By Ruth Sunderland and Laura Chesters Daily Mail, London.
BRITAIN is the best place in Europe and the third best in the world for female entrepreneurs to set up a business, according to research published this week.
The study, by the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI) was based on a range of cultural and practical factors, such as access to finance and whether women believe they have the knowledge and skills to run their own firm.
Yet Britain is still nowhere near equality: only one business in five is majority owned by a woman and women are a third less likely than men to start up their own firm, according to a report earlier this year for the Department for Business. A separate report by research company Enders Analysis found the share of the female working age population involved in start-ups in 2013 was 5.8pc, significantly lower than men on 8.7pc and almost half that of women in the US at 10.4pc.
The idea that it makes sense to see greater equality for female entrepreneurs is not one propagated only by feminists, but by hard-headed organisations including Goldman Sachs and NatWest. Goldman has a 10,000 Women initiative that tries to help women in developing countries set up their own business.
In emerging markets, there is a strong link between female financial independence and economic growth, and the benefits cascade down generations as women have a higher propensity than men to spend their earnings on the health and education of their children.
In mature economies, such as the UK, there are also huge potential benefits.
'If women reached their potential as entrepreneurs, it could boost the UK economy,' says Jim Duffy, chief executive of Entrepreneurial Spark, an organisation that aims to help small firms grow.
Siri Terjesen, assistant professor at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business and one of the co-authors of the Female Entrepreneurship Report, adds: 'If you could get the proportion of female entrepreneurs in the UK to the same level as men, it would mean many more women working, many new products and services, job creation and increased exports.'
The banks say they are seeing a substantial increase in the numbers of women coming to them for business funding. Banks flatly deny women face discrimination when looking for a business loan, but Julie Baker, head of enterprise for NatWest/RBS, acknowledges they may lack the confidence of their male peers. She says: 'It is a combination of risk aversion, lack of confidence and possible prejudice in banks. I personally have not witnessed any prejudice but there may be.'
Women often decide to set up their own business out of frustration with inflexible corporate culture that does not cater for their family responsibilities. Once setting up on their own, they are more likely to feel isolated than a man, according to Entrepreneurial Spark research.
But Jim Duffy adds: 'As women entrepreneurs succeed and become wealthy, they will form their own investment syndicates. That will be a real kick starter.'
DON'T TRY TO BE TOO PERFECT Julie Deane Cambridge Satchel Co MOTHER-of-two Julie Deane, 47, started bag brand the Cambridge Satchel Company in 2008 from her kitchen table. She launched it with her own mum Freda Thomas when she wanted to raise enough money to pay for private education for her children after bullying at their local school.
Her son, now 13, and daughter, 16, have watched their mother create a company with turnover of more than pounds sterling 10m that makes around 1,000 bags a day. The company last year received a pounds sterling 21m injection from venture capital firm Index Ventures and exports around the world. Deane has advice for women also hoping to set up their own businesses. 'I have seen many budding entrepreneurs wasting time trying to find the "perfect" company name, create the "perfect" logo, design the "perfect" website.
'I really believe you must create a deadline for yourself to get started because it's too easy to keep putting things off.' It was her own personal deadline for her family that drove her: 'I had to make school fees so I had a deadline.'
KITTED OUT FOR SUCCESS Katy Biddulph Striders Edge THIRTY-one year old Katy Biddulph noticed a gap in the sportswear market for kit for women that is stylish as well as high-performance.
Her belief is that if women feel good about their workout or running gear, they will be more inclined to exercise, adding that the industry 'seemed to lack a credible and authoritative brand just for women'.
Her company Striding Edge was launched in February 2011 when she was 27. Rather than borrowing from a bank, Biddulph decided to go down the alternative funding route. She explains: 'I perfected my pitch and found various angel investment funding rings where you basically turn up to an investor evening, stand up on stage and pitch your idea to a room of 100 or so strangers -- scary! The networks then take a success fee as commission. This is how I managed to secure funding which enabled me to launch the brand.'
AGAINST ALL THE ODDS Margaret Wood ICW COPING with the death of her husband was hard enough, but having to provide for her three teenagers made widowhood even more traumatic for Margaret Wood, 68.
The answer for her was starting her own industrial company – not a conventional route for a Yorkshirewoman in her 40s, living in a traditional community. Yet a few years after the death of her husband Tony in 1986, Wood had set up ICW UK, a high-tech industrial glazing company.
She explains: 'Being an entrepreneur wasn't on my radar. But my options were suddenly narrowed.'
She has steadily grown the business -- it has a turnover of pounds sterling 500,000 a year -- but has had to overcome many obstacles, particularly as she was operating in the traditonally male industrial sector.
But Wood says once she proved she could do it and stick at it, things got better. The business employs five permanently and supplies huge firms including Tata Steel. Her advice to other women is: 'Get on and do something, don't just talk about it.'
THE Daily Mail/NatWest everywoman Aphrodite Award will recognise Mumpreneurs who have set up their own business while raising a child or children aged 12 or under. Even if you are not a mumpreneur there are several other NatWest everywoman award categories for female entrepreneurs. Closing date is July 6, 2015. everywoman.com/ewawards