Overcoming Barriers to Female Entrepreneurship

For International Women's Day we spoke to some female entrepreneurs about the biggest challenges they had faced in launching and growing their business, and what their advice to new female founders would be.

Of the entrepreneurs that Hatch supports to imagine, launch, and grow sustainable and impactful businesses, 84% are women. It’s an unfortunate reality that female founders in the UK face barriers and challenges that their male counterparts do not, and that women are currently underrepresented across British entrepreneurship. This is to the detriment of our communities and our economy, in fact £250 million could be added to the UK economy if women in the UK were able to start and scale new businesses at the same rate as men. Speaking to the founders on our programmes this International Women’s Day we have identified key barriers that women in business often face, including access to finance, access to networks, and struggles with imposter syndrome.

Barrier 1: Access to Finance

Recent research revealed that women start their businesses with 53% less capital than men do, and for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams get less than 1p. Of the founders that responded to our survey, 47% stated that access to finance was the biggest barrier they had faced on their entrepreneurial journey, and in over 100 recent onboarding forms for our programmes, finance and funding were identified as the main challenge that an overwhelming majority of entrepreneurs were looking to overcome.

Hansa Shree is the founder of Sukoon Care which is the world’s first patient-centric, home-based cardiac rehabilitation. She explains the difficulties she has faced, “Organisations are much more willing to provide funding in kind, for example through training or support, than in cash – and the latter is the need of the hour for us.” 

Hatch programmes are designed to help underrepresented founders meet this need, bringing in experts and resources to help participants improve their confidence in dealing with the financial side of their businesses, as well as the right tools to pursue investment opportunities, grants, and partnerships; last year participants of our female founders programmes self-reported a 31% increase in their financial skills and understanding.

Barrier 2: Access to Networks

A key asset for any entrepreneur is having access to a strong network from which to draw advice, partnerships, and support. With fewer female founders to start with, identifying others with similar experiences and challenges to form networks with can be difficult for those starting out, and this lack of representation can make for a daunting environment. 

Some of our founders revealed that previous avenues of support they had tried to access ended up feeling more like a Wolf of Wall Street style boys’ club and 11% of those we surveyed identified access to networks as the key barrier they had faced in starting their business. 

We seek to address this in Hatch through fostering a real sense of community and collaboration within cohorts, and through specifically supporting underrepresented founders on our programmes there are often many shared experiences and points of commonality for people to draw upon.

For two Hatch founders, Keya and Shweta (Earth Warriors), the network of like minded entrepreneurs they have met through Hatch has been the most valuable aspect of the experience so far: “The best part is the cohort of passionate peers we have met. Even though we are all working in different industries, our struggles are so similar and we have learned so much from our peers already. We couldn’t recommend this programme more just based on the people you will meet and add to your network.”

Barrier 3: Imposter Syndrome

The feeling of not belonging and of being an outsider is so much more pronounced when confronted with an entire industry where you struggle to see yourself represented. This is a constant challenge for female entrepreneurs, and even more so when this intersects with a disability or a marginalised ethnicity. According to KPMG 75% of female executives across industries have experienced imposter syndrome in their careers which can be hugely damaging to confidence, wellbeing, and aspirations. 

Paulette Williams, founder of Leading Routes said, “As a Black female entrepreneur, there are many occasions where I’m the only one that looks like me in the room and it can really make me doubt myself which can show up in other areas of my business. 

“I am working on being kind to myself whilst acknowledging my achievements and abilities so that I can confidently move the business forward to where I know we can be. I’ve met an amazing group of women on the Hatch Accelerator who are encouraging and inspiring and I would love to see more women with access to support networks as they grow their businesses.”

Being able to relate to individuals in similar positions going through similar situations can really help to contextualise progress and milestones, helping to lessen feelings of inadequacy brought about by imposter syndrome. 

For Drew from My Language Lab, battling imposter syndrome is also about prioritising individual wellbeing and being sure to celebrate individual successes. She explains: “For me, I don’t meet many Indian origin female entrepreneurs in my space so it can feel quite isolating. It’s all too easy to compare yourself to your peers and the competition but individuality and knowing that you are doing your bit to contribute as an entrepreneur, can be to your benefit.”

Other Barriers

Each entrepreneur will have their own challenges to face, and their own experiences as a founder, and these are just some of the most frequent barriers identified by the female founders we have supported. Other frequently raised issues include facing stereotypes, limited knowledge of the sector, and limited time to dedicate to the business, with only one in 10 female founders stating that they have faced no barriers. 

At Hatch our mission is to create a better world and ensure that everyone has access to the power of entrepreneurship. Our programmes are specifically designed to support underrepresented founders to excel and can help anyone to imagine, launch, or grow their business. Our masterclasses, expert sessions, one-to-one support and more can help to overcome the barriers identified and more, working towards a world where anyone can see themselves reflected in their sector of choice.

