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Taskforce calls for investment in women-led ventures for UK tech growth

Written by Tue 5 Mar 2024

A report by the High-Growth Enterprise Taskforce has called for more investment in female-led ventures to drive the UK’s ambitions to become a tech superpower by 2030.

As part of the report, the Women-led Taskforce has identified just 18% of high-growth enterprises include one or more women on the founding team, while all-male founding teams make up 82% of high-growth enterprises.

The Taskforce is chaired by the founder of Starling Bank, Anne Boden. Established in 2022, the Taskforce aims to identify areas for action to help increase the number of women setting up high-growth enterprises, particularly in regions outside of London.

Boden said the UK’s ambition should be to put women ‘front and centre of the tech superpower aspiration’. 

“We are effectively starting this race with one hand tied behind our backs. It is because women have unique skills, aptitude, and interests that will put UK PLC out in front,” added Boden.

The report found that estimates of the volume of women-led high-growth enterprises vary significantly depending on the definition of ‘high-growth enterprise’ that is used.

Figures range from 183 to 3,579 for high-growth enterprises that are wholly female-founded, and from 267 to 3,404 for high-growth enterprises founded by at least one woman.

Access to funding is one of the most ‘persistent barriers’ to progress for female entrepreneurs according to the report. Despite several initiatives to improve the outlook for women, the Taskforce said not much progress has been made.

For every £1 of equity investment in the UK, just 2p goes to fully female-founded businesses, representing no improvement in the past decade. The Taskforce identified that fewer women apply for funding and they are less likely to acquire it and receive ‘significantly less than men’ when they do apply.

Boden stressed that building upon the work of the Taskforce is in everyone’s interest, regardless of their gender.

“The timing is right, the opportunities are there, and so is the will to help female entrepreneurs succeed in growing some truly exceptional high-growth businesses,” said Boden.

Female-led Ventures are ‘Critical’ for UK Economy

The Taskforce said high-growth enterprises are a critical driver of the UK economy, and its future as a global leader. Despite representing only 1.6% of UK businesses, high-growth enterprises account for £160 billion ($202 billion) of turnover, which is 4.5% of the total turnover of UK businesses.

The Taskforce emphasised the pivotal role of women entrepreneurs in propelling the UK towards its goal of becoming a tech superpower by 2030, outlined in the International Technology Strategy.

The report stressed if women were to start and scale enterprises at the same rate as men, £250 billion ($316 billion) could be added to the UK economy. Putting strategies in place to work towards achieving this value is an ‘obvious positive for the UK’.

“We know women have the skills and ambition to launch successful businesses and we want to make sure they have every opportunity to do that. It is vital to everyone that we use this untapped potential to help boost the UK economy,” said Caulfield.

The Taskforce stressed while the value of high-growth enterprises is clear, there is a missed opportunity to significantly increase their economic value due to the low representation of women. This is alongside the societal value and innovation that high-growth enterprises can bring, as well as the benefits from greater diversity.

Taskforce Recommendations for Women-led Growth

The Taskforce presented various opportunities to tackle disparities, such as collecting data on founders’ roles and promoting diversity in line with initiatives like the Investing in Women Code. 

The Taskforce also advocated for enhancing diversity in senior investment roles and boosting signatories to the Code. They supported regulatory changes, urged improved access for women entrepreneurs beyond London, and proposed initiatives to inspire future female entrepreneurs. 

“Unless we urgently move to address this lack of diversity at the decision-making level we will struggle to deliver on the huge potential of VC and technology to drive wealth creation, economic growth, and development for the UK,” said Check Warner, CEO and Co-Founder at Ada Ventures and Diversity Venture Capital, and Taskforce member.

Crucially, the Taskforce also highlighted areas for investigation, emphasising the necessity of collective action to support female founders.

The news followed a report in December by the Royal Academy of Engineering found that 7.5% of UK deep tech companies are founded by all-female teams.

The State of UK Deep Tech report revealed that among the 3,462 companies focused on emerging technologies, over 77% have all-male founding teams.

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Written by Tue 5 Mar 2024

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