Supporting markets to survive and thrive

For around a thousand years, the London Borough Market has existed in one form or another.  It has survived fire, flood, plague and war – and on the 3rd of June this year, a terrorist attack.  The market has since reopened, with traders determined to continue their work and serve the local community.

Although many markets are a historic part of their host towns and cities, they are far from being relics.  Indeed, in recent years markets have experienced something of a revival.  In London alone, since 2010, the number of street markets has grown from 162 to over 250.

There are clear reasons for this – markets offer consumers and traders a number of benefits, and they make significant contributions to the economic, social and political health of towns and cities.

Economic impact of markets

Indeed, in 2015, the Institute of Place Management (IPM) conducted a comprehensive review of the impact of markets and found that markets not only have a significant turnover, they also impact indirectly on the wider economy – meaning that the £3.5 billion turnover directly attributable to retail markets is actually worth around £10.5 billion to the UK economy.

The Portas review in 2011 hailed markets as a potential saviour of the high street.  Indeed, the IPM review supports this, reporting that markets can help to increase town centre footfall by up to 25%.  This has significant economic potential.  In London, market visitors spend around £752 million per annum in nearby shop-based retailers.

Markets were also found to:

  • act as a significant employer, both nationally and at the local level
  • support intergenerational economic mobility (through family-owned businesses)
  • support the development of entrepreneurial skills in young people through ‘youth markets’
  • act as business incubators and support business formation due to their low barriers to entry, for example, enabling migrants to set up their own businesses
  • enable small businesses to reach larger businesses whom they can supply, and support other local businesses, such as farmers.
  • encourage high street diversity and create a distinct ‘identity’ for high streets
  • promote high street resilience, as they are flexible and able to respond quickly to changing demands.
  • help to utilise vacant and underused spaces within high streets
  • attract tourists, who are drawn to them because they are “unique, quirky, unusual”

Wider benefits

Markets also have a number of social purposes.  They are important places of social interaction, which facilitate community cohesion and social inclusion.  Markets can also help to improve public health and quality of life through the provision of fresh, quality produce at lower price points, which may be particularly beneficial for low-income families.

From an environmental perspective, there are also a number of benefits arising from the sale and purchase of locally produced products, including reducing pollution associated with high ‘food miles’ and reducing the need for consumers to travel to out-of-town sites, such as large retail parks, in order to make their purchases.

Challenges

Although there is overwhelming evidence that almost every street, food and farmer’s market is an invaluable asset to its local community, markets still face a number of very real threats.  These include:

  • the rise of out-of-town shopping centres, the dominance of big supermarkets, and the popularity of online shopping
  • planning and regulatory regimes that do not allow for, or restrict, the expansion or establishment of markets
  • a lack of support for markets or poor management by local authorities
  • high land values making it difficult for markets to be established

As many markets are a lifeline for areas experiencing deprivation, it is important that they receive the support that they require to survive and flourish.

Promoting and supporting markets

So, what can be done to support markets?  Earlier this year, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced plans to establish the London Markets Board – a team of experts tasked with delivering a London markets strategy, and work to preserve and promote London’s increasing number of markets.

On a wider scale, NABMA (National Association of British Market Authorities) and the National Market Traders Federation recently published a ‘five-year manifesto’, which made a number of recommendations for ways to support markets.

A key recommendation is that local authorities work to raise the profile of markets.  There are many market-focused national initiatives such as Love Your Local Market, the National Youth Market, and the Great British Market Awards, which local authorities can become involved in.

The Love Your Local Market campaign, for example, is an annual event, established in 2012, which brings together markets across the UK.  It aims to build affection and support for markets in local communities, and offers free or subsidised pitches to start-ups to test trading conditions.  In 2013, it increased footfall in participating town centres by 10%.

