Northern Ireland women-led companies access record rates of external capital in 2023 compared to UK

  • By Susan Nightingale, Devolved Nations Network Director at British Business Bank

    The British Business Bank has published its Small Business Finance Markets report with findings once again showing that women-led companies in Northern Ireland face increased difficulties accessing finance, with higher rejection rates that their male counterparts.

    According to the 2023 Gender Index report, the gender-based share of all Northern Ireland companies remains a similar picture with women-led businesses equating to just 13.6%. This places Northern Ireland at the bottom of all UK regions and nations when it comes to the share of female-led companies.

    But there are grounds for optimism. The proportion of Northern Ireland women-led companies accessing external capital in 2023 was the highest rate for all UK regions at 27.6%, compared to a UK average of 23.4%.

    Northern Ireland has no shortage of amazing businesswomen and while the numbers remain stubbornly low, I see the green shoots of recovery beginning to push their way through.

    And with our Assembly functioning once again, it feels the time is right to really support our women entrepreneurs through mentoring and accessing the finance they need to start up and scale up.

    And if we really want to shift the dial on levels of investment going to women founders, we need to increase the number of women investors – both angels and VC fund managers.

    It is why the British Business Bank and InterTradeIreland is proud to support the work of AwakenAngels, the first and only women-led angel investment syndicate on the island of Ireland.

    The support for Awaken Angels forms part of a pilot initiative from British Business Bank to support and accelerate the development of female led angel syndicates across the UK. Other syndicates supported by the initiative include Mint Ventures, Women Angels of Wales and Lifted Ventures.

    Co-founded last June by Mary McKenna, Denise McQuaid, Clare McGee, Sinead Crowley, Mary Ann Pierce, AwakenAngels has been created to empower female entrepreneurs and investors, democratise the investment process and foster all-island collaboration.

    In February of this year, the AwakenAngels team appointed Jane McCooey as an AwakenAngels Ambassador. Based in New York but originally from Armagh, Jane's role is to support the engagement of angel investors within our US diaspora community.

    It has a clear mission to improve the landscape for women investors making it more accessible and affordable for women from all sectors, backgrounds and communities to get involved.

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    The syndicate will provide access to early-stage funding, training, mentorship and networking opportunities to help women-led start-ups scale and achieve their full potential.

    AwakenAngels has really hit the ground running and since September it has onboarded 46 new angel investors. The first cohort of new angel investors are currently on module six of a nine-module training programme, which has been specifically developed to help them maximise their angel investing experience.

    Meanwhile, 15 additional new angel investors are at the beginning of their training programme with a third cohort in the process of being formed to begin in September.

    These new investors will help improve the diversity, equality, and equity in the investment landscape across Northern Ireland and the Republic.

    The plan is to train three cohorts per year. The team are currently offering information sessions every two weeks to explain more about the syndicate and the onboarding process.

    The response has been exceptional with new angel investors coming from a number of backgrounds with varying levels of experience.

    I’ve no doubt the response has been a result of the hard work and excellent outreaching by the AwakenAngels team who have already been to the U.S. twice to speak to the diaspora there about the opportunities which exist for investment throughout Ireland.

    The latest visit took place in January when the team hosted an Angel Investment Master Class in New York and in Boston. There was strong interest at both events from the diaspora community – some seeking to retire back in Ireland while others are tempted to return home so their children can be educated here.

    Groups like AwakenAngels can have a real impact and improve the landscape in Northern Ireland both for female investors and for female founders.

    Greater diversity in our business community will boost job creation, generate finance and accelerate innovation through new and different perspectives.

    Source: Written from press release 

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