Recent research by Deloitte revealed fewer than 6% of working-age women are engaged in early stage entrepreneurial activity, compared to more than 10% of men. Financially, increasing female participation in the sector to 10% would take the overall economic contribution of women-led SMEs to more than £180bn by 2025. With this potential gain in mind, ensuring that business women realise their full business potential is critical to the UK economy and has become focus for Newable.
Barriers to Entry
But what is causing this gap? Research conducted by Ebiquity (commissioned by Innovate UK) identified ‘securing finance’ as the number one barrier faced by female entrepreneurs (62%), followed by ‘taking it to market’ (42%), both negatively impacting female entrepreneurship.
To combat these barriers to entry, Newable is currently delivering support to female innovators as part of the Infocus initiative by Innovate UK to help female entrepreneurs tackle these barriers.
As part of our Fuelling Ambition initiative, we are committed to improving the competitiveness of female-led SMEs and helping them address the challenges they face in implementing best innovation and management practices. Newable offers tailored support and events to encourage and support these entrepreneurs to maximise their full potential on the road to business success.
To showcase this, we’re featuring a small handful of some of the great talent we have worked with in the last year to promote female entrepreneurship. This blog series will focus on the barriers and main challenges faced by female entrepreneurs and how, working together, we can overcome these.
We’re starting off with Anna Hill, co-founder of the River Cycleway Consortium LTD, a business with an environmental mission. Anna Hill is a London based artist, innovator and social entrepreneur who has innovated with space technology, software and life support systems to create a floating transportation ecosystem, known as the Thames Deckway. We caught up with Anna to discover how the concept came to life, challenges and support she has faced and what advice she would give to other female entrepreneurs.
Hi Anna! Could you tell us about what spurred the idea – perhaps a lightbulb moment?
Rather than a single light bulb moment I experienced a series of epiphanies and life experiences that came together to create the vision behind this project. These moments included sitting on the river side of the Seine in Paris watching the river traffic and pedestrians; observing the view and listening to the power of the waves from my window on the Thames in Rotherhithe and noticing the huge untapped potential and beauty of the river; and lastly, riding my bike along the dangerous and congested noisy streets that ran parallel to the river Thames.
Furthermore, much like astronauts who experience the overview effect, my work in the space industry helped foster an awareness of the fragility of the environmental systems of our planet and our ecosystems and a desire to protect them.
From these series of epiphanies and experiences I realized that these numerous interconnected problems and opportunities could be addressed by a single project. That project would become the Thames Deckway, an interdisciplinary concept that brings human centered design and engineering knowledge from the space industry to an urban smart transport and clean energy infrastructure environment.
How did you get going – what were your first steps?
My first steps were taking the decision to “take the plunge” and enter the international space industry as an artist / designer by relocating to the Netherlands to work on an ambitious software and space payload project in 2005. Previously I knew no one in that industry and I learnt to creatively lead interdisciplinary teams to bring about unexpected social environmental and cultural innovations. Learning how to disrupt for good and attract positive collaborators with shared values brought about further lessons and experiences.
I co-founded the Thames Deckway project with a space architect David Nixon. We met at the European Space Agency Business Incubator whilst we were both working on other projects. We have a lot of respect for each other that is an essential prerequisite for effective collaborations of any kind.
These first steps coupled with life changing experiences initiated a domino effect that brought me to where I am in the present.
What help and support did you receive?
I’ve received much support over the years from both friends, colleagues and most recently from Innovate UK. In November 2016, I won the Innovate UK Infocus Women in Innovation award that gave me the support of an innovation advisor from Newable, which has opened up a whole new community of other entrepreneurs to draw strength and inspiration from.
If you knew when you started out what you know now, what would you do differently?
There are, of course, many things that I wish I had known about when I started out. However, I also think that I wouldn’t have grown as an individual or indeed, as an innovator if I had not had to respond to unexpected challenges and turn them into opportunities. After all, taking risks is always unpredictable but great things can happen that way.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Bringing a High-Impact civil engineering project to market, nurtured from an early stage concept with the support of a collaborator and co-founder with its environmental and social core values as DNA intact! Working alongside brilliant people from diverse industries and interesting backgrounds is immensely rewarding too – although the best things in life are rarely easy!
What advice would you give someone who has just had their lightbulb moment and was just starting out?
Give it 100 %, listen to advice and don’t be too concerned by failure. After all some of the best lessons are learnt through creative failure.
Have confidence in yourself and your vision, be analytical and listen to others. Take on board critical views without internalizing them. Remember that others may be looking at you through a different lens.
At the same time challenge the dominant culture and assumptions as they are not always in the best interest of our collective well-being, adaptation and survival.
Regularly acknowledge and celebrate your progress towards the goals you set out to achieve and envisage.
Engage with support groups and networks. An experienced mentor can facilitate you to approach a problem in a new light with a new set of tools.
Finally, be in it for the long haul and don’t give up- it’s a state of mind.
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