SETsquared Blog

Are female tech entrepreneurs still a rare breed in the UK?

With International Women’s Day fast approaching on 8th March, it got me thinking about women in business, or more specifically women in high-tech start-ups, the type of ventures that SETsquared support.

Is there still a gender bias when it comes to entrepreneurship? Does the glass ceiling still exist? What and who inspire female entrepreneurs?

Whilst the statistics don’t make for great reading, just 4.2% of venture funding goes to women-led businesses, according to Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research, there are some fantastic female high-tech figureheads out there who are serious players in the innovation economy.

On a global and national level, the likes of Sheryl Sandberg and Martha Lane Fox lead the way but I thought I would speak to some female entrepreneurs closer to home to find out first-hand what their experience is of being founder of a high-tech start-up. Here’s what three female entrepreneurs from our Bath incubation centre shared with me.

Danielle Vass has very recently joined the centre, she has developed a web application, Map for X, that enables organisations such as museums or hospitals create interactive maps of their venue/facility. This data can then be downloaded to mobile devices so that visitors can embark on tours and view maps.

“Whilst studying for my Computing degree I was one of very few girls on a course of over 180 students, I found it incredibly hard to be taken seriously not just by potential employers but also fellow peers. I spent my industrial placement year at a global software company where I was automatically put into HR whilst I watched many of my male counterparts write software and apps. I decided to start my own venture, so that I could do the things that I enjoyed and worked so hard to be qualified for. Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would let me do this within a corporate environment. I have also joined initiatives like Bath Girl Geeks, where I am among other women who encourage and support innovation and entrepreneurship. I’m trying to do my bit as well, I help run an after school club at an all girls school teaching students to code as I don’t feel enough is done in schools to show how fun computing can be. Hopefully I can help inspire more girls to consider a career in this field and we can start to redress the balance.”

Maureen Scott is co-founder of Ether Books, a mobile social reading platform that publishes ‘made for mobile’ quick reads straight to smart phones. They have raised £350k of investment to date, from angel investors including Executives from technology companies TomTom and Rackspace.

“Female led high-tech companies remain rare in the UK; the statistics show that less than 20 percent of female-led ventures get funding, which is much lower than the statistics for men. Women communicate differently than men, and more!  One of my potential angel investors told me that I talked too much in our meeting, and I responded by asking if he knew that female led high tech companies are more capital efficient, achieve a 25 per cent higher return on investment and, when venture-backed, generated 12 per cent higher revenue than male-owned tech companies. * He was taken aback by my comment and had no idea that female led high-tech companies produce better financial results than male led high tech companies. He invested and is one of my biggest supporters. It still brings a huge smile to my face every time I recall the meeting.” 

“I’m passionate about Ether Book’s products and the global community of talented writers that we support. We have the potential to be a UK home-grown global technology success like Facebook and Twitter...IF we can get the funding!  Females are huge users of new technology, especially smartphones and social media so nobody can say they aren't interested in technology when they are the biggest CONSUMERS of the technology!  I have a 10 year old daughter and I am encouraging her to excel in the STEM subjects including Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths.”

Emma Smith is founder of Envolve Technology who have launched a website that is able to connect every engagement and consultation project being undertaken by service providers locally, regionally, nationally and even from the European parliament and make them searchable to people in the UK based on their location and interests.

“Research shows that women don’t start businesses because we are too risk averse but that has never been a factor for me. Running my own business, and specifically a business in the tech sector, has given me much more flexibility to meet the needs of my young family. I can pick up my laptop and work with customers all round the world at any time of day or night – it’s not confined to traditional business hours. Yes it’s a male dominated environment but I’m always very upfront and honest about what I do and don’t know. When I started my business, I didn’t come from a tech background, so had to work hard to establish my credibility. But you’ve got to be brave, put yourself out there and network hard. SETsquared have helped enormously in guiding me through the process of starting a tech business.”

Certainly it’s clear that more should and could be done to build female leaders and to accelerate the funding and growth of the companies they run but that also it can be a hugely rewarding career choice.

At SETsquared, one of our core activities is to inspire the next generation of budding student entrepreneurs at our five universities and we certainly get good participation from our female students.  Our annual Student Enterprise Awards always attract a healthy representation of excellent female entrants. The same can be said for our Researcher to Innovator course, which aims to help early stage academics be more innovative and entrepreneurial in their approach, on which well over a quarter of the delegates were women.

One of the problems in the high tech sector is a lack of female role models. We do have women in the SETsquared mentor network but I would like to see more and this is definitely something that we will work on in the coming years.

If you’re a woman in the high-tech sector, what is your experience of living and working in this sphere?

* Statistics from Kaufman Foundation Research