Finding your voice in business can be challenging, no matter what your background, experience or role is. However, for some groups of people, it can be even trickier.
While the UK is a diverse nation, this is sometimes not reflected in leadership roles in business. This can be seen in companies large and small – and just 19.4 percent of start-ups between 2000-2018 were founded by women.
I spoke with the three female entrepreneurs in our cohort to find out what led them to start their own company, and what they’ve learned along the way. The experiences and advice they shared can help you find your own voice, build confidence and offer inspiration to start your own career journey at a start-up.
Tip: Find a mentor. In a 2016 report, Innovation UK found that more than two-thirds of female innovators believed that having a mentor would have made a difference in overcoming challenges.
The importance of female leadership
Having more women in leadership roles is important, not only in start-ups but in more established businesses, too. Companies with a lack of diverse leadership will find it harder to create products and solutions that reflect society as a whole and help everybody.
However, just starting a business as a female entrepreneur is difficult. Venture Capitalist (VC) firms with only male partners are more likely to invest in male-led projects or businesses. Of the 6,793 companies funded by VCs, only 2.7 percent had female CEOs2.
Tip: Proactively look for opportunities to network and engage with people from a multitude of diverse backgrounds.
The greater the number of diverse start-ups and organisations, the more likely society is to have access to inclusive products companies and workforces.
Closing the gender gap in the workplace has the potential to increase GDP by 35 percent in the UK. However, women in the UK are half as likely as men to start a new business, and even less likely to seek external funding2.
One thing female entrepreneurs tend to have in common is their strong belief in creating a positive social impact. Their experiences have led them to find new ways to solve issues that benefit everyone.
Tip: Keep your idea and values at the heart of what you do. Surround yourself with like-minded, inspiring people and organisations and you will grow faster and stronger.
Isabel Van De Keere
Isabel worked in the health and biomedical industries until a work accident in 2010 resulted in a long period of physical rehabilitation. She used her background in engineering to come up with Immersive Rehab – a company looking to help improve the results of physical and neuro-rehabilitation.
“Don’t be afraid to take to the stage and to talk about what you’re doing – to help others break down barriers. You have to proactively look for it and initially engage with people to actually get to the stage but once you get it, be visible and don’t be afraid.”
Amanda is an entrepreneurial pioneer, identifying innovative business opportunities.– starting her first business at the age of 19. She is passionate about finding new solutions to problems. Her company, ThermaFY, makes it easier to compare and interpret thermal images, giving users previously unavailable insight. Their cameras and software are making it easier to diagnose and treat animals, as well as analysing heat efficiency in buildings which translates to environmental savings.
“There’s a huge gap there to solve societal issues by developing software that’s led by females. We look at things very differently.”
Rene has spent the past six years using her passion for solving problems and disability issues to create sustainable solutions for smart cities. CityMaaS is her vision aimed at enabling efficient travel for all, including those with diverse travel needs The technology will use artificial intelligence to constantly analyse recommended routes and look for better options to ensure travel is efficient and effective.
“Social impact should be at the core of every decision you make. Surround yourself with like-minded, inspiring people and organisations and you will grow faster and stronger.”
After getting to know these women for the past 16 weeks, I have seen the incredible resilience each founder has had to develop to reach where they are now They are challenged every day on many levels – from being one of the only women present at an industry event to being made to feel they are inadequate because they show vulnerability or introversion.
Tip: Don’t be scared of failure. Failures are just opportunities to grow and learn.
My lasting impression is these women truly believe in what they are trying to do; however, this focus did not come instantly. Their self confidence is fuelled by the belief others have in them, and the confidence others are able to express in their company, product, and ultimately themselves as women leaders.
Through sharing their stories, my hope is to encourage more women to pursue leadership roles and entrepreneurship to create industries that are more diverse and inclusive.
Our cohort were given access to the resources, knowledge, and people they need to help scale their AI solution. They also had access to business development, marketing, and technical support alongside talks, seminars, and workshops. Find out more about the cohort here.
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