Female founders inspire us to be bold for change

This International Women’s Day, our analysis reveals a continuing untapped potential and huge opportunity when it comes to women in business, and SME owners share the advice that helped them build their businesses.

Although ONS data shows that a third (35%) of all managerial roles in the UK were held by women in 2016, up 32% from 2011, separate analysis* of listed businesses in the UK shows just 32 female executive directors at FTSE 250 firms and 24 for the FTSE Small Cap.

Meanwhile, previous industry research has found that around 20% of single-person businesses in the UK are owned and run by women, while a further 18% of UK smaller firms that are employers were majority-led by women.

We’re making women in business a primary focus for the bank in 2017. Sue Douthwaite, Managing Director, Santander Business Banking, says: “Getting more women into business should be an absolute priority for the UK. Unfortunately, the data shows that too few women are at the top of UK businesses or setting up their own SMEs, and this needs to change. Santander is committed to helping more women succeed and, through our Breakthrough programme, we will be focused on getting more Women in Business in 2017 and beyond.”

Under our Breakthrough programme we are running a number of events and initiatives across the year around the UK. We hope many of you will join us, but in the meantime, here’s some tips from some of our leading female founders, some of whom have already achieved their business Breakthrough.

Victoria Green, Founder, Victoria Green Ltd

  • About Victoria Green Ltd

    Victoria Green creates practical and thoughtfully designed makeup and wash bags. Her approach is to always start off by listening to her customers and designing with everyday life in mind. The collection includes stylish storage for cosmetics, practical solutions for the gym, and versatile wash bags to keep you organised when travelling. All the range is robust, wipe-clean and waterproof.

    The brand launched in 2014 and is now stocked by some of the best-known retailers on the high street in the UK and Ireland.

    When it comes to advice for an entrepreneur, Victoria says: “Get to know what you don’t know – then work out how you’re going to fill the gaps.” Victoria is taking part in our Women in Business Mentoring programme this year.

Selina Russell, Director, Cheeky Rascals

  • About Cheeky Rascals

    Cheeky Rascals supplies brilliant nursery products from across the globe to buy directly online, or through High Street Retailers.

    As a new mum working and living in France, Selina Russell found lots of innovative parenting products that were unavailable in the UK. With each trip back home, she found herself sourcing various bits and pieces for her fellow new mums. Turning this in to a business seemed an obvious next step. Soon enough, armed with a few leaflets, a home full of products and a gut full of ambition, Cheeky Rascals was born.

    The founding principle of the business has always been to help all those concerned realise the joy in parenting. This has been achieved through providing truly flexible working arrangements for herself and her employees and of course by finding and developing genuinely useful baby kit that makes family life more pleasurable. Selina is a well-known, respected member of the nursery industry and sits on the board of the Baby Products Association (BPA), the voice of the baby and nursery products industry in the UK and working within Europe to develop safety standards.

    Selina has recently started to work with a village in Uganda. The most recent investment has bought a water tank that has made clean water easily accessible to a population of 600. Previously, water had to be carried 600 vertical metres every day by the women and children of the village, and through contacting many other nursery and baby goods brands in the UK for donations of baby kit, she also arrived with suitcases full of baby gear that helped families and local charities. This work is now growing, with further orphanages in Uganda, Syria and Tanzania receiving much needed help.

    Twenty years on, the business continues to be bold, taking over the running of the warehouse late last year, and now launching brands of their own for the very first time.

    Selina has this advice for start-ups: “Just do it. It’s important to think and plan, but in an unpredictable world, trusting your instinct in making a decision and being able to respond quickly and flexibly is possibly even more valuable.”

Foluke Akinlose MBE, Founder, PRECIOUS

  • About PRECIOUS

    Foluke, a former journalist, had dreamt of launching a magazine for women of colour ever since she was a kid, as there were no British magazines that featured girls that looked like her.

    In 1996, working in the online department of ITN she realised that the web gave her a way of launching the magazine that she had always dreamed of, so three years later she realised her dream and launched Precious Online, the first publication of its kind to launch in the UK.

    The magazine’s aim is to profile and celebrate the professional and entrepreneurial achievements of women of colour in the UK. They host a number of events throughout the year and host an annual awards event that celebrates business women. Positive people doing their own thing inspires them. There is so much talent out there, and they want to play a part in showcasing it.

