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Womens' Enterprise Centre of Expertise

Rosie Winterton

By Rosie Winterton

Minister for Regional Economic Development and Coordination

1 Dec 2009, Aston Villa Football Club, Birmingham


I am very pleased to be here today to celebrate the work of the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise [WECOE] over the past two years.

The centre has done some outstanding research to build the economic case for women’s enterprise in the region. This is vital to ensure more women are given the support - and the confidence - they need to launch their own business. We will be hearing more about the research later this morning.

Marla [Nelson, WECoE chief exec], it is no exaggeration to say this project wouldn’t have happened without you and your team, so thank you for all your hard work.

I believe it’s vital that more women turn their business idea into commercial reality. It is just as crucial for our economy as it is for gender equality.

Women in enterprise

Because, today, just 15% of the 4.8 million small businesses in this country are led by women. But if women started new businesses at the same rate as men, we would have an extra 150,000 start-ups each year in Britain. That is a real waste of talent.

Although British women are more enterprising than their European counterparts, the US, by comparison, has 20% more businesses per head than the UK – and our lower rate of female entrepreneurship is a major contributing factor. If we matched the enterprise levels of American women we would have another 900,000 firms.

And we must meet the needs of ethnic minority women entrepreneurs. In the past four years their number has risen by 43%, which is fantastic, but we have to give them the right support to grow their businesses. So I am pleased the Ethnic Minority Business Advocacy Network has been set up by the RDAs to continue this work.

There is a huge economic prize at stake here and we must help more women unleash their enterprising spirit. The economic boost it would give UK Plc, and the West Midlands’ economy, as the recovery gets underway is too big to ignore.

Research findings

As the research published today by the centre shows, the West Midlands could close its productivity gap with the other English regions if more of its women ran their own businesses. Just 10% of the region’s growing businesses are owned by women, compared with 13% nationally. So increasing this percentage would also boost the West Midlands’ productivity.

The seismic shifts in the global economy are opening up new opportunities for entrepreneurs who spot the potential that lies in these challenges. We need women to grasp them so our recovery is as strong as possible – it’s all hands to the deck.

Women have a track record of innovation and creativity in business. But they are still the largest under-represented group among entrepreneurs. Research has shown that women have a greater fear of risk and debt than men. And they are less likely to believe they have the skills to launch their own start-up. We have to close that confidence gap.

There is already a lot of good work. In Yorkshire and the Humber, where I am the Regional Minister, a women’s enterprise network set up by Yorkshire Forward – Forward Ladies – is providing support to aspiring entrepreneurs. It also supports another group, the Two Percent Club, which exists to get more women onto company boards in the region.

Elsewhere, specialist organisations such as Women in Rural Enterprise and the Women’s Business Development Agency, based here in the West Midlands, are helping thousands of businesswomen get new companies off the ground each year. And our national network of 1,300 women’s enterprise ambassadors are inspiring and mentoring the next generation of female entrepreneurs.

The Aspire Fund

 We have also launched the Aspire fund. To encourage more women entrepreneurs to exploit equity finance - and demonstrate to investors that companies run by women offer attractive investment opportunities.

Polly Gowers, the first woman entrepreneur to secure investment from Aspire, is here today. Her innovative web business, Everyclick, is leading the way in enabling charities to raise money. I hope Polly and all of you will help us spread the word about the Aspire Fund so it can benefit more women.

We have to ensure that more talented women like Polly succeed. So as a Government we are taking an interventionist approach to nurture the recovery - targeting action where it can have most impact, in high-tech, high-value sectors like advanced manufacturing, business services and creative industries.

Support from Advantage West Midlands

The West Midlands, perhaps more than any other English region, has felt the impact of the recession because of its position as the UK’s industrial heartland. The investments we are making through our £750 million Strategic Investment Fund will help the region build on its strengths in sectors such as automotive and engineering, but adapt them to compete in the new global economy.

Advantage West Midlands is also playing an active role in powering the recovery – helping 127,000 people improve their skills, and helping create 7,500 new businesses and 87,000 jobs. Its transition fund has offered a lifeline to SMEs, not only offering a lifeline to cash-strapped firms, but also giving funding to get new ideas off the ground.

Female entrepreneurs have a vital role to play in helping the West Midlands, and the rest of the UK, capitalise on the new opportunities. Young women are graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and maths [STEM] in ever-growing numbers. The next stage is to encourage them to use their skills to launch high-tech businesses in key sectors, such as low carbon technologies.

And the flexibility of working for yourself can be a real bonus for women who need to combine their working lives with other responsibilities. More and more people are taking advantage, as research from Enterprise Nation [which advises entrepreneurs on launching a business from home] has shown. Today, over 60% of UK start-ups are launched at home.

But, of course, there are still challenges we have to overcome to enable more women strike out on their own. The Women’s Enterprise Task Force, chaired by Pam Alexander and Glenda Stone, has just delivered its final report. It is an excellent piece of work and in our response we have reaffirmed our commitment to fostering women’s enterprise.

Women’s Enterprise Champions

So we are appointing Women’s Enterprise Champions in each of the regions to catalyse female entrepreneurship. I am delighted to announce the first appointment today. The West Midlands Women’s Enterprise Champion is to be Angela Maxwell. Angela is already a fantastic champion for women’s enterprise and will continue to help more women in the region to realise their potential.

We will roll out, through Business Link, a business support marketing campaign targeted at under represented groups in enterprise. This will focus on the needs of women in starting and growing their businesses.

We also endorse the creation of a private-sector led and managed women’s enterprise forum, to bring together women running high growth technology based businesses.

And, as with the findings from WECOE, we recognise the importance of data collection. So we will boost data on women’s enterprises in the next Small Business Survey.


British women have a wealth of entrepreneurial talent. And this Government is absolutely determined to nurture it. Many of you here today are on the front line of supporting our female entrepreneurs. That work is crucial.

It will ensure more women who have the ambition to start their own businesses take the plunge. We need them to - because entrepreneurs are the bedrock of Britain’s long-term economic prosperity.

Thank you.