Other recommendations to support markets include:

  • greater recognition of the role of markets in local economies, jobs and growth, as well as in civic local society
  • ensuring that retail markets have a voice in policy making that affects them, including planning and town centre management
  • further lifting the current burden of business rates for SMEs
  • supporting greater awareness of the sector’s employment opportunities including apprenticeships, platforms for self-employment and training hubs
  • developing and supporting sector-led initiatives that aim to support entrepreneurship and increase the amount of businesses on markets, and support them digitally
  • encouraging schools and further education establishments to work with market operators to enable people entering the labour market to embrace markets as a possible career

There are some promising signs.  Around £90 million has been invested into improving markets since 2014, and an increasing number of local authorities are making them central to town centre plans and regeneration activity.

By promoting and supporting markets in this way, the economic, social and environmental benefits can be maximised. As the 2015 review of markets underlines: “markets are an important asset to a location, and their future cannot be left to chance.”

Scotland’s space sector: a launchpad for economic growth

Discovery space shuttle on launchpad

By Steven McGinty

In March, the UK Space Agency announced it had awarded £50,000 to the University of Strathclyde’s Scottish Centre for Satellite Applications (SoXSA) for its work with Glasgow City Council to attract entrepreneurs and start-ups to Glasgow’s innovation hub, Tontine.

Six companies will benefit from the support, which includes space industry specific business support, dedicated workshops and expertise, and administration and accommodation costs for two years.

The award is another sign of faith in Scotland’s burgeoning space industry, which has seen it become a global leader in the ‘New Space’ economy.

The development of New Space

The space industry, like many other technology fields, has been traditionally dominated by nation states, often in terms of national security.

But now, a new space industry is emerging, where private companies and entrepreneurs are developing innovative products and services in or for space. Reasons for this include reductions in funding to national space agencies, such as Donald Trump’s recent cuts to NASA, as well as the private sector’s success in innovation. For example, the company Space X has managed to launch rockets that had previously been into space – a practice which has been estimated to reduce the first stage of space flight from $60 million to $500,000.

Scotland’s role

Within a few miles of Glasgow’s city centre, a small number of research groups and private companies have gained international reputations for their work on space technologies.

For instance, Glasgow – a city more known for its heavy industries and shipbuilding – has found a niche in manufacturing low cost nanosatellites. This has led to Glasgow being crowned ‘Europe’s Satellite City’.

Glasgow’s first satellite company, Clydespace, has been tremendously successful over the past decade by developing CubeSats (a satellite the size of a wine bottle). These have been used in a range of missions, including UKube-1, the first mission to be commissioned by the UK Space Agency as a demonstrator for space technologies.

The city has also seen investment from Spire Global – a satellite powered data company headquartered in San Francisco. Spire’s satellites, which are used to gather data on weather, maritime, and aviation, were built by Clydespace. Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire, explains that:

We have up there about 20 satellites, all exclusively built here in Glasgow.”

Mr Platzer highlights that Scotland’s confidence in Spire was one of the reasons that they opened their European office in Glasgow’s Skypark. The company received a £1.5m Scottish government grant through the agency Scottish Development International (SDI).

Scotland’s low cost base and universities with strong interests in engineering and space technologies were also highlighted as key selling points.

Young innovators have also sought to get involved in Scotland’s space sector. For example, Tom Walkinshaw, founded Alba Orbital from his bedroom when he was unable to secure a job in the space industry. His company provides PocketQube satellites (based on a design of one or more 5cm cubes) and now employs 10 skilled employees. Alba Orbital’s first satellite, Unicorn-1, is backed by the European Space Agency and is due for launch later in the year.

In academia, the University of Glasgow’s LISA Pathfinder team won the 2016 Sir Arthur Clarke Award for “Space Achievement in Academic Research or Study”. The award was given for the team’s work on developing the Optical Bench Interferometer (OBI) for the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder spacecraft – a demonstrator aimed at measuring gravitational waves in space.

The future of Scotland’s space economy

A report by London Economics investigated the potential benefits of a spaceport in Scotland.

Prestwick Airport in South Ayrshire and Machrihanish, near Campbeltown, are currently competing to win a licence from the UK Government.

London Economics have set out three main advantages to having a local spaceport:

  • Spaceport operations – The activities associated with a spaceport will lead to the direct creation of jobs in commercial spaceflight or providing satellite launches, as well as indirect benefits for local suppliers.
  • Space tourism – Tourists visiting space stations or taken part in space travel are also likely to spend money in the surrounding areas and on other attractions.
  • Space-related education – Spending will increase on research and development due to the creation of a spaceport.

