Entrepreneurs launch review into lack of funding opportunities for women

Founders of the Women's Investor Ready Project Lisa Strutt (left) and Nuala Murphy (right) with Ulster Bank's regional ecosystem manager John Ferris (the bank is one of the first organisations to support the project)

A LACK of clarity around funding options, gender bias, and exclusion from regional peer networks are some of the biggest barriers for female entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland, a new report has highlighted.

The Women’s Investor Ready Project (tWIRP) highlights the challenges which exist for businesswomen and explores what can be done to overcome these.

And a new alliance made up of four of the north’s leading female entrepreneurs - Nuala Murphy, Alyson Hogg, Lisa Strutt and Grainne Kelly - has laid out its priorities for improving the landscape for female entrepreneurs and is calling for employers, investors, and business leaders to address the cultural bias which exists for women in workplaces.

Drawing on data from more than 100 respondents with first hand experience of starting or scaling a business in Northern Ireland, the report ( paints a picture of the ecosystem for women entrepreneurs by asking questions about past and current experiences of raising capital, overall experience as a female entrepreneur, and suggestions for improvement.

Feedback was collected across a number of industries and from women at varying stages of their business journey.

Key findings from the report suggest that female entrepreneurs value regional peer networks but often feel excluded from these and struggle with reaching networks beyond the Northern Ireland market.

While many contributors had experience of an accelerator programme, some felt these programmes could improve their skills in the sectors embraced by women.

A lack of clarity around funding options in the region continues to create difficulties for those business owners trying to raise capital and almost all participants repeatedly noted very clear examples of gender bias when seeking funding.

In a joint statement, the representatives of tWIRP said: “Northern Ireland has undergone a significant amount of transformation in recent years and has rightly earned a global reputation as being an excellent place to live, work and invest.

“But it’s no longer to acceptable to ignore the fact that female entrepreneurs are being left behind. tWIRP is seeking to give leadership to women across all sectors and provide new policy solutions to create a modern economy that better reflects their needs and ambitions.

“We found the publication of the Rose Review in 2018 and the subsequent revelation that only 1 per cent of investment funds go to female owned businesses to be an alarming figure, and it’s simply not good enough that such little progress has been made since.

“Collectively, we decided that the time was right to start asking questions and get to the bottom of when and how things might change for female entrepreneurs.”

They added: “It was imperative to have our own evidence-based approach which would underpin all of our work and provide us with a clearer understanding of the entrepreneurial landscape in Northern Ireland. These valuable insights will now guide the next stage of our work which focuses on redressing the gender imbalance in a meaningful way.

“Now we know the common challenges women are facing, we can begin to implement some targeted solutions. We want to deliver services which not only support the entrepreneur with existing challenges but will include strategies to become more investor ready.

“Part of this will include establishing a mentor-matching scheme; pairing mentors who have relevant experience, skills and access with entrepreneurs who will benefit most from this engagement and creating a central hub where individuals can find all the information they need about the range of support, services and funding available.

“By coming together we want to create a louder voice for female entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland and press decision makers to implement policies and legislative changes that will help unlock this untapped potential. Inadequate childcare provision, issues around bias and a fundamental lack of understanding have all contributed to women taking a back seat and we simply cannot allow this underrepresentation to continue.”

Ulster Bank is one of the first organisations to pledge support for the project and has welcomed the initiative’s commitment to following up on the government-backed Rose Review which was spearheaded by the NatWest Group's now chief executive Alison Rose.

Other supporters of the initiative include Women in Business, Belfast City Council, InterTradeIreland and the British Business Bank.

The four tWirps founders are:

* Nuala Murphy, head of business at Diversity Mark NI; Lean In Network leader and former Digital DNA entrepreneur of the year winner;


* Grainne Kelly, chief executive of BubbleBum UK; SME Council Member, CBI; Member of the Baby Products Association and UK Transatlantic Growth Woman in Business Award 2018;


* Alyson Hogg MBE, founder of Vita Liberata and two-time recipient of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise and Export; and


* Lisa Strutt, leadership coach and Fellow of the Harvard Institute of Coaching.

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