Targeted help for early stage women entrepreneurs could provide a £100bn boost to the UK economy over the next ten years, according to a new report by professional services firm Deloitte.

Currently, fewer than 6% of working-age women are engaged in early stage entrepreneurial activity, compared to more than 10% of men. Increasing female participation in the sector to 10% would take the overall economic contribution of women-led SMEs to more than £180bn by 2025.

The report, which was compiled for the Women’s Business Council, draws on findings from research and interviews with more than 20 successful female entrepreneurs from across the UK.

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It seeks to establish the common barriers which prevent women from setting up and succeeding with their businesses and makes recommendations as to what could be done to promote greater success.

Denis Woulfe, co-author of the report and Vice Chair at Deloitte said: “Despite a substantial increase in the number of start-ups in the UK over the past five years, the proportion of working-age women engaged in early stage entrepreneurial activity has fallen over the same time period. The longevity rates for businesses led by women have also been lower. While there are many fantastic examples of women-led start-ups, these statistics show that much of the potential remains untapped.

“One of the barriers we identified to women setting up their own business was limited access to relevant role models, quality mentors and professional networks. These are vital for anyone looking to set up their first business. We need a more focussed and connected programme of initiatives, involving a systematic approach to supporting women entrepreneurs to scale their businesses.”

The report calls for a Women’s Enterprise Academy to be created, which would provide development opportunities for the most ambitious and talented female entrepreneurs, helping them to scale their businesses more effectively and achieve their true potential.

It also calls on the Government and the Women’s Business Council to support a new digital platform providing women entrepreneurs with better access to relevant role models, support groups, business mentors and a wider network of assistance.

Woulfe added: “We believe the Academy could become the centre of a support system for women entrepreneurs, modelling the position of Tech City UK with digital businesses. It will be important that support is drawn from across government, business and education to provide the expertise and experience on which entrepreneurs can draw.”

Emily Bendell, founder of lingerie company Bluebella, was interviewed for the report, commented: “There have indeed been inherent challenges in scaling a female focused business like Bluebella, so I would welcome any initiative to better practically support women entrepreneurs.”

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