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Female entrepreneurs becoming drivers of UK growth

By Sara Carter - Posted on 25 April 2013

Sara Carter, Head of Department, Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship explores her role within the new Enterprise Research Centre…

This week saw the publication of the first major research from the newly established Enterprise Research Centre. You may not have heard of it yet but the role of the ERC is to ask big questions on behalf of small and medium sized enterprises.

The ERC is a partnership between six different academic organisations including Strathclyde Business School. The organisation exists to conduct relevant research in areas including finance, leadership, management and export to the UK’s SMEs. Central to the ERC is the idea of sharing information.

In the next three years 29 separate research projects will be conducted in six areas. To mark the launch of the ERC six White Papers were published to mark the start of what we hope will be a long term relationship with businesses across the UK. In my own area our paper focused on ‘Diversity and business growth’ which threw light on the role women are playing in the current economic climate.

Businesses led by women add around £130bn to the UK economy but the figure could be more with countries such as the USA already much further ahead. Only 20% of the 4.8m people working in enterprise are women – in the US the number has soared in recent years to 54%.

What is interesting about the figures is that they highlight the growing role women are playing in helping grow the economy and in the US women owned enterprises are starting up at a rate of 550 a day. Our White Paper shows that in the UK there is a clear enterprise gap between men and women. Our research indicates that an extra 150,000 businesses would be created if female ownership levels were the same as men.

Self employed women are generally better educated with 34% of women educated to degree level compared with just 21% of self-employed men. Increasingly women are entering professions including law and medicine which offers the opportunity for more women to run their own business.

So what are the issues? One of the constraints facing women looking to start their own business is access to capital. Part of the reason is that women seem to have an aversion to taking on higher levels of debt. However evidence from Australia suggests that when men and women start a business with similar levels of capital their business equals those of their male counterparts, meaning that in time we would hope to see the business landscape even out.

The launch of the ERC is just the start of the process. Over time we will be exploring the issues in far greater depth. The next project on the horizon is an exploration of business networks and direct support for women entrepreneurs with research likely to be carried out in Glasgow, Birmingham, Leeds, Norwich and London.

Do you think there is enough support for women in enterprise? If not what should be done to close the enterprise gap? Let us know in the comments below.

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