Tom Millar, managing director of DiscoverSpace UK, has also stated that sending small satellites into space would be a ‘viable revenue stream’. A local spaceport would reduce the costs for Scottish satellite companies as at the moment they currently have to ‘piggyback’ onto launches with larger satellites.

The report concludes by finding that a spaceport in Scotland would increase growth from 9% to 10% of the UK’s space economy in 2030.

The implications of Brexit

The results of the 2016 EU Referendum has caused uncertainty for the Scottish space sector. For example, many companies will be concerned for the rights of EU national employees, as well as their ability to recruit from this workforce in the future.

The Financial Times has also reported that changes in terms could keep UK companies out of lucrative European space contracts, such as the €10bn Galileo satellite navigation system. The European Commission are looking to change the terms of the Galileo project so that contracts can be cancelled if a company is not based in a member state. They also require companies to pay the costs of finding a replacement. If these terms are approved, it would effectively rule out UK-based companies bidding for EU projects, which would have a negative impact on the sector’s growth.

Final thoughts

Scotland’s space sector is estimated to be worth £134 million and accounts for 18% of all UK space industry jobs. Its success has been built on a combination of government support, talented entrepreneurs, and a supply of skilled engineers.

As the industry continues to grow, there will still be an important role for government, particularly in supporting innovation centres and granting licences for UK spaceports. The promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects will also be crucial, as we look to develop a new generation of space entrepreneurs to keep us ahead of this new industrial space race.


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If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read some of our other articles:

‘Olderpreneurs’ – the new generation of start-ups?

Senior Man on Laptop_Fotolia_61314537_XXL.jpg

By Heather Cameron

Entrepreneurs are often portrayed as bright young things launching start-ups, but does the reality of start-up demographics paint a different picture?

Changing demographics

The UK has certainly witnessed a boom in young entrepreneurship in recent years – the number of under-35s starting businesses in the UK rose by more than 70% between 2006 and 2014.

However, recent research suggests that the boom in young entrepreneurs may be waning. According to research commissioned by Google earlier this year, the majority of young people are “not interested” in starting a business, with four out of five young people surveyed saying they would rather work for a well-established company. Particular concerns were also highlighted over risk and instability.

The UK is, however, still ranked in the top 10 countries with the most favourable conditions for entrepreneurs to start and scale new businesses. And official data suggests that the UK continues to see record numbers of business start-ups, exceeding 600,000 in 2015, up on the previous two years.

So if it isn’t the younger generation heading up this record number, who is it?

‘Olderpreneurs’

Despite media coverage of the entrepreneurial spirit of the younger generation, the average age of an entrepreneur in the UK has actually been estimated at 47.

And according to the latest data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the most notable increase in entrepreneurial activity has been amongst the over 50 age group.

Referred to as ‘olderpreneurs’, this group could arguably be the new start-up generation.

There has been a 46.5% increase in freelancers over 50 since 2008, an age group that accounts for 72% of all self-employed people. According to official statistics there are around 1.8 million self-employed people over the age of 50 in the UK.

With an ageing population that is also becoming healthier, perhaps this shouldn’t be such a surprise.

Motivations

Motivations for people starting up their own businesses include redundancy, retirement, family circumstances, growing older and life stage milestones.

As life expectancy increases, many don’t want to give up work at the traditional retirement age, as they still lead active lives. Retirement has been cited as an ‘important tipping point’ for some, with the main motivation not to make money or grow their business, but rather something to keep them occupied or earn some extra money while doing something relatively easy.

The introduction of pension freedoms last year has also led to more over 50s using their pensions to fund new business ventures. The over 55s cashed in more than £4.7billion of their pensions in the first six months after pension freedoms were introduced.

Economic impact

And such activity is good news for the economy. It has been suggested that if the employment rate of 50-64 year olds matched that of the 35-49 age group, the UK economy could be boosted by £88 billion.

