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Women Start Up Founders Offer Insight To Aspiring Entrepreneurs

  • Women Start Up Loans recipients reflect on the challenges they have faced and provide advice to those considering launching a business
  • Since 2012, Start Up Loans has delivered 36,446 loans to women entrepreneurs across the UK, providing over £306 million of funding

Only one in five businesses in the UK is run by a woman. Access and awareness of funding, as well as family responsibilities, are often listed as top reasons that prevent women from making the decision to work towards becoming successful business owners.

Since 2012, the government backed Start Up Loans programme has delivered 36,446 loans and provided over £306m of funding to women-led businesses. This accounts for around 40% of the programme’s total delivery, around double the level of women business ownership in the UK.

Below, women recipients of a Start Up Loan share some of the challenges they faced on their entrepreneurship journey and offer tips to others who might be considering starting a business of their own.


Noticing a gap in the market for eco-friendly stationery, Aoife Doherty secured a Start Up Loan of £9,000 to launch her own zero-waste stationery company based in Cardiff. With a natural flair for creativity, she wanted to harness the skills she learned during her graphic design studies at the University of Reading and turn them into a business. She used the funding to help support the manufacturing of her products and design tools.

Aoife Doherty, Founder of Floris said: “One of the key challenges I think women face in business is gender related bias from investors or other business owners who they are looking to collaborate with. I have found there’s always an undertone of ‘are you capable of this’ in conversations with men in business, particularly if you’re a young female. I’d encourage women to go for it and pitch their product to customers even when things aren’t going so well.”

Valiant Lingerie

At just 24 years old, Eleanor Howie underwent a risk-reducing mastectomy after doctors diagnosed her with a genetic mutation that significantly increased her risk for breast cancer. Post-surgery, she found that the clinical underwear available was outdated and significantly impacted her self-esteem. In Spring 2020, she secured funding of £6,500 through Start Up Loans delivery partner Virgin StartUp to start her lingerie brand for women who have been impacted by breast cancer or risk-reducing mastectomies.

Eleanor Howie, Founder of Valiant Lingerie said: “Deciding to start your business is exciting, exhilarating, and daunting! My advice would be to take time to create your business plan. Do your research to understand your competitors and the market you’ll be going into. I would also recommend anyone starting out to look into finding a support network or mentor. It really can be game changing.”

Ellison Gray Bridal

Disillusioned with corporate life, Caroline decided to leave her well-paid job in communications and engagement. In May 2020, she took out a £25,000 loan to realise her dream of opening a luxury bridal boutique. Named after Caroline’s two sons, Ellison Gray Bridal offers brides in the Northeast and beyond a high-end retail experience with bridal gowns to match.

Caroline Potts, Founder of Ellison Gray Bridal said: “Go for it, you can 100% do it. I think a lot of women don’t believe they can do it. We often look at other successful women and see them as different to us and use that as a reason to undermine our own abilities. But in reality, we are all just chasing our dreams and working hard.”

Richard Bearman, Managing Director of Start-Up Loans, said: “I am very proud that Start Up Loans has provided more than £300 million of funding to women entrepreneurs around the UK. No matter your gender, one of the keys to starting a business is having the encouragement and support to do so. As we approach International Women’s Day, it’s always fantastic to see our women business owners speaking up to inspire others to navigate the challenges and ultimately reap the benefits of being their own boss.”



Notes to editors

About Start Up Loans

The Start-Up Loans Company, part of the British Business Bank, was formed in June 2012. The Start Up Loans programme provides personal loans for business purposes of up to £25,000 at a 6% fixed interest rate per annum and offers free dedicated mentoring for 12 months and support to each business.

The primary aim of the Start Up Loans programme is to ensure that viable start-ups and early-stage businesses have access to the finance and support they need in order to thrive. A network of Delivery Partner organisations support applicants in all regions and industries throughout the UK. The Start Up Loans programme is not designed to generate a commercial profit. Capital payments together with the interest are recycled to help meet our customers’ increasing demand for finance.

Free guides on a range of subjects related to starting a business are available on the Start Up Loans website: You can find recent media coverage and press releases in the Start Up Loans Media Centre here:

The funding for the Start Up Loans programme is provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The Start-Up Loans Company is a subsidiary of the British Business Bank plc. The bank is a development bank wholly owned by HM Government which is not authorised or regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) or the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). British Business Bank plc and its subsidiary entities are not banking institutions and do not operate as such.

The British Business Bank makes finance markets for smaller businesses work better, enabling the sector to prosper, grow and build economic activity.

Start Up Loans – impact

  • Since 2012, the Start Up Loans programme has delivered more than 91,000 loans, providing over £830 million of funding.
  • In the financial year 2020/21, the programme provided 11,408 loans with a total value of approximately £137.2 million
  • Since 2012, 30% of loans went to people formerly unemployed or economically inactive. Two fifths (40%) were women and more than one in five (20.2%) of our loan recipients from ethnic minority groups, excluding white minorities.
  • The economic benefits of the Start Up Loans programme are almost six (5.7) times its economic costs.
  • At Spending Review 2021, the Chancellor announced resources to provide 33,000 Start Up Loans over next three years.

For more information about Start Up Loans, please visit: