Thank you Yasmina [winner of the 5th series of The Apprentice, now working for Start-Up Loans] for that very kind introduction.
I’m delighted to be here. The British Library is just such an inspiring place – and it’s very apt that we are here marking the achievements of so many fantastic women.
I’d like to start by saying some thank-yous.
First of all to Enterprising Women for organising today’s event, and of course, for their ongoing work to support businesswomen.
And thank you to the British Library for so generously hosting today’s conference – and providing such an invaluable source of information for female entrepreneurs.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our nation.
And increasingly, it’s women who are in charge of these growing, thriving businesses.
In the last month I have, as a constituency MP, been asked for support and advice by four women setting up four different businesses in Loughborough.
Because there are more businesses led by women than ever before.
In fact, women currently lead approximately one million small businesses, injecting billions of pounds into our economy – over £80 billion!
That’s because the UK really is a great place to start a business.
The government’s backing business every step of the way – making it easier for budding entrepreneurs to start, succeed and prosper.
And I’m delighted to say that, as part of this, we as a Government have put specific measures in place to support women to set up and grow their own businesses.
Because the Women’s Business Council has identified that if women were setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men, there could be 1 million more female entrepreneurs.
That’s one million more women shaping and owning their own careers, supporting themselves and their families… one million more talented people contributing a huge amount to our society and our economy.
When I go to events and meet the women at the heart of these projects, it’s impossible not to be inspired by their vision, their drive, and their dedication to succeed.
Women like Jacqui Miller, the main Board Director of Miller International Ltd, who I met last week in the North-East and who is now branching out to create her own brand and inspire other women to do the same.
Or any of the incredibly impressive and energetic women I’ve met over recent months – women who are managing to juggle a hectic family life, caring responsibilities, or academic study with running their own businesses.
Inspirations to their family, their friends, their employees, particularly younger women for whom role models are terrifically important, and to all of us here today.
But research shows that a number of women feel like there are still a lot of hurdles between them and success.
Only 31% of women – that’s less than a third! – feel like they have the skills to start a business, compared to nearly half of men. [Global Entrepreneurship Monitor UK 2012 report]
Women are just as successful as men in raising finance for their business, and they’re just as likely to have the same aspirations for the future of their company.
But these same women seek significantly lower amounts of finance to back their projects.
Without the right funding, it would be hard for anyone to realise the potential of their ideas.
And finally, women are more likely to say that fear of failure is a barrier to enterprise than men.
So I’m proud to be able to say that this government has taken some really positive steps to help support women who’d like to start their own business, but perhaps feel like they lack the skills, confidence, or financial backing they need to succeed.
And these steps really are bearing fruit – as we can see here today.
We’ve provided a £1m Challenge ‘Women and Broadband’ Fund to help women to move their business online. Do take some time during lunch to go and see some of the successful businesses that have benefited from this funding in the room next door.
Following the success of the government-backed Get Mentoring project we have worked with SFEDI, who are here today, to run a series of national ‘Meet a Mentor’ road shows specifically for women across the country, matching up experienced businesswomen with those new to enterprise – sharing experience, building confidence, and providing inspiration.
These events have been incredibly successful – and I’m pleased that they will be continuing till the end of March – so do sign up if you’ve got valuable experience to share, or you’d like support from a mentor.
We’ve also invested in the Women’s Start Up Project to provide opportunities for young women studying in the Creative Industries and Leisure and Tourism sectors to develop their own businesses.
Young Enterprise are also here today, with Mint Marketing – just one of the businesses set up as a result of their programme.
To help women across the country support themselves and their communities, the Government has provided £1.6 million to support rural women’s businesses, through improved access to transport, virtual assistants for those in remote areas, networking opportunities, and skills training.
And finally, women are, of course, also benefiting from the full range of business support available from government, including start-up loans. The Start-Up Loans company has now made over 25,000 loans, worth over £130m in total, with over a third of these loans going to women.
Lord Young, as the founder of Start-Up Loans, will be speaking shortly, and I’m sure he’ll have some great advice to share.
At its heart this is about dispelling the myth that a successful entrepreneur looks a certain way, acts a certain way, does business in a certain way.
So my hope is that, together, the projects we’re funding will give women confidence in their own abilities; that the advice, guidance and support we’re offering, will mean that fear of failure no longer becomes a barrier to success.
I’m proud of everything the government has done to help women and unlock their potential, and to help them succeed as the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
We have a duty to empower, support, and celebrate all those women who take a chance and decide to branch out on their own, and to give them the advice, training and funding they need to help their businesses grow and thrive.
Working together with groups like Enterprising Women, and coming together in debate and discussion today, gives me confidence that we can achieve this.
And achieve this we must.
Because this isn’t just for women. The million women-led businesses existing today are fundamental to the success of our long term economic plan.
It’s only by working together we can ensure that a woman with the next big idea will find the support she needs to realise her dreams and secure the future of her business.
And we should have the confidence that the next generation of business-owners – boys and girls at schools around the country - will be inspired by today’s female leaders – see entrepreneurship in their own future, and continue to make our country the economic powerhouse of the modern world.