Leveling up female founders across the regions

As most of us are all too aware, female-led companies are shockingly under-represented in the world of investment and at every stage of their growth development.

Only 19.5% of companies are founded by women, less than 2% of venture funding goes to women-led startups, and only 11.72% of ‘high growth’ businesses have a female founder at the helm.

But what we often seem to forget is that the great majority – 85% – of women led businesses are established outside of Greater London.

Furthermore, London has the highest percentages of female founded companies at 18.3%, against the national average of 16.8%, meaning the regions are lagging behind when it comes to a gender balance in business.

As we pursue a ‘leveling up’ agenda across the regions from an economic perspective, never has it been more important to ensure we level up women led startups outside of London too. But are we doing enough to support female founders outside of the capital?

There are three key issues at play here: Funding, Support Programmes and Networks


Funding is the number one priority of any growing business, and access to funding is the top barrier to entrepreneurship for women across the entire entrepreneurial journey, with female founders feeling 81% less likely than men that they can access the finance they need for their startup.

However, investment is concentrated in the capital, with a whopping 52.2% of venture funding going to businesses based in London and 57% of angel investors being based in London and the South East. We clearly have a funding issue in the regions, and this undoubtedly affects female founders more acutely.

When it comes to angel investing in the regions, The British Business Bank will soon be launching an investment programme to support developing clusters of business angels outside London, and I look forward to seeing how this plays out. Other organisations like Fund Her North are also working hard to attract more women in the regions into angel investing. But there is clearly a long way to go. There is plenty of money in the venture capital industry that could be directed to these non-profit initiatives to support more regional diversity. The UK Business Angel Association and British Venture Capital Association are working hard to make this happen.

The Investing in Women code, established by The Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship has the opportunity to do more to ensure female founders can be funded effectively across the whole of the UK. Signatories of the code – there are currently 190 investment organisations that have signed up – must measure regional diversity mapped against their gender statistics to understand where more focus is needed outside of the capital. London based Venture Capital firms would do well to put comprehensive Regional Scout Programmes in place, recruiting a gender diverse team of representatives to discover, attract and build relationships with female founders throughout the country.

Support programmes

Startup accelerators and incubators, of which there are over 750 in the UK, are fairly well distributed when analysed by population density, and with the rise of online delivery of programmes post pandemic, many accelerators have broadened their reach way beyond their original geographical boundaries. Female founders are generally well represented on accelerators, most of which focus on early stage businesses.

But how effective these programmes are at supporting female founders is another question altogether, as they rarely provide any specialist support targeted at the challenges women face.

Existing programmes across the UK must consider what more they can do to support the women on their programmes in terms of training and development, particularly around key blockers like access to funding, which includes not only technical training but more importantly work around mindset, risk, and confidence. We must support women not only in raising investment but also making sure they raise enough, value their companies appropriately, and have the requisite support to deploy that capital effectively to scale their business. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here – this is about joining up initiatives and forging partnerships between regional accelerators and organisations that provide specialist support to women, such as my own company Enter The Arena, which provides investment expertise and growth coaching for high-growth female founders.

Furthermore, more women need to be recruited into the coaching, advisory and mentoring roles within these national programmes, which will not only result in a more balanced pool of advisory talent to attract more female founders into the schemes, but also enable women to get support from relatable women who may understand their perspective more closely.

Many of these programmes are supported by government funding or corporate sponsorship. Budgets should be adjusted to direct more support across the regions, and outcomes should be measured by gender and location. The British Library’s National Network of Business & IP Centres is a great initiative, attracting a balance of male and female founders, and is now rolling out a micro local level in local towns across the country. We need more of this.


Although the pandemic opened up online networking in a way that has made connecting with others easier no matter where you live, networks remain a big issue for female founders. We are significantly less likely to have access to professional support networks or know other entrepreneurs, and this is especially true in the regions. And there is still nothing quite as powerful as meeting people in real life, where deeper relationships can be built.

I have felt this very personally in the last few years, as I moved to Folkestone in Kent in 2021 and was shocked to find a total lack of networks and support for female founders here. When it came to International Women’s Day, I found myself being sucked back into London again for a plethora of incredible events celebrating, connecting, and supporting women – everything seemed to be going on in the capital, and nowhere else.

But it’s a huge challenge for women from outside London or major urban centres to participate and fully immerse themselves in these opportunities, especially when trying to juggle any family responsibilities they might have alongside the day to day running of their business.

Many organisations simply don’t take gender or regional bias into consideration when designing networking events. Time of day, venue, the refreshments provided, can have a massive influence on whether a woman can attend, especially in the regions or in areas where transport is sporadic. Getting into the big city for an 8.30am ‘breakfast’ meeting, or an evening start-up event that finishes at 10.30pm, means a significant amount of time traveling, making arrangements for childcare for those that have those responsibilities, and transport and accommodation expenses. This is exhausting and bad for both mindset and health. Event organisers must embed gender and regional diversity into their planning.

There are some fantastic regional networks that exist for women such as the Women In Business Network and WIRE (Women In Rural Enterprise), but there is still a long way to go to achieve national coverage.

To address the lack of networks for female founders in my own local area, along with a dedicated group of local women, we have now launched WMN Folkestone to create a powerful community to support these women in achieving their potential. It’s just a start, but we need more networking initiatives across the country at not only a regional but a hyper local level.

The Invest In Women hub for women entrepreneurs, another great initiative that spun out of the Rose Review, intends to play a significant role in signposting networking opportunities and groups, along with important resources for female founders, when the platform relaunches this spring. We must ensure that as many resources as possible are included from around the country.

On a final note, I have recently joined the Women and Enterprise All Party Parliamentary Group, where our focus is on scaling up female founders. One of the calls made in our last meeting was for better regional representation at this level, both from the female founder community and from industry influencers. If you are from the regions and would like to get involved, please reach out.

Startup Details

Startup Details


Enter The Arena

Providing investment expertise and business coaching for female founders

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    Julia Elliott Brown
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