International Women's Day: The entrepreneurs making the world a better place for girls - This is Money

International Women's Day: The entrepreneurs making the world a better place for girls - This is Money


International Women's Day: The entrepreneurs making the world a better place for girls - This is Money

Posted: 08 Mar 2020 09:13 AM PDT

International Women's Day (IWD) has been celebrated for more than a century , starting from the early 1900s which saw revolutionary change, growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

Since then, women from all over the world have fought for equality, from claiming their right to vote, to demanding equal pay and rights in the workplace. Progress has been made but women still face challenges, especially in certain areas such as business and finance.

According to the Government's Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, female entrepreneurs could contribute £250billion to the UK economy if they started and scaled their businesses at the same rate as men. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

According to a Government-led report, female entrepreneurs could contribute £250billion to the UK economy if they started and scaled their businesses are the same rate as men

According to a Government-led report, female entrepreneurs could contribute £250billion to the UK economy if they started and scaled their businesses are the same rate as men

In a bid to tackle this, today, the UK's (first female) Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, has committed almost £3million and a package of business support to help inventions by women and young people like clean energy solutions and healthcare services. 

To celebrate International Women's Day, This is Money spoke to four female founders who have not only gone through the challenges that come with being a woman setting up and running her own business, but those that come with creating a product or service that focuses on making women's lives better. 

Valentina Milanova - Daye

Daye is a female health research and development company that also manufactures sustainable tampons with a range that contains concentrated levels of whole plant hemp extract with naturally occurring cannabidiol - the first of its kind, and designed to tackle menstrual cramps. 

Founder Valentina Milanova is also on a mission to bridge the gender gap in medical research, raise the standards in female health products and service and normalise the conversation on female health.
While reading about industrial hemp, Valentina discovered the plant's fibres were more absorbent and the extract had analgesic properties. As a woman who has suffered with painful periods from a young age, she thought there could be a way to use the plant to help other women with the same issues.

She says the biggest challenge she has faced as an entrepreneur is not being taken seriously.

Daye's founder Valentina Milanova is on a mission to normalise the conversation on female health

Daye's founder Valentina Milanova is on a mission to normalise the conversation on female health

'It has happened a lot,' she said. 'Initially by investors, and later on by people in the industry. But I used that to my advantage because not being taken seriously means you're also not seen as a real adversary in commerce, as a real competitor. 

'This allowed me to move faster, prove people wrong, and bring a truly innovative product to market less than 12 months after I quit my full-time job and launched Daye.'

Valentina found it particularly hard to find design engineers to build the tampon manufacturing machines, as most experts in the field were more excited about planes and trains and motorcycles, rather than female health products. 

She recalled: 'We turned to recruiting design engineering talent from the art world - people who worked on automated musical instruments and art displays. 

'They have a really strong dedication to both female health and sustainability, as well as a very lean approach to machine building, so this ended up becoming a competitive advantage for us.'

While developing the product, Valentina soon realised just how little attention is paid to female health, and particularly female pain. 

'I learned that women were banned from participating in clinical trials until 1993 and that most over-the-counter painkillers or sleeping aids have never been tested on the female physiology,' she said.

Daye reinvests its profits into clinical trials and product innovation for women's health

Daye reinvests its profits into clinical trials and product innovation for women's health

'I saw this as an opportunity to make a well overdue change, that's why at Daye we reinvest profits into clinical trials and product innovation - not only to clinically validate our products and services, but also to try and bridge the gender gap in medical research by constantly creating new products.'

Meanwhile, Daye also hires its production staff through Working Chance, a charity that gives women from the criminal justice and care system the chance to find fair employment.

Valentina added: 'This was a decision I made early on. You can't preach about female empowerment without following through on a local, immediate basis, as well as on a big vision scale. 

'At Daye, we want to make an impact on the lives of millions of women, and we're excited to start by making an impact on the lives of women in our immediate community where we are based in Bermondsey.'

Commenting on what can be done to support female entrepreneurs, Valentina thinks there needs to be more women in venture capital and venture debt.

She said: 'Right now, the capital for innovation is held predominantly by men, who can never try the products that female founders are likely to be working on. This inevitably creates a gap in the funding that's available for female founders.

'On the surface, tampons seem like a banal product - you can find them on any shelf and they haven't meaningfully changed since the 1940s. But that's exactly where the opportunity is - to innovate a product that over 70 per cent of women in Britain use.' 

Cat Gazzoli - Piccolo

Piccolo is a an organic and nutrition focused baby food brand, with a range of bio-based products made from renewable plant based materials with an aim to lower carbon emissions.

Its founder, Cat Gazzoli, used to work with the United Nations food agencies in Rome, where she created campaigns and programmes promoting sustainable livelihoods for farmers, as well as promoting female parity and equal opportunities. 

This month, Piccolo launched its new range of infant formula. Despite breastfeeding her first daughter, Cat felt it was important to have a product which she could be 100 per cent confident in if she needed to turn to help with her new baby - due next month. 

Some women can't breastfeed for various reasons from being on medication to not being able to produce enough milk. Equally, a baby might not be able to take milk for other reasons. 

Despite breastfeeding her first daughter, Cat felt it was important to have a product which she could be 100% confident in if she needed to turn to help with her new baby - due next month

Despite breastfeeding her first daughter, Cat felt it was important to have a product which she could be 100% confident in if she needed to turn to help with her new baby - due next month

Piccolo partnered with experts in infant nutrition to develop a natural formula which works for babies and parents. 

The company is now almost four years old and its products are stocked in all major retailers including some abroad. However as with every entrepreneur, Cat had to make her way through a range of obstacles to get to where she is today.

Fortunately, Cat had the help of chef Prue Leith and environmentalist Jonathon Porritt as her mentors who helped her navigate the world of supermarkets and ensure she was making a difference by being a sustainable brand.

'They aided me in the transition from the world of non-profit to business,' she said. 'For this reason, I am particularly passionate about mentorship and encourage all females to have a mentor outside of the company to learn and discuss their work life and progression with, as it's critical for their development.'

'I really believe in not being afraid to ask for help or say you don't know something. Its impossible to have every skill for a business; what's critical is knowing and acknowledging you cannot be everything to your business. 

'Having a mentor to work through your strengths and weaknesses is paramount. I would advise to get going to share your idea with someone who you think will help you get on your new pathway and be supportive of the new business idea.'

Along with support and mentoring networks, Cat also feels there is a need for more capital to be available for female founders. 

Piccolo's Cat feels there is a need for more capital to be available for female founders

Piccolo's Cat feels there is a need for more capital to be available for female founders

She added: 'It's time for the UK government to step up its efforts to help women access capital to fund business ideas and create jobs. 

'I have been incredibly lucky in that my mentor, Prue, invested in the business when it was just an idea, but I was very fortunate to already know and work with Prue on charitable works on food education.'

Meanwhile, Cat's passion for working with charities hasn't ended as Piccolo supports local families through its partnerships with charities  Little Village and City Harvest, by providing baby food and essentials for those in need.  

'I strongly believe that businesses – no matter if a huge multinational corporation or a tiny kitchen table start-up like Piccolo was just two years ago – all have a duty to help,' she said.

'If business leaders recognised the benefit to their employees, their customers and their brand reputation – let alone to the cause they're supporting and helping – it would be a no-brainer. 

'The commercial sector can have a larger impact on raising awareness and driving change within charities and cause led issues – and leave a greater legacy. I hope we inspire other businesses to be brave, take a risk, and ultimately make a difference to those who need it most.'

Christina Larkin - Chapter

Chapter is an agency that helps female led online micro-brands grow through the use of physical retail while reviving the UK's 'flailing high streets by bringing excitement, innovation and discovery back into physical retail'.

It also aims to make it easier for consumers to make better choices about the products they buy, through working solely with brands that are environmentally conscious, featuring products that are ethically sourced, and supporting founders from diverse backgrounds.

Founder Christina Larkin developed the concept in 2018 after researching about what 'the store of the future' looked like. 

Christina Larkin developed the concept for Chapter after researching what 'the store of the future' looked like

Christina Larkin developed the concept for Chapter after researching what 'the store of the future' looked like

She found that the idea that the high street was dying - as has often been in headlines in recent years - wasn't entirely true and that many originally online brands grew significantly after going into a physical space.

She said: 'One thing in particular piqued my interest and that was the move by hugely successful online businesses - such as Away and Skinnydip - to open physical spaces in prime retail locations. 

'This was especially happening in the US and I wanted to know why. As I researched this I discovered they were using physical retail as a marketing channel and not (just) a sales channel. 

'This was a total lightbulb moment for me. Of course – physical retail is absolutely about marketing – but a marketing channel that can immediately deliver sales as well. 

'Change the way you think about IRL [in real life] retail and ensure you track it's impact online and you suddenly have a model that makes sense for physical retail. One that the large legacy retailers are still struggling with.'

At the end of 2019, Christina set up her first pop-up store called 'Women who Give a S***' (WWGAS) in Boxpark in Shoreditch for a month. All businesses that took part were owned and run by women and were ethical and sustainable. 

Focusing specifically on small, digital and often Instagram-only based operations, her main aim was to shake up the idea that bricks and mortar shopping was only for 'the big boys' and almost dead. 

'WWGAS came about as I wanted to have a focus for which brands I would work with and who I wanted to help grow,' she said.

'I've always been a feminist and the odds are still stacked against female entrepreneurs, so I wanted to start by helping female entrepreneurs. 

'I then decided I only wanted to help the right kind of businesses grow – so those ethically souring and producing their materials and products and who are trying to do right by the environment.' 

Chapter is - as of yet - entirely funded by Christina's own savings but as she has been asked to pop-up in New York and Berlin, she is aware that she may need to find funding soon in order to keep the momentum. 

At the end of 2019, Christina set up her first pop-up store called 'Women who Give a Sh*t'

At the end of 2019, Christina set up her first pop-up store called 'Women who Give a Sh*t' 

However, commenting on access to funding for female entrepreneurs, Christina said figures that stated less than 1 per cent of venture capital funding went into all-female founding teams in 2018 was 'shocking' and 'debilitating'.

