Untapped unicorns in North East England (and how we are helping) 

By Estelle Blanks, Deputy Director, Innovation SuperNetwork North East England

Last weekend, as I was visiting New York's famous Wall Street I could not help but notice the famous Charging Bull. 

What was more intriguing, however, were the hundreds of tourists gathered around the much smaller bronze statue of a defiant little girl standing right in front of the bull with a sign saying “know the power of women in leadership”. 

This powerful and symbolic work of art by sculptor Kristen Visbal had been installed to mark International Women's Day and denounce the significant gender disparity in finance in the U.S. 

This little girl is certainly sending a loud and clear message to the world that more needs to be done to close this gap, promote gender equality in entrepreneurship and address the barriers for women to access finance and grow their businesses.

As I returned from my travels, I came across the Untapped Unicorns, scaling up female entrepreneurship report recently published by The Entrepreneurs Network which echoed my NYC experience. It produced the astonishing statistics that: 

1. Male entrepreneurs are 86% more likely to be VC funded than their female-led peers 

2. The UK economy is missing out on more than 1.2m new enterprises due to the untapped potential of women.

The North East of England is of course not immune to this global issue and yet I've had the pleasure to work with some fantastic local women entrepreneurs throughout my career. 

During our January 2017 Entrepreneurs of the North Event we took ambitious businesses to meet with London investors including:

Becca Brighty of 
We Love Work

Ami Davies of
My Little Explorer

Katharine Paterson of
So To Company

The Evening Chronicle has also published a list of the 50 most influential women in the region which includes business role models such as Helen McArdle, Jacqui Miller, Gill Southern, Kari Owers, Alice Hall and many others.

A lack of talent and ambition is certainly not the reason why women can't access finance and scale up their businesses. So what can be done? The Untapped Unicorns report includes two recommendations that resonated with me and the vision of the Innovation SuperNetwork. 

The first is to ensure that entrepreneurs have a choice of investors and that "investor selection" is just as important as investor readiness.

We have been working hard to attract a wider range of investors to North East companies to ensure that they can identify the right investment and the people that have the potential to help them realise their growth ambitions. At this year's FinanceCamp, to be held on 24th May 2017 at Ramside Hall, we are aiming to attract 50 different investors from the region and beyond.

The second recommendation is a call on the entire industry of entrepreneurs and people who support them to help ensure women entrepreneurs can secure finance to scale up. 

The Innovation SuperNetwork and our partners are keen to ensure more women access the finance they need. 

FinanceCamp in May will bring together investors and experts who we know are keen to support exciting business propositions and talented individuals regardless of their gender.

There is still a long journey ahead but the work we, and the networks we represent, are doing is paving the way to ensure that defiant little girl grows up in a more equal and prosperous economy.

If you are looking for finance and expertise join us at FinanceCamp on 24th May 2017. Apply here to this free event.