    Foluke says: “My advice to budding entrepreneurs would be to find your tribe. Immerse yourself in like-minded people who will totally get your entrepreneurial idea. Collaborate. A lesson I have learnt to my cost, buy in or barter those skills that you cannot do yourself. No one can do it all, so bring in the expertise that you are not skilled to do. It will save your time, money and I promise you, peace of mind!”

Emily Brooke, Founder and CEO, Blaze

  • About Blaze

    Emily is a previous winner of the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards and is the inventor behind the Blaze Laserlight, now featured on all Santander Cycles in London.

    The innovative light alerts other road users to the presence of a bicycle by projecting the image of a green bike five metres ahead of the cycle. The safety-driven initiative was created by Emily while at University studying for her Product Design BSci and the proof of concept was funded on crowd funding website, Kickstarter.

    They now have multiple products, all geared towards helping cyclist be seen and feel more confident. Being an entrepreneur straight out of University was daunting, but Emily gives this advice, and explains there’s no one ‘right’ way when it comes to business: "Get on with it. I spent my first year running a business terrified - is this the right way or is that? I eventually realised there are many 'right' ways forward. You'll learn so much more and get so much further by doing, rather than thinking about doing."

Alice Holden and Fleurette Mulcahy, Founders, Attollo Lingerie

  • About Attollo Lingerie

    Attollo Lingerie are also previous winners of the Santander Universities Entrepreneur Awards.largest student and graduate business pitching competition, where winners are rewarded with cash prizes, mentoring and start-up support.

    Attollo Lingerie is a D+ lingerie brand, designed by D+, for D+ women to solve the problem of lacklustre, utilitarian and boring D+ lingerie that was previously available. They do this by making beautiful, uplifting and stylish lingerie in sizes 28-34 D-GG.

    The founders found taking part in the awards helped give them the credibility at an early stage, which boosted suppliers, investors and retailers confidence in their ability as business women. This has also helped with the sustainability of their business.

    When it comes to the best piece of advice they’ve been given, the duo say: ““She believed she could so she did” is a quote both of us have above our desks in the office. You have to have an insatiable belief in your business for you to keep overcoming the obstacles and many challenges that being self-employed throws at you.”

Bonnie Chung, Director and Founder, Miso Tasty

  • About Miso Tasty

    Passionate food entrepreneur Bonnie Chung has always loved cooking Japanese food, especially with miso. She spent three years researching and developing her products before Miso Tasty, her modern brand of Japanese snacks and meals, was born.

    Miso Tasty bridges the gap between Japanese food at restaurants and having the know-how to make it yourself at home. Their range of tasty products from miso soups to ramen noodle kits are easy to enjoy and nutritious. You can find Miso Tasty's products at over 1000 stores across the UK - head to your local Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Ocado or Wholefoods.

    The London-based start-up has now been running for three years and are looking forward to expanding their range in the UK and overseas.

    Bonnie gives this advice to anyone wanting to start up their own business: “At start-up stage, be prepared to work the hardest you had ever worked in your life, and once you are committed to your idea, never, ever give up. Any hesitation in your heart that you will not succeed will show. Be brave, learn fast, push hard and stay committed, and the rest will follow. Remember that few people actually choose to do something they love, let alone have the opportunity to pursue it, so be grateful and enjoy the ride!"

Alicia Lawson, Director, Rubies in the Rubble

  • About Rubies in the Rubble

    Founder of Rubies in the Rubble Jenny Costa started reading about the problem of food waste after seeing the amount of discarded produce at fruit and vegetable markets across London, heading for landfill, often because they simply didn't look right.

    The scale of the problem of food waste got Jenny thinking about what could be done with all this surplus produce. Surely there was a way of creating a delicious, first-class product using excess produce? Armed with some family recipes and a car boot full of rescued fruit and veg rom the New Covent Garden Market, the experimentation in the kitchen began!

    Alicia came on-board very soon after starting, and now Rubies in the Rubble are on a mission to encourage people to waste less, treasure their resources and live more sustainably. They want to save the planet one jar at a time by providing a delicious and practical solution to food waste. They work directly with UK farmers, sourcing fresh fruit and veg from their surplus produce, and stockists include Waitrose, Harvey Nichols and Virgin Trains.

    When it comes to advice for future founders, Alicia says: “The best way to learn is by doing. It was really helpful when I first jumped in to Rubies to not worry about my lack of experience. It can even give you the edge by making you braver to do things differently."

* Source: Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – reference TOB2017/03560

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK