Thai restaurant among LCR women-led businesses benefiting from investment

According to a recent report, access to funding is the biggest barrier to female entrepreneurs. But the Government-backed review by NatWest banking boss Alison Rose, published in March, estimated that encouraging more female-inspired start-ups could add £250bn to the UK economy.

The Rose Review found that only one-in-three UK entrepreneurs is female, a level that seriously lags behind many of our international competitors.

Risk aversion, primary care responsibilities, and skills perceptions were seen as key barriers that female businesses have to overcome. But by far the biggest reason quoted by businesswomen was access to, and awareness of funding.

The Rose Review found that female-led businesses receive less funding than those headed by men at every stage of their journey, from start-up to scale-up.

Women launch businesses with 53% less capital on average than men, they are less aware of funding options and less likely to take on debt. Only one per cent of all venture funding goes to businesses founded by all-female teams, inhibiting growth, yet, when female-led businesses receive investment, they invariably flourish.

In the Liverpool City Region the Enterprise Hub programme has been responsible for providing the foundation for a wide range of SME ventures to successfully build from.

The Women’s Organisation, a Liverpool-based social enterprise providing support for female entrepreneurs, is a lead partner for Enterprise Hub, and during the programme’s first phase, from December 2015 to November 2018, helped new women-led enterprises apply for more than £1.7m of start-up funding – unprecedented when compared with similar UK-wide schemes.

Of the 5,915 individuals signing up and receiving initial support from Enterprise Hub, 62% were women, reversing a trend that normally sees more men than women traditionally access the service. In fact, of the 1,070 new businesses Enterprise Hub Phase 1 helped launch, 60% were majority female-owned.

Jutharat Rai was among the successful applicants. She approached The Women’s Organisation in February 2017 for support to get her business started after moving to Liverpool from her native Thailand.

Jutharat had been working in Thai and Japanese restaurants in Liverpool for about five years. Her husband was a chef who had worked in Dubai, India, Thailand and in the UK for more than seven years as a Thai sous chef and head chef. She wanted to utilise their skills and experience to create a family-run enterprise that would bring Thai flavours to their local community.

Jutharat said: “When I came to The Women’s Organisation I knew we needed finance to get our business off the ground. I needed funding to help us secure and refurbish a premises, for our initial stock, and other business start-up costs.”

However, to access funding she needed to create a business plan and to understand the legal and practical responsibilities of being a business owner. A business adviser at The Women’s Organisation introduced Jutharat to the government-backed Start-up Loans Scheme and explained what information the funder needed from her to prepare a credible business plan.

Eventually, working with her adviser, her bid was successful. She said: “I am so grateful for the support I received to help me access this funding and to become a business owner.”

Jutharat’s Thai Cuisine Express opened on Aigburth Road in Liverpool in 2018, backed by a £25,000 investment from Start-Up Loans. The Thai takeaway and cafe offers freshly homemade Thai foods and Thai salads, using authentic Thai herbs, vegetables and sauces from local Thai suppliers and it has gradually expanded to offer outside catering.

As well as creating full time jobs for both Jutharat and her husband, they have since taken on one full-time and six part-time staff, which demonstrates how the investment has had a positive local economic impact beyond their own ambitions. Jutharat’s inspiring experience reflects the Rose Review recommendations.

NatWest Bank’s Natalie Hughes said: “As a Business Growth Enabler with NatWest I work with hundreds of women-led businesses every year. The women in our region are building some amazing businesses, but through the Rose Review we know that more needs to be done to ensure we’re giving female entrepreneurs the best opportunity to succeed.

“NatWest has taken the lead in this area – we have over 500 accredited Women in Business specialists based around the UK ready to deliver their expertise and offer tangible support to women in business.”

She added: “We have also recently launched the UK’s first female only crowdfunding platform, ‘Back Her Business’, which will support entrepreneurs with £1m of funding to help get their business off the ground.”

However, alongside investment there needs to be the right business support to ensure entrepreneurs are investment-ready.

Jackie Williams, Enterprise Director of The Women’s Organisation and project manager of Enterprise Hub, said: “The Women’s Organisation exists because there is an inequality when it comes to women and enterprise.

“We know first-hand that it is definitely not lack of ambition that prevents women from accessing finance to start and grow a business, as we see women every day bubbling with that ambition. That’s exactly why we’ve helped so many women to access the finance they need to build a sustainable enterprise, because they are hungry for business success. “

She added: “Offering a gender-focused service just means that we explore potential stumbling blocks along the way, advocate on behalf of women to ensure they aren’t being overlooked, and forge strong relationships with like-minded organisations who will invest, based on business model rather than gender of business owner.

“However, we recognise that as well as encouraging more financial investment in female entrepreneurship, it is important that support to build businesses that are investment-ready runs alongside.

“Enterprise Hub offers that opportunity to local women, and men, through working with them to understand what is required for not only financial investment, but for business sustainability and growth.”

Enterprise Hub offers fully-funded support to those starting or growing a business, up to their third year of trading in the Liverpool City Region, to apply for finance to start and grow.

The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, but free to access and will help local people to understand the funding landscape, develop their business plan and application, and support them through the process.

For more information contact the team on: 0151-706 8113 or at  enterprisehub@thewo.org.uk. You can find out more about Thai Cuisine Express on its website.

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