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Female Founders Leading the Way

Cherrelle Stewart-White: CSW VA

CSW VA is a Virtual Assistant company created during the pandemic to assist busy entrepreneurs and business owners free up their time to focus on growing and elevating their businesses by taking on a wide range of admin tasks so they don’t have to. 

My mum instilled in me as a child that you can achieve anything in life no matter how crazy it might seem if you put your mind to it and work hard. I stand by that mantra today and would say that to any woman regardless of whether they are just starting their business or fully established.

Donelle Grant: The Brave Project CIC

The Brave Project’s purpose is to improve the mental health outcomes of BAME boys and young men, prevent future mental health crises, reduce suicide and provide better support for those bereaved or affected by suicide. We offer a range of culturally sensitive wellbeing groups, workshops, and services as well as access to online workshops and signposting information.

There have been times when I have been the only black woman in business meetings. In these spaces, I have at times felt the need to prove my worth and qualifications to be seen and heard. I encourage every woman to never ever give up. It's not where you start or even where you finish. Keep going, keep moving forward, and never ever stop trying.

Drew Rogers: My Language Lab

We provide language tuition preparing learners for professional and academic success.

Progressive change in female entrepreneurship can only be achieved by consistent improvements in government support, easier access to funding, less barriers to launch and more open conversation. As a solo female founder, it can be difficult to have the support around you and we can often find ourselves in a state of comparison. Maximise the tools you have!

Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez: Handmade Stories

A slow fashion brand and social enterprise that supports indigenous women in Peru, artisans, and men in prison so they can reach economic independence and keep their traditions alive. Together, we make beautiful, quality clothing, jewellery, accessories and homeware.

Although faced with additional challenges, being a female entrepreneur means being part of a very special and powerful group. We're the ones putting our values first, fighting injustice, and driving change. We might not get funded at the same rate as our male counterparts, but it'll be a mistake to ignore our strength and our ability to drive change.

Hansa Shree: Sukoon Care

Sukoon is delivering the world’s first patient-centric, home-based cardiac rehabilitation in Karachi, Pakistan. In a single year of serving our beachhead, we could save 6,100 lives & 200,000 re-hospitalisations. 

More culturally sensitive support to encourage women in business is needed in low-income countries to remove the barriers that discourage 50% of the population from engaging. And greater support is needed from male allies too.

Kanndiss Riley: Notorious Big Energy CIC

Notorious Big Energy CIC is an inclusive wellbeing platform providing accessible hybrid mind and body activities. NBE FITNESS is built around delivering community inclusion helping those living with chronic illness, disabilities, carers and seeking affordable wellness activities. 

As a female entrepreneur, I encourage you to go out of your comfort zone

Lucy Willoughby: Good Things

At Good Things you’ll find inspiring ethical and sustainable gifts that support charities, empower people and protect our planet. Discover gifts for all ages and inspiring ideas like cards that plant trees, handmade cushions empowering people in Tanzania, and eco toys made from recycled milk bottles.

I've found it really helpful to connect with other founders and to create a network where you can honestly share the challenges you're facing and celebrate each other's successes. Hatch was vital in helping me build this peer network.

Nohelia Rambal: Goodfind

Goodfind is a tech for good platform that aggregates sustainable brands to make it easier for consumers to find and compare ethical alternatives to everything. Almost 70% of the 650+ sustainable businesses we partner with at Goodfind are female-led. Women are driving the economy of the future, where purpose and profit aren’t mutually exclusive. 

"Women belong in all places where decisions are being made", as the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said. We need to support female-owned, female-managed and female empowering businesses so we can help build the change we want to see in the world.

Paulette Williams: Leading Routes

We work with scholars in the Black community from prospective undergraduate students through to early career researchers, to provide information and support that helps people to pursue their educational and career aspirations.

I am working on being kind to myself whilst acknowledging my achievements and abilities so that I can confidently move the business forward to where I know we can be. I've met an amazing group of women on the Hatch Accelerator who are encouraging and inspiring and I would love to see more women with access to support networks as they grow their businesses.

Tameeka Smith: Trimenco

Trimenco is a training, mentoring and coaching organisation that helps determined people become what they want to be and beyond through coaching, training and mentoring.

Being a woman isn't easy, however it's important to understand why you do what you do. For me it's all about making a positive impact. I know as long as I'm making an impact it is worth all of the sacrifice.

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Free Event: Gender Equity

Interested in embedding gender equity within your business? Register now for Hatch’s panel event on Wednesday 23rd March, 5 – 6pm. Hatch Talks: Gender Equity Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow

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