The rise of women entrepreneurs

Wendy Tan White, founder of Moonfruit, casts her eye over female entrepreneurship in the UK

In March this year, while accepting the award for Entrepreneur of the Year at the CWT Everywoman in Technology Awards, it struck me that it is only really in the last few years that an event like that would have even taken place. I’ve been in the tech business for over 20 years now, and an entrepreneur for 11 years, but as John Donovan, VP Worldwide Sales, Cisco, pointed out, no one would have sponsored or come to such an event five years ago.

It was a tremendous feeling to stand in front of a roomful of peers I admire, and see a real trend in women-led businesses and the success stories they have brought with them. It’s been a long road to get here, and obviously no one is under any illusion that the hard work will continue, but I feel like this is a fertile time for women to make their mark in business and an inflexion point for female entrepreneurs.   Women-led firms are the fastest growing sector of new venture creation in the US. As business owners, women in the UK still have a lot of ground to make up on our American cousins. Recent statistics have shown that if the UK had the same level of female entrepreneurship as the US, there would be approximately 600,000 extra women-owned businesses, contributing an estimated additional £42bn to the economy.   It raises interesting questions for debate – why are women more reticent taking the leap compared to men? Is it rooted in education and awareness from a younger age? I’d be interested to know your thoughts. I believe it’s important to support young women at grass roots level. Breaking the Mould is an event run by Lisa Buckingham, editor of Financial Mail and FMFW, which supports girls of school-age who are interested in getting into industries, such as tech, which are dominated by men. Speaking there I asked 300 girls aged 16-18 ‘Who’s interested in working in the technology sector?’ Silence. No one raised their hands. ‘Who uses Facebook?’ The majority raised their hands. This led to a debate on technology as an enabler. The girls were turned on by what tech can achieve as opposed the technology itself.   Women control 89% of household income; today, four of the highest value consumer tech businesses globally today have more female customers than male: Facebook, Groupon, Zynga and Twitter. Moonfruit provides a simple but powerful, design-led DIY website builder for small businesses. 41% of our customers are women, up 20% from last year. We are also seeing the rise of women-run funds such as Cynthia Padnos’s  Illuminate Ventures, and funding support programmes like Astia, led by Sharon Vosmek and Simone Brummelhuis.   Women are also showing a stronger representation, and indeed initiative, online, with the phenomena of ‘mummy bloggers’ sweeping the western world.   It’s been a great 12 months for our business, taking a $2.25m series A round for international growth, backing from Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups, relaunching, record revenues and the Entrepreneur of the Year award. There has never been a better time to be a female entrepreneur.

Wendy is founder and CEO of Moonfruit, a design-led DIY website builder for small businesses. Moonfruit was founded in 1999, survived the dot com crash in 2000 and made a rapid resurgence in 2009, recently raising $2.25m from Stephens (US) in Sept 2010 for accelerated international growth, and funding from Silicon Valley-based fund and accelerator 500 Startups. She is a 500 Startups mentor and Astia advisor. Wendy helped start up – the first European P2P lending site and – the first UK internet bank.



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