Roseann Kelly MBE, CEO of Women in Business
Female business owners new and old know the struggle. No matter the experience level, industry or location in which the business is based, their success so often hinges on financial support… or lack thereof.
“But support is out there,” I hear you cry. The simple fact is that no, there isn’t. At least not as much as there really ought to be for Northern Ireland businesswomen. Gender should not be a barrier when it comes to gaining the support necessary to grow and sustain a business venture, so why is it that NI lacks a female-specific enterprise loan fund?
A persistent idea that tends to gain traction both online and off is that women need to be fixed. But in many cases, it is the system that is geared against women, with gender bias playing a factor in female business owners being denied loans from financial institutions, many of which have all male assessment panels.
Our research shows that women in Northern Ireland want a female-specific fund to propel their business forward, which again underlines one pertinent fact: the “support is out there” argument is now verging on a moot point.
The truth is financial support continues to be a major issue of concern for NI’s women in business. When asked what support they need to make their business grow, 80% of WiB members chose financial in this year’s survey, underlining just how critical this issue can be. More telling is that 86% have either not yet attempted to raise finance, or have and were unsuccessful. Naturally, this poses a barrier, but it is also a damning indictment of the experience NI businesswomen face when seeking out financial support.
There are positives to be drawn from our research, however; our WiB survey also found 80% of female entrepreneurs would be more inclined to apply to a female-specific fund for support, perhaps in the knowledge that the application process would be specifically tailored to facilitate businesswomen at all levels, regardless of whether they were a beginner or seasoned entrepreneur.
And let’s face it, we are not short of talented businesswomen in NI, nor are we short of blue-sky ambition. Indeed, if there is one takeaway from Women in Business’ All-Island Female Entrepreneurs Conference, it is this: more and more women are viewing the idea of starting their own business not as far-flung pipe dream, but as a career option that is tangible and indeed attractive.
Gone are the days when entrepreneurship was a tightly-guarded boys club. So let’s capitalise on this, strike while the iron is still piping-hot, and deliver a female-specific loan fund and the benefits it can unlock for NI’s women in business.
Then – and only then – can we say “support is out there.”