The funding landscape for female founders

The funding landscape for female founders
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation

Posted: Fri 31st Mar 2023

As part of our partnership with Mastercard Strive, head of policy Charlotte Thomason has written a thought leadership briefing paper on how companies and the government can make it easier for female founders to access financial support to grow.

Access to funding is most often cited as the top barrier women face when starting and growing a business in the UK. The British Business Bank's latest Small Business Equity Tracker found that for every £1 of equity investment in the UK in 2021, all-female founder teams received 2p, compared to all-male founder teams who received 84p, and mixed-gender teams 14p.

This is a decline from 2020 and underlines the stark fact that while numerous awareness campaigns, female focussed initiatives, and research on the topic exists, change is still slow. This lack of funding is not in relation to a female owner's chance of success. On the contrary, a study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 2018 found that start-ups founded or co-founded by women generated 10% more in cumulative revenue over a five-year period than those founded by men, despite receiving less funding. It's frustrating then, that these financial barriers are still top of the list when tackling what's holding back female entrepreneurship.

In addition to lack of funding, women face greater gender bias and discrimination, lack of representation in leadership positions, have fewer connections and resources, and face greater pressure to balance work and family responsibilities. It has been, and continues to be, a difficult road for female founders who want to start and grow a successful business.

That's not to say things aren't being done to speed up change. The Rose Review gave a platform to the many women who were being ignored and underserved by the finance sector. Since the original report in 2019, Alison Rose continues to champion female founders, and the latest progress report promises to deliver more co-ordinated, tangible improvements, in part by increasing access to and awareness of funding and enabling entrepreneurs through a strong ecosystem of support.

Role of technology

Enterprise Nation, through its work with the Mastercard Strive programme aims to build on this ecosystem of support, and our continued investment in a smart support platform is based on a burning belief that getting access to the right support at the right time will significantly increase chances of business survival and growth.

Our collaboration with Mastercard on the Make a Plan tool is a way for entrepreneurs to access free, tailored support recommendations which are surfaced through an individual and personalised dashboard. Digital tools like Make a Plan aim to reach more founders, provide relevant support and leverage data, and we're just getting started.

Technology innovation can be a great leveller for business owners. Those founders too often locked out of traditional support systems can benefit from digital alternatives like e-learning, online networking and crowdfunding. At Enterprise Nation we want to take this technology to its next level; a level where we do the thinking on a founders' behalf, suggesting the type and format of support that will have the greatest impact.

The vision is to get to a place where we can let a founder know if they are eligible for a local grant or national support programme, ensure the application is friction free, and deliver this with evidence showing that similar companies who have accessed this type of support, have benefited in a particular way.

Better access to data will also encourage women to be more confident about taking on debt and equity. In addition, having access to tailored advice and more financial forecasting will show how founders could pay back and grow with a cash injection.

What needs to happen

Technology is a key avenue through which equity can be achieved, but as outlined above, there are other barriers faced by women. To prioritise these barriers can be a challenge, but it's important to consider the specific context of each female founder and her business - a one size fits all approach rarely works.

A founder who is struggling to secure funding may benefit from support in accessing investors and improving her pitch, while a founder who is facing gender bias may benefit from mentorship and networking opportunities. Ultimately, addressing all of these barriers will be necessary to create a more equitable business environment.

Role of government

The private sector needs to be the key driver of change when it comes to supporting female entrepreneurship. However there is a role for government in championing successful private sector initiatives, and encouraging and funding more work into eliminating barriers for female founders.

At a recent Mastercard event on female entrepreneurship, over 200 women explained what more they needed to see from government and industry to thrive. Those recommendations are listed below.

Getting this right; forming public/private partnerships, harnessing smart tech, and engaging female founders from the outset will deliver significant economic and social gain.


  • Give female founders more funding and help them create wealth.

  • If you invest in businesses, make sure investing decisions are made by a diverse group, or include the opinions of a diverse group. 

  • Look at how many female founders are in your investing and lending portfolios. And if you don't already measure that data, start. 

  • If you are an investor, consider signing the Investing in Women code and reporting progress each year. 

  • When developing small business support programmes, create specific help targeted at specific needs.

  • Identify the areas where small businesses need help and where you can support. Be as specific as possible and pinpoint the areas where you can help solve problems. 

  • If you are creating a support programme, be clear about exactly what you are providing.

  • Aim to complement existing support and collaborate with other organisations, rather than competing or replicating.

  • Reduce payment terms and adjust procurement processes for small businesses. 

  • Review your organisation's payment terms for small businesses. Look at your procurement processes, or ask your procurement team questions like: 

Can our payment terms be shortened for small companies? 

Can we sign up small suppliers quicker and reduce the admin involved?

Can we commit to procuring a percentage of our services from female or ethnic minority-led businesses?

Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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