No shortage of ideas within energised ecosystem of women entrepreneurs

For every £1 of equity investment in the UK, just 2p goes to fully female-founded businesses - a damning figure

WIB Group
Pictured at the All-Island Female Entrepreneurs Conference are (from left) Grainne Mullins, Gra Chocolates; Caroline O'Neill, conference host; Roisin Keenan, head of business banking, AIB; Economy Minister Conor Murphy; Lorraine Acheson, managing director, Women in Business; Alison Currie, director of innovation and entrepreneurship at InterTradeIreland; and Laura Bonner, The Muff Liquor Co

Ideas are in no short supply within Northern Ireland’s energised ecosystem of entrepreneurs. Ideas that challenge and disrupt. Ideas capable of sparking entrepreneurial ambition and new business ventures which have the potential to produce engines of economic growth through increased innovation and job creation.

This positive picture is reflected in data accrued by R3 whose latest monthly report showed a record 2,311 firms were established in Northern Ireland in April. That’s a year-on-year rise of 188% and marks the crest of a wave that has been surging for well over 12 months, with ONS figures noting 13,704 new business ventures were formed throughout the course of 2023, itself a 62% rise over 2022.

Make no mistake, the appetite is there. And it is palpable. Yet ideas and ingenuity were never the problem. Certainly not for female founders.

At Women in Business, we experience this infectious energy every year at our All-Island Female Entrepreneurs Conference, which last week welcomed more than 300 women-led businesses to collaborate and ultimately develop their own business and personal skill sets.

Attendees never fail to delight in the new. In the grit behind the growth. In learning from lived experiences of those start-ups who have not only stood resolute in the face of recent global headwinds, but worked to overcome the persistent barriers which still exist for women entrepreneurs in 2024.

In a field with a long-standing gender imbalance, platforming female-founded businesses is critical so that aspiring entrepreneurs can connect with role models and experts who hold a unique understanding of the challenges they face.

By making the knowledge and the resources more accessible, we’re helping to build a pipeline where women are supported at all stages of their business journey.

Equally important for women entrepreneurs is access to finance. In its 2023 Small Business Tracker, British Business Bank found that for every £1 of equity investment in the UK, just 2p goes to fully female-founded businesses, a damning figure which represents little-to-no improvement in the past decade. Inclusive funding need not be an unattainable goal.

There has been greater awareness of the need to dismantle these barriers and create a fairer funding environment for all, but there is always more to do in the way of tangible action.

Lorraine Acheson
Lorraine Acheson

Women in Business continually partners with like-minded organisations on an island-wide scale to deliver targeted programmes and bespoke funding opportunities that are helping elevate entrepreneurs to the next level. It’s part and parcel of the wrap-around support needed so that women-led businesses can reach their full potential and, ultimately, impact the local economy.

Collectively we must kindle the entrepreneurial enthusiasm that’s clearly out there and, rather than being distracted by the scale of the challenge, instead consider the size of the opportunity for our economy and wider society.

For women entrepreneurs, there’s no time like the present. It’s the cultural stereotypes and gendered financing that have been left playing catch-up.

  • Lorraine Acheson is managing director of Women in Business, part of The WiB Group