She added: 'There are pockets of great things happening (networking groups, workspaces, angel investing groups) but the most fundamental one is that the majority of finance available to start-ups is controlled by blokes, who (sub-consciously in many cases) look to invest in people like them, or ideas that make sense to them.

'For example there's been a wave of innovation in feminine hygiene products, but it's been incredibly hard for the companies addressing this market to get finance. This is why I was so keen to get &sisters and Hanx featured in the pop up we did last year - both are fantastic examples of female-led brands looking to lead the change - in terms of women's health as well as environmentally. 

'These kind of companies are hugely exciting and I'd say, investable, but put them in front of some 55-year-old man and he's simply not going to get it.' 

Over the next year, Christina hopes to have fully tested and proven that 'in-real-life' drives online traffic and sales for small brands while building an understanding of what format best works for the brands Chapter works with and Chapter itself. 

She said: 'By the end of 2020 I would like to be in a position where I understand the economics of what works best for both Chapter and the brands and be in a position to raise finance and scale so we can start to meet our hefty ambitions.'   

Celia Pool - DAME

DAME was launched in 2015 with a focus on sustainability and less plastic waste for its sustainable organic cotton tampon range, which are free from toxins and synthetic materials. 

Last year, it went one step further and launched 'D' - the world's first reusable tampon applicator.  

A woman uses on average 12,000 tampons in her lifetime. Multiply that by the number of global tampon users and there is a huge number of waste being created that doesn't even include the tampons themselves. 

Celia Pool, co-founder of DAME said making the one change to a resuable applicator from a single-use one can make the greatest difference.

'Every year in the UK we throw away 1.3 billion tampon applicators, so we knew there had to be a better way,' she said. 'We launched on Kickstarter in Spring 2018 to see if the world was ready for D and the response was incredible, and timely, following the launch of David Attenborough's Blue Planet II.' 

Celia Pool of DAME said tampon users making one change to a resuable applicator from a single-use one can make the greatest difference to the amount of waste created globally

Celia Pool of DAME said tampon users making one change to a resuable applicator from a single-use one can make the greatest difference to the amount of waste created globally

But Celia said it was hard effectively changing the business proposition from one whose main offering were single-use products to a completely new product that went against it.

She said: 'We had a lot to prove and we were very lucky that our investors were so supportive and believed in what we were doing. But it did mean that we had to deliver, and designing a world first product is not a quick thing. 

'It took us two years to get it to market and that involved a lot of lean start-up tactics and good old-fashioned hustling along the way.'

However, getting those investors in the first place was a challenge. Celia said there needs to be a better environment that encourages women to start and scale businesses at the same rate as men. 

'This is where a bank's support is crucial. For example, while DAME's product clearly resonated with the product's target market, it was initially hard to get financial backing,' she recalled.

'I'm a mother and I've had investors turn me down for funding because I would be distracted. On other occasions, I've had male investors not able to look me in the eye and engage with my pitch purely because of the subject matter.

'Male investors tend to back businesses they have experience and knowledge in. It's an issue many female-founded businesses come across, and International Women's Day is an important opportunity to raise awareness of this in the business community.'

DAME offers work experience placements and teaches young people about starting a business

DAME offers work experience placements and teaches young people about starting a business

The company got its big break to get the D applicator up and running after meeting the Barclays High Growth & Entrepreneurs team, whose funding meant it was able to manage its stock and meet the demands of high street retailers. 

Celia added: 'Barclays' team that works especially with entrepreneurs wants to help more female-founded business after finding that an environment that encourages women to start and scale businesses at the same rate as men could add up to £250billion to the UK economy.   

'Access to funds means that we can press ahead with our commitment to making a big impact across reusables and massively reduce the waste from period products, which currently accumulates to a staggering 100 billion products thrown away a year.'

In a bid to give back too, DAME also offers work experience placements through a charity which allows teenagers in London to go into its offices to learn about setting up a new business.

Take the plunge...start a business 

Neeta Patel, chief executive of the Centre for Entrepreneurs says low numbers of female entrepreneurs is down to a lack of role models as well as access to networks and education.

She shares her tips on how to face the fear and get started:  

1. Develop skills - You don't need a business degree to start a business. 

The skills you learnt at school or university, in the office or through personal experience means you have tools at your disposal that make setting up and running a business easier than ever. 

The key is knowing how best to use them to benefit you and your venture.

2. Build your tribe - You need a network of people around you to support you. 

These can be friends and family but also consider attending networking events, joining an entrepreneur society, working from co-working spaces or joining entrepreneur training programmes. 

Exploring avenues outside your immediate network can help you meet like-minded people on a similar path to you to bounce ideas off or share experiences.

3. Find a mentor or adviser - A mentor or adviser, who has been in a similar situation or business before, is someone to lean upon for advice and support. 

They can also be helpful in making useful connections for you and may even invest in your business. 

The Centre for Entrepreneurs runs a fast-track programme designed to equip aspiring entrepreneurs with the skills, confidence and networks to start and lead scalable businesses.

To apply to this year's programme, click here.

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