Telling the truth about SME life today

Gordon Brown promoting enterprise

And who can blame them”

First there was the Capital Gains Tax debacle last October, followed by the news in December that after spending £3m on a 21-month long review of the business support system, the government was still unable to explain how the new system would aid enterprise in the UK.

Therefore, it was hard not to feel a sense of irony when the Telegraph reported yesterday that Brown had met with 14 high-profile entrepreneurs (Peter Jones of Dragons’ Den fame and Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks, included) earlier in the day to debate what could be done to make Britain’s business owners – and women, in particular – more ambitious.

Don’t get me started. (Though abandoning his plans for an 80 per cent increase in tax on capital growth might be a good starting point.)

But, for entrepreneurs across the country who were no doubt starting to feel that an interminable winter had befallen them, the fact that Brown was at least acknowledging their existence must have seemed like a small ray of light.

The general message to come out of the meeting was the need for a greater focus on education, and the exposure of young people to the advantages of setting up your own company.

Dealing with women more specifically, one key characteristic identified in women-owned businesses is that they are under-capitalised. Amanda Rendle, head of business marketing at HSBC suggested this is because many women were relying on their credit cards to fund their businesses rather than approaching a bank for proper financing.

This reticence to seek formal funding partially explains why women business owners tend to opt for lifestyle-type businesses. However, what another article published by the Telegraph yesterday made clear is that there is no shortage of female entrepreneurs hungry for success.

This year, the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship (NCGE) decided to offer its first women-only version of its three-day Flying Start courses, which are designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs get their business ideas off the ground.

Almost 1,200 women applied, compared to the course’s usual average of 150 applicants for the 60 places. The NCGE polled 700 of the applicants and discovered that 98 per cent chose to apply because it was women-only. Clearly, there is a huge demand for entrepreneurial advice tailored to women.

Lorna Collins, director of Flying Start, said that many of the entrepreneurs on the course had an arts or creative background but were not trying to set up “high-intensity, high-growth businesses".

It seems unlikely that this trend will change until something is done to address the way in which women-owned businesses are currently financed. It’s hard for a woman to aim high when she’s using her credit card as start-up capital.

Does anyone have any suggestions for how the government can incentivise women to take out formal funding and what it can do to make British women business-owners more ambitious?

Let’s hear your views on the matter.


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