One challenge for women-owned businesses in the UK is that women have traditionally been less likely than men to start businesses. According to research from the RBS Group, although women comprise 48 percent of the working population, they represent only 17 percent of business owners. However, despite the challenges and barriers, more women in the UK are seeking to start businesses. Recent research from the Centre for Entrepreneurs and Barclays found that women entrepreneurs may even tend to have certain personality traits that make them more likely to succeed – women entrepreneurs are less likely to be overconfident about their business, and 80 percent of women business owners say they see opportunities where others see risk, although women are also more likely to be concerned about taking “fool-hardy” risks that might be a threat to their business.
Women in the UK are better educated and more economically empowered than ever before, so what is holding women back from starting and growing their own businesses? One challenge to women entrepreneurs is a lack of access to funding for businesses – whether it’s traditional bank loans or venture capital. As described in this article in the Financial Times, there is a big discrepancy between the percentage of women in the workforce and the percentage of women-owned businesses that receive venture capital dollars.
Fortunately, the UK has a variety of grants from the government and private sector that are intended to help correct these disparities and encourage and nurture entrepreneurship amongst women-owned businesses and first-time entrepreneurs. Even if a grant is not specifically for “women,” don’t feel discouraged from applying.
Here are a few possible sources of small business grants and other business funding for UK women entrepreneurs:
Regional Growth Fund
The Regional Growth Fund (RGF) is a UK government and private sector scheme that provides loans and/or grants to eligible small and medium-sized businesses. Each RGF programme has its own eligibility requirements, application criteria and goals depending on the location. Check the list of RGF programmes in your area to see which ones might be the best fit for your business, and get more details about each specific loan or grant programme.
Better Business Finance
Better Business Finance is a comprehensive site with advice and information for entrepreneurs in the UK, with a variety of support for small business owners in all industries and regions of the UK. They have a helpful search tool that you can use to search for grants based on the location of your business, the amount of finance required, the purpose of the finance and the sector of the industry that your business is in. For example, devolved governments of Wales and Scotland or local town councils often offer small business grants designed for specific purposes and targeted at particular industries or goals, such as promoting new startups, enhancing shop front décor in historic districts, etc. Depending on which categories your business fits into, you could use this site to find some great grant opportunities.
Start Up Loans: Start Up Loans is a UK government-funded scheme to provide loans, mentoring and advice to startup businesses. To qualify, you must be presenting a new business idea or have an existing business that has only been in operation for less than 24 months. Start Up Loans enable entrepreneurs to borrow up to £25,000 with a fixed interest rate of 6 percent with a 1-to-5-year repayment period. Start Up Loan recipients also receive 15 hours of free business mentoring during their first 12 months – this is a valuable resource that can help you grow your business and solve business challenges faster than you might have managed on your own. Although Start Up Loans are not specifically for women entrepreneurs, this is a valuable resource designed for new business owners who might previously have struggled to find business finance and business mentors – so it’s a good fit for many women first-time entrepreneurs who might not know how or where to look for funding through conventional means.
j4bGrants: j4bGrants.co.uk is an online service for small business owners to search for funding sources to help start and grow their businesses. This site lets you register for free to find out which business grants are on offer; the site lets you search by sector and location, create email grant alerts to find out when new funds are launched and get notified of approaching deadlines to apply for grants.
GRANTfinder: GRANTfinder is the UK’s leading grants and policy database, with more than 8,000 funding opportunities. This service is available on a subscription basis only – however, you can often access GRANTfinder for free through your local library, local council or business support organization. Check with these local resources in your area to see if they offer free access to GRANTfinder.
SmallBusiness.co.uk: This site is a great resource for learning more about how to get business grants in the UK, with a whole section dedicated to real stories of actual business owners who received funding from investment funds, charitable trusts, private sector online contests and other sources. Check out these stories and see which ones sound similar to your business – this could be a great source of ideas for where to look for your own small business grants.
Many of the UK’s small business grants are available only for specific locations or aimed at businesses that are serving certain purposes, so it can be complicated to determine whether your business qualifies. It’s often best to conduct a thorough search for grants in your immediate geographic area or based on your sector or mission to see which categories of grants are most applicable to your goals. Getting small business grants is not easy – it requires careful research to make sure your business is a good fit for the stated goals of the granting organization – but it can be a worthwhile way to help your business. And if you cannot find enough grants, there are also ways to find small business loans or equity funding to help give your business the working capital necessary to grow!