Older entrepreneurs have also been shown to be more successful than their younger counterparts. It has been highlighted that businesses run by owner-managers over 50 drive up revenues at their companies three-and-a-half times faster than GDP growth – 11.5% compared with 3.1%.

And older entrepreneurs create jobs at a rate more than seven times faster than the UK economic average.

It has also been suggested by the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (PRIME) that start-up failure rates in this age bracket are remarkably low. It recently revealed that 95% of its members were still in business a year or more after starting up, compared to the national average of just 66%.

Final thoughts

A significant percentage of the UK population is past retirement age. And the number of people aged 50 to State Pension age is expected to rise by 3.2 million, while the number aged 16 to 49 will have reduced by 200,000 over the next 10 years.

As a result, keeping this group economically engaged surely has to be a priority.


If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our previous articles on entrepreneurship and self-employment

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The pop-up reality for youth on the urban fringe

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How do young people feel about the places where they live? And how do the spaces available to them, constrain or shape their activities?  Last week, Margaret Robertson, Professor of Education at La Trobe University in Melbourne presented a seminar at the University of Glasgow which explored these questions. The event was hosted by Glasgow University’s Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC), in collaboration with the Centre for Research & Development in Lifelong Learning.

Margaret has long-standing research interests in youth studies and cross-cultural differences, and a particular focus is on “student voice” and young people’s views and visions of their future lifestyles.

She began with an overview of Melbourne, whose population of 4 million is being swelled by 2000 new arrivals every week. This growth, she explained, is pushing the urban fringe further and further out, and this movement is transforming Melbourne into a global city.

At the same time, Margaret pointed to dramatic changes in the cultural landscape, largely due to increased mobility and technological advances. These changes are presenting particular challenges to young people, many of whom are using travel and social media to create their own “social spaces”. This “pop-up” culture can include everything from websites to impromptu skateboard parks.

Margaret’s research has found that the lived experiences of young people growing up in new housing estates on the fringes of Melbourne have, until recently, been unexamined. Among her own findings:

  • Large houses with small backyards create ‘sedentary landscapes’ for children.
  • Youth mobility is diminished with cars increasingly used for children’s travel.
  • Transport issues, especially in outer suburbs of cities contribute to a loss of independence for young people.

She explained that her findings underline the importance of personal space and special places in the lives of young people.

Above all, Margaret stressed the importance of giving young people a voice – and a real voice, not a token voice. Only by asking young people for their views, she argues, can local and national government learn to encourage the creative, entrepreneurial youth counter-cultures now possible through increased mobility and technology.

Margaret’s wide-ranging and well-informed presentation offered plenty of food for thought, although she stressed that part of the researcher’s journey was to acknowledge that there are no clear solutions to the problems affecting society.


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The self-employment boom … a challenge for government?

By Heather Cameron

There are around 4.5 million self-employed people working in the UK – 1 in 7 of the total workforce. And based on the current rate of growth, it is expected that the self-employed will outnumber public sector employees by 2020. But what impact is this shift in the labour market having on the economy and on government policy?

Growth

Earlier this year we wrote about the rise in female self-employment and entrepreneurship. And generally, jobs recovery in the UK following the recession has undoubtedly been helped by self-employment, which accounts for over a quarter of the growth in employment since 2010.

While the recession has accentuated the growth in self-employment, it is a trend that predates the downturn and it is the significant drop in the numbers leaving self-employment that has been the main driver of growth over the last five years.

Also, as people are living longer and healthier lives, many don’t want to give up working at the traditional retirement age. There has been a 46.5% increase in freelancers over 50 since 2008, an age group that now accounts for 72% of all self-employed people.

This could be seen as a positive outcome of growing entrepreneurialism, contributing to economic growth.  On the other hand, some see it as a move towards more risky, insecure work.

Why self-employment?

There is a definite attraction to being able to work for yourself and organise your own working hours. Most self-employed workers have chosen this path and there is evidence to suggest that job satisfaction is high among self-employed workers.

The freelancing model can also be beneficial to firms as it provides flexibility in access to expertise, helping them to manage peaks and troughs in demand for their services and enabling them to test new ideas with less risk.

