Dirk Bischof FRSA, Chief Executive of Hatch Enterprise, speaks about their new Female Founders Accelerator
On March 1st, Hatch Enterprise launched the Female Founders Accelerator, a programme that super-charges women entrepreneurs and helps them grow and scale their businesses. Female entrepreneurs represent an important source of untapped potential that could help boost economic growth in the UK. If not for the barriers women face in starting and building their business, their increased participation could result in a 10% increase in GDP worth billions by 2030 (Anne McPherson, MD Diversity in Business, RBS, in the Guardian 10 April 2013).
Here at Hatch, we help entrepreneurs in South London to start, grow and scale businesses. The entrepreneurs who come to us are passionate, inspiring and dedicated to making their business succeed. It’s no longer a secret that, without support, 90% will fail in the first three years. In fact, half of all businesses started fail in the first year. These daunting statistics highlight the essential role support can play in affecting business survival.
Over the last three years, we built a 12 week-intensive Incubator Programme that has supported over 100 businesses, with more than 80 still up and running after two years. We have always had a very inclusive approach to our programmes. Our expert speakers and world-class facilitators are made up equally of both men and women. With regards to mentoring, we do generally have more men than women (60/40) coming from our corporate partners like Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan or Clyde & Co, all of whom work really hard to make the programme viable by volunteering their expertise and time.
The most striking data came from looking at participation rates in our Incubator. We noticed that more than half (54%) of those coming to us for assistance were female. This is in stark contrast with the majority of business incubators or accelerators which often have less than 10% women in their programmes due to their tech focus (such as Techstars, Seedcamp), with the most diverse incubator going up to 36% (MassChallenge). This made us look at why we’re different. We know that many women want to build a non-tech business, often one that they can combine with other commitments they have but closely linked to something they are passionate about or trained in vocationally.
Last year, more attention was paid to inequalities at the workplace, such as the pay gap between men and women, with Icelandic women walking out of their work places two hours early, and a renewed focus on gender-lens investing. 2016 also saw a rise in commercial and social impact funds targeting organisations that focus on women or women-led businesses.
With all this in mind, we looked at women in enterprise and the challenges they face when growing a business. Starting, building or scaling a business is not easy for anyone, and there are many obstacles faced by both female and male entrepreneurs. That said, there are specific challenges that affect women more than men, such as access to finance, absence of role models and lack of confidence in skill sets. According to the London Business School, over a third (42.6%) of the female population would start a business if it wasn’t for the fear of failure (‘Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’ 2015). This is at the same level as it was after the last recession.
In partnership with the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, Hatch decided to create a programme that addresses the specific needs and challenges of female founders. As a male entrepreneur, I knew I couldn’t design this programme without the input of the targeted participants. I therefore interviewed 10 female founders and spoke to many support agencies that support women in enterprise such as Ogunte and those that help them secure investment (ClearlySO). This then resulted in a survey, answered by over 100 female entrepreneurs, which helped gain further understanding. Here are some questions we asked and the top three responses.
Why did you start your business? The top answer, with over 60%, said they started because they wanted to help others through their business, followed by being unhappy with employment prospects (33%). Jointly in third place, was wanting to create personal wealth/ address a niche in the market (30%).
What did you find the hardest when starting up? 54% found lacking a support network to be the hardest aspect of getting their business off the ground. Finding a good and sustainable business model was the second biggest challenge (46%), and finding customers to buy their product was the third (33%).
What would you like help with? The majority of the women surveyed want help developing a strong sales strategy and accessing customers (56%), together with being part of a support network of other female founders (51%), and closely followed by wanting to brush up on some essential business knowledge (46%).
From our research and interviews we created a short film that encapsulates how female founders feel about the social expectations imposed on them.
We also spoke with a few organisations in London who are specifically supporting female entrepreneurs, such as Unltd and Hatch Partner ClearlySO. They both confirmed that while there are more women starting a (social) businesses, many will not get to a stage of growth without the necessary resources and support. Supporting women to this stage not only creates more mentors and role models for future female founders but also encourages learning for all entrepreneurs. “When firm characteristics (size, sector, age, funding) are controlled for, women owned firms outperform those owned by their male counterparts” (Women in Enterprise: A Different Perspective. RBS Group 2012).
After much research, discussion, planning and exciting energy, we launched this amazing business and leadership programme. Over a four month period, female founders will accelerate their growth through workshops, one to one coaching and mentoring, peer learning, networking, legal advice, and personal development. We’re privileged to have some incredible supporters and expert speakers on board, ensuring participants receive impactful business support and leadership training. Our first cohort is incredibly diverse, with businesses ranging from fashion, hospitality and creative sector, all the way to social businesses.
Below is a video of one of our facilitator’s, Sarah, performing a female founders re-write of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Independent Women’ at the programme launch. The evening, which took place at J.P. Morgan’s Canary Wharf Offices, was a tremendous success and everyone left feeling inspired and excited for the months ahead.