Europe’s leading small business lender, iwoca, has launching a new support initiative for women business owners in Yorkshire as local data suggests female workers in the region have been more affected by the pandemic than many other parts of the UK.
iwoca has lent close to £80 million to small and micro businesses in Yorkshire since the company launched in 2012 (av. loan size between £12,000-£15,000), but the vast majority of these applications have been from male business owners. As part of an effort to support more female entrepreneurs, the company is announcing a new initiative specifically for women-led small businesses in the Yorkshire & Humber region. This also comes after iwoca was recently crowned “Lender of the Year” and “Innovative Product of the Year” at the Yorkshire Financial Awards.
The lender is launching a new regional network hub with local founding members Rebecca Lockwood, a coach for female entrepreneurs, and her sister Cathy Cockin, owner of an all-female electrician business – Little Miss Electrical. The forum will be a place for female business owners in the region to connect, share experiences and get access to resources and information from partner companies as well as experts at iwoca.
iwoca has chosen to launch the first regional forum in Yorkshire following the opening of the fintech’s office in Leeds last year. They will launch with a series of expert webinars, including confirmed guest speakers from the charity Mental Health UK to give advice on coping with stress and anxiety, and Pink Pig Financials accountancy firm to give advice on managing business finances. Further workshop sessions along with regional funding updates will be announced throughout the year.
Analysis by iwoca suggests female workers in Yorkshire have been more affected by the pandemic than many other regions. ONS data reveals that the ‘Accommodation & Food’ and ‘Arts & Entertainment’ sectors saw the largest drop in output last year, with both these sectors employing more women than men. Yorkshire has the second largest proportion of businesses in these sectors out of all English regions, suggesting women in the area are most at risk of being hit hard by the aftershocks of the pandemic.
Yorkshire business owner, Rebecca Lockwood – owner of a female entrepreneur training consultancy – said: “The pandemic has been tough – I teach women how to look after their mental health and mindset, but when the first lockdown began I wasn’t listening to my own advice and it was stressful and scary. My business is all about helping women fulfil their potential and have the confidence to be the best entrepreneurs possible. All business owners need support for the varied and acute stresses that come in tow, but I think in particular female business owners struggle more with the mindset side of things.
“We put so much pressure on ourselves to be successful and often experience issues with things like imposter syndrome, and having the confidence to take bigger risks. I started another business before this, but it failed because of a lack of self belief. That’s why I’m so passionate about what I do now – because I went through it myself.”
Need to champion female business owners across the UK
The announcement comes as analysis of government data reveals that little progress has been made in increasing the number of female-led businesses in the UK, rising by just one percentage point in the past decade. In 2010, the proportion of female-led businesses sat at 14%, and in 2019 it increased to just 15%.
In addition, a recent survey of small business owners by iwoca highlighted that female-owned businesses have been hit harder by the Covid-19 crisis. At the end of 2020, 21% of female-owned businesses were not trading, compared to just 13% of male-owned small businesses. Women were also more likely to feel worried about the future of their businesses. The same survey revealed 47% of female business owners are concerned about having to close their business in 2021, compared to 35% of men.
Cathy Cockin, owner of Little Miss Electrical, an all-female electrician business in Halifax, West Yorkshire (sister of Rebecca Lockwood) – added: “I followed in my big sister’s entrepreneurial footsteps, and took the leap to starting my own business. It’s been a roller coaster with some of the best days alongside some of the most challenging. From HR, to recruitment to payroll, there are just so many different things you have to learn when setting up your business, most of which are not part of your immediate skill set.
“We’re an all-female team of electrical contractors, mainly doing domestic work and looking after a lot of rental properties. A large amount of our work comes from local people who knew me from school or growing up. Even though the business has been trading for four years, I sometimes turn up to jobs where people assume the electrician is a man who will appear from somewhere behind me, or think that I’m the receptionist. I’m proud that Little Miss Electrical is challenging these ideals on a daily basis.”
Seema Desai, Chief Operating Officer at iwoca: “We feel proud to be able to give female business owners in Yorkshire the support they need during this time. Last year, we opened our office in Leeds, which alongside our recent funding pledge of £220 million to businesses across the North by 2023, demonstrates our commitment and desire to help local business owners realise their ideas and get access to finance to help them grow.
“Female business owners can play a crucial role in the UK’s economic recovery. We hope initiatives like this provide the further support needed to allow female-owned businesses to thrive in the years ahead.”