A recent study of freelance workers found that a number of factors affect their wellbeing. When working hours are higher than their normal working pattern, freelance workers were found to be calmer and more enthusiastic. However, when the demands they face are difficult or conflicting, then anxiety increases and enthusiasm declines, potentially leading to depression.

Self-employment is therefore not without its drawbacks.

Challenges

Self-employment is often associated with a lack of stability in terms of income and employment benefits such as holiday/sick pay and pensions, and difficulties in accessing financial products and housing.

A particular issue recently has been ‘bogus self-employment’ where workers who would normally meet the legal definition of an employee are registered as self-employed, therefore not receiving any of the employee benefits afforded to registered employees. The government also loses tax revenue and responsible businesses can be undercut.

Access to training is another big challenge for the self-employed as they can only treat training that improves existing skillsets as tax deductible, meaning training for new skills is not covered. As a recent report by Demos argues, this contradicts the aspiration of policy makers to promote entrepreneurial behaviour.

Worryingly, the number of self-employed people receiving training in the UK has fallen in recent years while other European countries have seen a rise. Limited access to training could become a real concern and contribute to the problem of low pay and poor progression rates for self-employed workers and across the wider labour market.

A recent report by IPPR highlights data suggesting that the earnings of the self-employed across Europe are falling relative to employee earnings, and many are looking for more hours or another job, raising concerns over living standards among this group.

As the UK is unique in its self-employment led recovery, this may be of particular concern. According to IPPR, the growth in self-employment could be driving a rise in in-work poverty alongside the jobs recovery.

Support

With a record number of self-employed people now working in the UK, it has been argued that the government needs to better support this growing section of the workforce.

Self-employment has surpassed growth in permanent employment by 3 to 1 in the last decade, but, as Demos has recently reported, government policy has yet to catch up with this structural shift.

There have been moves towards providing support for self-employment, such as the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA), set up by the previous government, which provides people on certain benefits with support to start their own business. Figures published at the end of 2014 show that the NEA has helped to set up over 60,000 new businesses.

Nevertheless, more needs to be done to bring policy in line with the current situation.

The report by Demos makes 18 recommendations for policy to protect the flexibility that self-employment offers, while addressing power imbalances within the marketplace. These include:

  • reducing red tape for firms and the self-employed;
  • providing greater certainty over employment status;
  • creating a tailored pension scheme for the self-employed;
  • aligning the tax treatment of training for employees and the self-employed;
  • and protecting the self-employed from loss of earnings.

In July, the government launched an independent review of self-employment which will consider how those who want to work for themselves can be better supported.

Due to be published in early 2016, perhaps the outcome of this will herald a shift in policy which is in line with the shift in labour market structure.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on labour market policy. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading*

Neither one thing nor the other: how reducing bogus self-employment could benefit workers, business and the Exchequer

Self-employment and ethnicity: an escape from poverty?

Policy brief on sustaining self-employment: entrepreneurial activities in Europe

Business start-ups and youth self-employment in the UK: a policy literature review

Making sense of self-employment in late career: understanding the identity of olderpreneurs, IN Work, Employment and Society, Vol 29 No 2 Apr 2015, pp250-266

Self-employment: what can we learn from recent developments?, IN Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, Vol 55 No 1 Q1 2015, pp56-66

The changing workforce (increased self-employment and flexible working practices), IN Business Voice, Jun/Jul 2014, pp20-24

*Some items may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Entrepreneurship – the way to drive growth?

Torn newspaper headlines depicting business strategy

By Heather Cameron

With endless negative reports on the state of the economy over recent years, the findings of a new study by the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC), The UK growth dashboard 2015, should make for encouraging reading.

Start-ups at record level

The report shows that small businesses have finally made up the ground lost since the recession, with jobs, start-up and growth rates returning to pre-crisis levels in 2014 for the first time since 2008.

Professor Mark Hart, Deputy Director of ERC, said:

“The UK Growth Dashboard provides us with the most detailed picture of where entrepreneurial activity and business growth is occurring around the country.

It shows us that small businesses in every corner of the UK are growing at their fastest rate since the Great Recession, while more and more entrepreneurs have the confidence to take the plunge.”

