Women-led businesses are on the rise – so why aren’t we hearing about them?

Startups exclusive figures highlight the ‘Ego Gap’, as women lack the same confidence as men when applying for business awards.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Despite record numbers of female entrepreneurs starting a business in the UK last year, as well as outperforming men in indexes such as the Fortune 1000, the number of women applying to business awards is still less than half the number of men.

Using our unique data from the past three years, we analysed applications to the Startups 100 Index, the UK’s longest running index of the top 100 new businesses in the UK.

Our results paint a depressing picture when it comes to business awards. Businesses with a female founder make up, on average, 23.5% of business award applications. That’s less than half the number of male founder applicants (60%).

The figures suggest that confidence, not lack of opportunity, is the biggest barrier to female entrepreneur victory. Below, we examine the figures in further detail, as well as asking what awards providers can do to help close the UK’s Ego Gap.

More women are starting businesses in the UK – but far fewer are applying to awards

The number of women-led businesses has risen exponentially over the past few years. In part this is due to the advent of remote working, which has made starting a business more accessible, as well as cheaper, for budding entrepreneurs.

According to new data from GoDaddy, the number of women-led businesses surged by 11% between 2022 and 2023.

But while the number of women-led businesses rises, industry award shortlists continue to be dominated by male company owners.

Between 2021 and 2023, the amount of women applying to be featured on the Startups 100 Index grew by just 3%. Combined with the GoDaddy data, this represents a growth disparity of 8%.

Applicants with a female founderApplicants with a male founderApplicants with male and female co-founders
% change3%0%-3%

Amelia Gammon is founder of bide planet. The company featured in the Startups 100 Index this year and Gammon appeared on Dragon’s Den in January.

Commenting on the challenges of being a female entrepreneur, Gammon says: “One of the biggest surprises I find as an entrepreneur is that it’s still an obstacle to be a woman. From personal branding workshops to investor pitching, it’s still a male-dominated area.”

Research suggests the UK’s gender funding gap could be putting off female applicants

One major deterrent for female entrepreneurs could be the investment funding gap. Earlier this year, we found that male-owned startups receive, on average, 6.2x as much funding as those founded by women.

This is a slight improvement on the previous year, when male founded companies received 7x more funding than women. However, the data still points to a stark gender inequality when it comes to raising early-stage finance.

External investment, like venture capital or angel funding, is often viewed as the biggest marker of success when it comes to launching a business. However, fewer deals being completed by women could be a factor in diminishing female entrepreneur confidence, making them less convinced of their ability to win an award.

Expert suggests imposter syndrome behind womens’ business awards phobia

Our analysis concludes that lack of self-belief, not lack of opportunity, appears to be the problem preventing women from applying to business awards. However, from our results, their fears are unfounded.

In fact, despite just 25% of women-led firms applying to the Startups 100 Index this year, a considerably higher proportion (33%) made it into the top 100 thanks to their impressive business ideas and growth stories.

So why are female business owners still reluctant to put themselves forward for the trophy?

Last year, Sahar Hashemi, co-founder of Buy Women Built, opined that the reason female entrepreneurs struggle to scale their company is a lack of self belief. “If you feel the statistics are against you, no one will ever try,” she told Startups.

To encourage more women entrepreneurs to feel the fear and do it anyway, plenty of initiatives, including  women-only awards and grants, have been established.

That includes the Two Chicks Future Female Entrepreneur, a mentorship programme now in its second iteration. The scheme is designed to offer the next wave of entrepreneurs business insights, mentoring and support from successful women in business.

Two Chicks co-founder Alla Ouvarova, explains: “Women are behind men when it comes to starting and scaling businesses, often because they lack the confidence and connections to do so, the same applies with women applying for jobs and awards!

“When women see others in a similar position starting businesses or receiving awards, it gives them the impetus to think that they can do it too. That’s why our scheme and others like it are very important.”

Reluctance to apply to awards is self-perpetuating cycle for female business owners

Ironically, applying to business awards could be the best way for women entrepreneurs to boost their credibility and confidence within the market.

Vitamin brand Nourished came sixth in the Startups 100 Index 2023. Founder, Melissa Snover holds the record for having raised £2m of seed finance – more than any other female-founded business in the UK.

Since appearing, the company has seen huge success, and even gone on to win the inaugural King’s Award. Snover tells us: “Appearing in the index has certainly validated our business as a market leading player within our industry, as well as raising our brand awareness.

“We were very grateful to have been listed amongst such impressive peers, and hope we can continue to be recognised by Startups 100.”

Startups 100 Index calls for more female applicants to close the Ego Gap this year

The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship 2023 shows that women created a record number of 151,603 new companies last year.

Having highlighted the shortfall in the number of women applying to industry awards, we’re appealing to this flourishing UK female entrepreneur community to submit their businesses to next year’s Startups 100 Index.

We’re making our judging process more inclusive than ever, to ensure we celebrate the business owners with the most growth potential – not just the biggest cheque.

To do this, we’ve shifted the focus from funding and finance. Every entry will be judged according to five criteria:

💪 Strength of concept (is your idea unique?)

💡 Innovation (how is your idea disrupting the market?)

🏆 External validation (any significant achievements eg. notable partners or clients)

📏 Size of opportunity (what ambitions do you have in terms of scale-up?)

💰 Finance (how much revenue have you generated from what amount of funding?)

On average, our figures show that half of female-led companies are self-funded, compared to just 32% of male organisations.

Knowing how expensive it can be to launch a business from scratch, the Startups 100 is completely free to enter.  We won’t charge a penny for you to submit your application, so you don’t have to worry about breaking the bank to access the wealth of benefits the index offers.

Are you a new business owner with a bold and brilliant idea? Apply now to the Startups 100 Index 2024 to be in with a chance of being named one of the most exciting new startups in the UK.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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