Scottish women lead way for UK’s high-growth firms

More than one in five high-growth companies in Scotland is founded, led or managed by women - the highest proportion in the UK, according to a new report.

Aberdeen life sciences entrepreneur Caroline Barelle heads one of the female-powered businesses featured in the report. Picture: Lewis J Houghton
Aberdeen life sciences entrepreneur Caroline Barelle heads one of the female-powered businesses featured in the report. Picture: Lewis J Houghton

Figures compiled by JP Morgan Private Bank revealed that Scottish firms make up 22 per cent of the overall high-growth company population compared to just 13 per cent in the East Midlands and a UK average of 20 per cent.

A league table of the top 200 female-powered businesses featured in the report names Scottish medical company TC BioPharm, co-founded by Angela Scott, as one of the UK’s top ten female-powered businesses based on recent growth. Scott, who was part of the team than cloned “Dolly the Sheep”, has played a key role in the development of the Motherwell company which has become one of Scotland’s most high profile life sciences firms.

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Other Scottish businesses included in a wider list of the UK’s top 200 female-powered growth firms include Aberdeen business services company ActivPayroll, founded by Alison Sellar, and Edinburgh-based ethical advertising-tech venture Good-Loop which is led by Amy Williams.

Aberdeen life sciences business Elasmogen, led by Dr Caroline Barelle, and Edinburgh app firm Sustainably, co-founded by mother and daughter Loral and Eishel Quinn also feature.

The report reveals that UK-wide, female-powered businesses raised a record £2.3 billion in equity investment in 2020, up 41 per cent from 2019. However, for the first time in nine years female-powered companies saw a 27 per cent decline in seed-stage equity deals compared to the previous year.

Oliver Gregson, head of UK Ireland for JP Morgan Private Bank, said: “It’s no surprise that 2020 brought unique challenges to businesses owned or managed by women in the UK and, whilst last year was a record year for equity investment into female-powered businesses, this is still a fraction of the more than £13bn invested in all UK growth companies last year.”

Gregson said the next ten years is a critical period for current generation of female-powered companies.

“To reach their full potential and establish themselves, they need access to extensive investment and business support throughout the fall-out of Covid-19 and beyond.”

Scottish Enterprise was named as the third most active investor in female businesses, with 59 deals last year. Crowdfunding platforms Crowdcube and Seedrs were the most active with over 400 deals between them.

Lynne Cadenhead, chair of Women’s Enterprise Scotland who contributed to the report, said access to the right capital at the right time is a key challenge for female-powered businesses that want to grow rapidly.

“Women start their businesses with 53 per cent less funding than men and ask for one-third less than men. What is even more concerning for scaling businesses is that only 1p in every £1 of venture capital investment goes to women-led start-ups,” she pointed out.

“Putting it another way, men get 99 times more venture capital than women! Knowing all this, it’s no wonder that many women can struggle to get the financial capital they need to grow and scale their companies. Despite recent progress, we still have a very long way to go to reach economic gender balance.”

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