The UK now has the highest number of start-ups in its history. There were 581,173 new business registrations in 2014, representing an accelerated increase on previous years, and figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of firms dropping out of the register has fallen by 6%.

According to the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Index, the UK is the most entrepreneurial country in Europe and ranks fourth overall.

Regional disparities

Despite such growth however, the dashboard reveals that large regional disparities still remain in entrepreneurship and small business growth across the nations, city-regions and each of the 39 English Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas.

In England, a complex picture emerges in terms of LEP geography, which challenges some of the presumptions made about growth hotspots across England.

While London dominates, as expected, there is not a simple north-south divide. Major city regions and more rural LEPs from across the country also have above average rates of start-ups. There are 11 local areas in England with above average rates of start-ups showing early signs of scaling. London tops the list but the local area of Birmingham is close behind, as are the local areas of Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield.

There are also a number of places with above average proportions of fast-growing firms. These include some areas in the South East such as Oxfordshire and Thames Valley. Perhaps surprisingly however Leicester and Leicestershire, Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Northampton and South East Midlands LEP areas as well as Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds City Region LEPs also come under this category – showing that some of the fastest growing businesses in the UK are delivering jobs and revenues as well as wealth for their owners outside London and the South East. Perhaps entrepreneurial activity could therefore help to combat the traditional north-south divide in terms of growth.

Economic impact

Indeed, there is evidence that entrepreneurial activity has a positive impact on economic growth independent of other factors.

A number of benefits recently highlighted include:

  • enhanced economic growth through introducing innovative technologies, products, and services;
  • existing firms are challenged to become more competitive due to increased competition from entrepreneurs;
  • new job opportunities in the short and longer term;
  • raised productivity of firms and economies;
  • and accelerated structural change by replacing established, inflexible firms.

It is argued that such benefits will be greater in economies where entrepreneurs can operate flexibly, develop their ideas, and reap the rewards.

Barriers to growth

Regulatory barriers have been cited as a significant impediment to successful entrepreneurship, such as the need to buy permits or licenses. The above report argues that governments need to cut red tape, streamline regulations, and prepare for the adverse effects of job losses in incumbent firms that fail because of the new competition.

Lack of capital, risk to household income and concerns about lack of skills and impact on future career are also significant barriers to enterprise. A recent report from the Social Market Foundation suggests that these barriers are preventing potential ‘high-value entrepreneurship’, which, it argues, has the widest positive impact on the UK economy. While the UK has record levels of entrepreneurship overall, it lags behind other countries on rates of high value entrepreneurship.

The growth dashboard similarly reports that skills and staff, and finance are in the top four main barriers to growth among clients in England. These are a particular barrier in more rural LEPs.

Way forward

It would seem that policy-makers need to help overcome these barriers and encourage the support of entrepreneurs directly rather than impeding their potential with unnecessary regulatory burdens.

The SMF report recommends:

  • prohibiting non-compete clauses in employment contracts;
  • championing flexible working;
  • introducing a ‘right to return’ for people leaving work to start a new business;
  • and reinstating tax reliefs for corporate venturing.

Perhaps if such barriers can be overcome, we will see record levels of all types of entrepreneurship and thus increased productivity.


The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on entrepreneurship and economic development – to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Culture, entrepreneurship and uneven development: a spatial analysis, IN Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, Vol 26 No 9-10 Nov-Dec 2014, pp726-752

Business start-ups and youth self-employment in the UK: a policy literature review (2015, University of Brighton)

Policy brief on expanding networks for inclusive entrepreneurship (2015, OECD)

Commercial councils: the rise of entrepreneurialism in local government (2015, Localis)

Self-employment as a route in and out of Britain’s South East, IN Regional Studies, Vol 49 No 4 Apr 2015, pp665-680

Cultural diversity and entrepreneurship in England and Wales, IN Environment and Planning A, Vol 47 No 2 Feb 2015, pp392-411

Activating jobseekers through entrepreneurship: start-up incentives in Europe (2014, European Employment Policy Observatory)

Economic resilience and entrepreneurship: lessons from the Sheffield City Region, IN Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, Vol 26 Nos 3-4, pp257-281

Is entrepreneurship a route out of deprivation?, IN Regional Studies, Vol 48 No 6 Jun 2014, pp1090-1107

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Female entrepreneurship – making it happen!

