleximize has helped thousands of businesses to achieve business growth, many of which were started or run by women. We understand the challenges that face small business owners, so our team avoids blanket rules during the underwriting process. This approach has enabled us to support entrepreneurs like Natalie Mohacs, founder of The Lounging Hound, and salon owner Olivia Crighton. You can learn more about our customers, and our speedy funding solutions, by visitng our case study page.
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