Ulster Bank continues to ‘Accelerate’ entrepreneurs, with a female focus

  • The Ulster Bank team share their Entrepreneur Accelerator journey and discuss NI’s first female investment day they organised in September.

    Ulster Bank’s Entrepreneur Accelerator has come a long way since we first opened our doors to entrepreneurs back in 2016.

    Back then, our focus was attracting early stage entrepreneurs and we were part of an international movement to encourage and support start-up businesses, while helping Belfast as a city become more hospitable to entrepreneurship. 

    Three years later, and while we are still very much driven by creating an eco-system for entrepreneurs, as we welcome our 10th cohort of business owners on to our Accelerator programme, there have been significant changes to the landscape. 

    Last year we took the decision to bring the Belfast Hub, which is one of 12 Entrepreneur Accelerator Hubs located across the UK, in to our Ulster Bank headquarters and I’m pleased to report this has enabled us to better align the work of the Accelerator programme more closely with the rest of the bank while ramping up Ulster Bank’s support for entrepreneurs across every division. 

    2018 was also the year we introduced our new entrepreneurship team. If we are to be the leading drivers of entrepreneurship, then we need to have the right people with the right skills to facilitate this. Every day in our Belfast Hub we have a team of four providing coaching and mentorship to 80 entrepreneurs while also working hard to improve the overall landscape for these businesses to grow and succeed. 

    But to what impact? Pleasingly, the figures speak for themselves and we are proud of the significant impact the Belfast Hub has made to our local economy. In 2018, we helped create £3.4m in investment, £2.7m in turnover and supported more than 110 businesses. As we approach the last quarter of 2019, all indicators are positive and we expect last year’s figures to be outperformed. 

    Of course there is still much work to be done and our team remains committed to ensuring we can continue to make advancements. Supporting female-led businesses is at the top of our priority list and we are working hard to level the playing field. 53% of our entrepreneurs in 2018 were female and we hope to continue to grow this figure.  

    The publication of The Rose Review; a study commissioned by the government into female entrepreneurship, led by the newly appointed CEO of RBS, Alison Rose, highlighted how important it is to assist female business owners and identified some of the more challenging barriers which need to be overcome to make this happen.  

    Access to relatable role models, creating stronger networks of contacts and reshaping the mindset of female entrepreneurs were all listed as key areas for concern but it is access to finance which remains the biggest issue to be addressed. 

    Currently women make up just 33% of female entrepreneurs in the UK and The Rose Review identifies that by achieving parity in start-up rates between men and women, could generate an additional £250bn to the UK economy. No government can afford to ignore this issue for any longer, not only because of the moral implications involved but because of the economic growth opportunities that could be generated simply by tapping into female talent. 

    At the Belfast Hub, we are constantly telling our entrepreneurs to ‘Power Up’ so when faced with findings as stark as these, we are absolutely taking action to tackle them head on. In September we organised Northern Ireland’s first Female Investment Day; an opportunity for female business owners to come together and learn from other entrepreneurs who have been successful while establishing that all important network of contacts. 

    Supported by QUB; Invest NI; Belfast City Council; DELL Technology and InterTrade Ireland, the event brought together more than 100 entrepreneurs, business leaders and funders who pledged to work together to confront the Gender Investment Gap . 

    Having access to external investment in order to fund growth is crucial for any business to survive but with just 1p in every £1 of venture capital raised going to a female-led business,  then already female entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage. Throughout the day, attendees were given the opportunity to hear first-hand from other entrepreneurs who have been able to cut through the noise and successfully access the funding the need. And the sessions led by female-investors proved to be particularly useful as entrepreneurs, who have perhaps struggled in this area, seized the chance to speak openly and frankly with the very people who can provide them with the funding they need to start or scale their business. 

    As we begin to start the process again with our 10th intake of participants to the Accelerator programme, pausing for reflection has been a useful exercise. 

    Belfast has transformed itself into a vibrant city for entrepreneurs and slowly but surely, we are narrowing the gap between ourselves and other UK cities when it comes to measuring entrepreneurship. Life if in the Belfast Hub is as busy as ever but it’s still incredibly rewarding to see an entrepreneur who has given their all get a huge deal over the line and appreciate that we played a small part in helping him or her unlock this potential. 

    This article first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of the Sync NI magazine and was contributed by Ulster Bank.

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