By Donna Gardiner

On Sunday 8th March, people around the globe will come together to celebrate the economic, social and political achievements of women as part of International Women’s Day. The day also presents an opportunity to call for greater gender equality.

One of the great success stories for women’s equality has been the increase in women’s employment rates over the past forty years. Indeed, women’s employment levels are now higher than at any other time since records began.

However, despite this great progress, rates of female entrepreneurship have not matched this pace. A recent report by the Ambassador for Women in Enterprise, Lorely Burt MP, notes that only one in five businesses in the UK are majority-owned by women, and that women are significantly less likely than men to start their own business.

The report looked at the ways in which the government could help to address the barriers faced by female entrepreneurs and increase the opportunities available to them. It makes a number of recommendations, in particular:

  • Making available support, including networking and finance, more accessible to women;
  • Being more inclusive in communications with potential female entrepreneurs;
  • Tackling unconscious basis in the presentation of services to women;
  • Making greater, and better, use of the Great Business website, particularly the section targeted at women.

As well as promoting greater equality and choice for women, the report argues that improving support for female entrepreneurs could have significant economic benefits. For example, it cites research by the Women’s Business Council, which estimates that, if women were setting up new businesses at the same rate as men, there would be one million more female entrepreneurs. Indeed, raising the level of women’s employment to the same as men’s could lift GDP by as much as 10% by 2030.

Signs of progress

There are some promising signs of progress. Since 2008, the proportion of Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) run mainly by women has increased from 14% to 19%.

Recently there has also been an increased focus on broadening young women’s aspirations and understanding of career options while they are still in education, partially as a result of recommendations put forward by the Women’s Business Council in 2013.

In 2014, a follow-up report assessed the progress that had been made against these recommendations. Successful initiatives included a pilot project to help female students develop entrepreneurial skills, and use of the Speakers for Schools scheme to enable successful female entrepreneurs to discuss their experiences with pupils and act as positive role models. We also wrote last year about the importance for girls of having female role models within science and technology, when considering career choices.

The government has also stepped up its support for existing and new female entrepreneurs, recently announcing a £1million challenge fund to help women grow their business online, the introduction of Start Up Loans, the Enterprise Allowance and local growth hubs, and the provision of £1.6 million to support women entrepreneurs in rural areas.

Mentoring can help

Karren Brady, a top female entrepreneur, known for her role on the BBC’s The Apprentice, and as vice-chair of West Ham Football Club, is passionate about female entrepreneurs and SMEs. She suggests that “fear and a lack of confidence can stand in the way of women” and recommends that budding entrepreneurs should find a mentor to help guide them.

She is not the only one to recognise the benefits of mentors for women entrepreneurs.  The government recently announced additional funding for a series of ‘Meet a mentor’ events which are aimed solely at women.

The issue of female entrepreneurship has even found its way into popular women’s magazines such as Elle and Red, both of which have recently been promoting female entrepreneurship, through dedicated sections and discussions on business start ups and highlighting advice and guidance from strong female role models.

There are clearly many facets to tackling the low rates of female entrepreneurship. As well as ensuring that potential women entrepreneurs can access practical support and services, there is a need to tackle the underlying notion held by many that business is a ‘male activity’.

By doing so, women who want to run their own business will be better placed to obtain both the resources and the confidence required to “make it happen”.


Further reading

Whether you are interested in entrepreneurship or equalities, the Idox Information Service can help.

The Burt report: inclusive support for women in enterprise Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2015

Maximising women’s contribution to future economic growth: one year on Women’s Business Council, 2014

Realising the potential (under-representation of women in Scottish entrepreneurship), IN Holyrood, No 314 17 Mar 2014, pp73-74 (A49229)

Women and the economy: government action plan Government Equalities Office, 2013

Entrepreneurs: what can we learn from them? Inspiring female entrepreneurs Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2013

Women in business: female entrepreneurship – creating growth and dispelling the myths Federation of Small Businesses, 2011