International Women’s Day 2021: Celebrating women in entrepreneurship

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Today marks International Womxn’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

IWD has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific.

To find out what it means to be a woman entrepreneur, we spoke to Andrea, Laura, Tamara and Vanessa – four founders who have received support through one of our programmes.

Andrea Rose, Founder of Andrea Rose Dance

Andrea provides a range of fun and exciting virtual dance lessons for all ages and abilities, as well as running in-person dance classes.

Laura Bloomer, Founder of Backed Technologies

Laura is working on a tech platform that focuses on delivering justice and closure to people experiencing online harassment.

Tamara Lewis, Founder of  Violet Square

Tamara runs an online multi-vendor shop that represents the underrepresented in retail.

Vanessa Boachie , Founder of Inside Out Wellbeing

Vanessa is the  Founder and Creative Director of Inside Out UK, a not-for-profit social enterprise committed to helping people improve their mental health and wellbeing. 

Why did you start your own business?

Vanessa: There were multiple things that accumulated over time that really pushed me into believing that this is something that needs to be done. One of them was through my own personal experiences with mental health. When I was 17, someone who was quite close to me attempted to end their life. I remember at the time feeling quite helpless and didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, the person is still here today. That experience made me realise that there are a lot of people out there who are also going through the same thing but they don’t know what to do.

Andrea: For me, dance is for everybody. So it doesn’t matter what you look like, everybody can dance. And that’s the vision that I want to create.

Laura: I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial. I like solving problems and I just saw a problem that needed fixing. I knew a lot of people that suffered from online harassment and I saw how badly it affected their lives and no one was helping them. I’m great at building an efficient process so I thought I would take it on and see how far I could go with it.

What challenges have you faced as a womxn starting a business?

Vanessa: I think it’s important to bring in the fact that I am a Black woman as well. I wouldn’t call it a barrier, but a double challenge there. One of the things that I would say that I personally had difficulties with is imposter syndrome. Sometimes negative thoughts come into your mind when you know you can do it. Something that feeds into that imposter syndrome is the lack of representation. Every time I see a woman, specifically, anytime I see a black womxn, thriving in business, I’m just like, yes, yes, yes, I absolutely love it!

Laura: That’s a very real thing. And we definitely have to be aware of it and challenge it. But I draw the line at taking it on personally and embodying it. I think once you do that, the game’s over mindset-wise.

What was the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome?

Tamara: Sourcing guidance and mentoring. Being an entrepreneur can be quite a lonely path especially if you don’t have a network or if you haven’t found your tribe.

Laura:  Myself, really. I love to just put my head down and get on with stuff but you won’t move fast if you do that. 

Andrea: Me. I’m a bit of a procrastinator. So I set myself deadlines  because  I’m very much that person that works well under pressure in order to get the job done. However there are pitfalls, which is how well do you actually achieve the task if you do that, but then I suppose to some degree it’s about you making that start. 

What advice would you give to other women thinking of starting their own businesses?

Tamara: I would say start small, test the waters, adapt a little bit. Don’t overthink things and just keep iterating.

Vanessa: First and foremost, go for it, do it, do it, do it, we need more of us, we need more of you – 110% do it! Find your tribe, find people who are also running businesses, or people who are doing similar things. I feel that it is really helpful for us to be able to communicate with people, to be able to ask questions, and to be able to find answers. It can be quite isolating and you may not have people around you who are doing something similar, so having that tribe, having people around you to uplift you when you are going through difficult times, because it’s not easy.

Andrea: I do firmly believe now that you can’t do this on your own. You do need to have a network of people that you can turn to say, look, I’m struggling with this or I’m struggling with that, or you know what, I’m really just not feeling great today. Can we have a chat about it? What do you suggest? If you can find like minded people, then you have found a great network of people that can uplift you. Try not to be your own worst enemy.

Laura:  Yes, reach out to as many people as possible, try mentorship programmes, join accelerators, you need their help, you can’t do it all and don’t try to burn yourself out. You can just go so much faster if you’re working with people.

How has your business been affected by Covid-19?

Vanessa:  We have had to make a huge transition from being an in-person service to now operating virtually. I’ve been a bit sceptical about it because of the nature of our work but we have been able to replicate it online. Adapting to these times has really given us the opportunity to reach further audiences.

Laura: I’m a little bit late to the conversation because we only started in June, but It gave us a lot more time to validate the idea. We were able to put our heads down and speak to people, and with everyone working from home it was easier to arrange calls.

Which woman do you admire, and why?

Laura: Princess Diana, she was very much her own person. She led with empathy. She went against what society expected for the good of others. And I think that it’s a hard thing to do. She resonated with a lot of people and she had a huge impact on the world. And I think that’s a leadership style that we need more of. It’s not your typical brash, confident, strength that I see a lot in female leaders. She was quietly confident and you can be strong in different ways as well, I think she was the perfect embodiment of that.

Andrea: I admire my mum, because despite whatever she has gone through in her life, she’s just kept marching on and she’s made her successes. From the dancing world, Debbie Allen,  she was that woman from Fame, and her words always stuck with me: Fame costs. And right here is where you start paying.

What are you hopeful for in 2021?

Vanessa: Making an impact and supporting people. During this time, I understand that a lot of people are going through difficulties, and a lot of people are being affected, whether that’s by their physical or mental health. I hope people are able to benefit from the services that I’m providing, and that the support I’m offering is able to be maximised and reach the people who need the support.

Laura: There’s so much more on Backed Technologies and dealing with this issue. It’s a lot more in the news about at the moment and it’s really coming to the fore. So we’ll get some traction there about helping people. But zooming out of COVID, everyone’s had a lot of time to think and reflect, and I think things are going to start changing from a societal point of view, which I think is really exciting. Also I’m really inspired by Gen Z, they push the boundaries on everything. They’re challenging a lot of ways that we do things in society. It’s their time now. I think there’s gonna be a lot of great societal change this year.

Andrea: I’m hopeful that my passion comes across in enabling more people to come on board and actually start dancing with me. In January I did live dance challenges. So I just set up some challenges and I did it for free. It was a bit of a test to see what people would buy into and what they didn’t like. So I was using it as a gauge to give me more information about what and how I can then move my business forward, ready for the rest of 2021. So I’m hopeful, I’m positive. 

Thanks to Andrea, Laura, Tamara and Vanessa for sharing their experiences with us. Since 2014 we have supported over 470 women into business. By 2025 we want to support over 30,000 founders

 If you are a UK-based female founder that would like to network with other womxn, upskill yourself, or receive 1-2-1 support, then take at our upcoming programmes and events

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