This is an annual calendar date where groups from across the globe come together to support women's equality across all walks of life including within the world of business.
According to a research briefing released last December by the House of Commons Library, women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are contributing approximately £85 billion to the UK’s economic output, equating to around 16 per cent of gross value added contributed by the nation’s SMEs.
The report also highlighted 2020 figures showing 16 per cent of SME employers were led either by one woman or by a management team that is majority female, with a further 24 per cent of small businesses led by an equal number of men and women in the management team. While the levels of female leadership are on the rise, these stats highlight the significant journey ahead for women to achieve parity with men in business.
Given the significant economic benefits as well as the issues of equality and fairness, creating an environment to promote further female representation within the business world must remain a priority. One sure-fire way to achieve this aim is by encouraging more women entrepreneurs and to provide a support structure to help female-led businesses to flourish.
Here in Scotland, we are witnessing impressive growth in female entrepreneurship. Investing Women Angel’s (IWA) sister company AccelerateHER continues to support an increasing number of female business leaders who are looking to take their companies to a higher level. It is especially encouraging to see many of those involved pitching to lead their companies into international expansion.
Last month we saw a prime example of the value of this support when Motherwell-based TCB Biopharm, a clinical stage biotechnology company developing cell therapies to combat cancer and viral indications, went live on the Nasdaq stock exchange. The floatation, which attracted a further $17.5 million (£13.3m) investment into the company, puts it firmly on the road to achieving potential unicorn status.
AccelerateHER was delighted to work with TC Biopharm’s co-founder Angela Scott and her colleagues from its early days. In 2015, IWA became the only angel group to invest in the company in a £1.2m fundraising round that included Scottish Enterprise co-investment.
IWA members were also active in several follow-on investment rounds that have played an important role in supporting TC Biopharm’s growth journey. Not only has this benefited Scotland’s economy, but it’s also helping ensure the company is now at the right scale to further develop its innovation in the fight against cancer and other viral conditions, including Covid-19.
This year’s AccelerateHER Awards programme includes a whole new crop of female-founded businesses, many of which are addressing key environmental and health challenges.
These include Danu Robotics, an Edinburgh start-up developing advanced and sustainable technological solutions to tackle environmental challenges including increasing global waste, and Purple Orchid Health, a Dunblane-based productive health company helping women with urology and gynaecology conditions, particularly chronic pelvic pain and bladder pain.
Among the other finalists are Glasgow companies Valla, which is unbundling the legal industry by reducing costs and increasing access to legal services, and Grand Bequest, a property technology company using data analytics, conservation, and sustainability to promote the global redevelopment of vacant buildings.
These companies are among other innovative female-led businesses involved as finalists in this year’s AccelerateHER Awards, all providing excellent examples of the innovation and energy of Scottish women.
We need to continue this upward momentum by building a culture where women’s business strengths and growth aspirations help them access support to further accelerate their ambitions. Our organisation was set up on that basis, bringing together a group of established businesswomen who have been there, done it and are motivated to help other female founders progress. This support is not merely an act of benevolence, but rather a means of creating a new channel to identify and help great businesses maximise their potential.
By getting more women into the investment side of the business community, we have also seen the direct benefits in helping more female-led companies successfully access finance, an issue that is often a key barrier to growth. There is clear evidence from the US, known as the “echo effect”, that increasing the level of female businesses angel investors leads to a direct rise in the proportion of female business founders securing investment for growth.
To further support the need for greater investment into female-led businesses, last month we announced the creation of the IW AccelerateHER Fund The fund will provide finance to support the growth of Scottish female-founded businesses.
Through the excellent partnership we’ve forged with the Scottish National Investment Bank and working alongside other key partners including Scottish Enterprise, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, South of Scotland Enterprise, and the Scottish Government, the new fund marks a major step forward by increasing access and opportunities for female-led businesses, and will drive economic growth.
It's important that we celebrate International Women’s Day by highlighting the progress of females within all aspects of society, including business. While many challenges lie ahead, it is encouraging to see Scotland and other nations fully engaged in supporting female entrepreneurship and helping women-led businesses achieve their potential. This approach delivers economic growth and benefits everyone in society, which is something we can all celebrate.
Jackie Waring is the founder of Investing Women Angels and its sister organisation AccelerateHER