In the spring of 2019, Alison Rose, then CEO of NatWest’s Commercial and Private Banking Division, unveiled the Rose Review, a study which brought into sharp focus the value in helping female entrepreneurs develop their business.

According to the report, female entrepreneurship could create an additional £250bn for the UK economy.

But the same report highlighted the challenges women in business face compared to male counterparts – and the disparity in female leadership, with just one in five UK businesses run by a woman.

It also flagged issues about raising finance, juggling building a business with family life, and the impact of unconscious bias can mean companies created by women grow more slowly.

Nearly 12 months on and now Alison Rose sits at the helm of NatWest as CEO and the bank that she steers has made a number of steps to address some of the issues her landmark report has brought into focus.

Cheryl Gourlay, National Women in Business Manager for NatWest, said: “The Rose Review brought into focus the importance and the positive impact female-led businesses make to the UK.

“Importantly, the review’s findings also highlighted the unique challenges female entrepreneurs face – and the importance of building bridges between business and investors but creating hubs and spaces where networking, communities and learning can thrive and take place.”

The review found that there are five key barriers that lead to lower rates of entrepreneurship amongst women.

These barriers range from disproportionate caring responsibilities that result in women staring businesses later and leaving them earlier, combined with lower confidence levels, and poorer success rates in accessing finance which is compounded by structural and unconscious bias in funders’ behaviours.

This month, the bank announced one of its greatest commitments to helping improve access to finance.

The bank unveiled £1bn of funding through Natwest to support entrepreneurs in the UK. The aim is to support the creation of 50,000 startups by 2023 by inspiring half a million people to consider starting a business, of whom at least 60 per cent will be women.

Speaking at the launch, Alison Rose stated: “Building a business is often tough and lonely and can be harder than it needs to be… by tackling the most important issues facing our entrepreneurs, we can make a real difference to those who need it most, especially in female-led businesses.”

The lending fund is designed to support the growth of businesses across England and Wales which turn over less than £2m – right at the heart of the SME market.

It complements the bank’s launch last year of a unique funding propostion aimed directly at start-ups and building on NatWest’s success in helping ideas get off the ground with its Entrepreneurial Hubs.

In March Natwest joined Crowdfunder to launch Back Her Business, which enables women to register and prepare a business idea for crowdfunding. Most of the funding for these businesses is crowdfunded but Natwest is providing a top-up in funding of £1m per year.

Less than a year in operation and the project has already led to some good regional results, including support for Glamorgan based Work Shy, a business owned by local designer Demi Amber producing sustainable workwear made through ethically sourced materials.

But it isn’t just the current generation of businesswomen that the bank is now looking to support. Almost a year on and NatWest is considering the future of women in business too.

Six months ago NatWest piloted Dream Bigger – a programme designed by the people behind the NatWest Entrepreneurial Hubs which are active in Cardiff, Bristol and 10 other cities across the UK in conjunction with teaching specialists.

The programme, designed for schoolgirls and students aged 10 to 18, brings to life the impact that applying entrepreneurial mindset, tools and techniques to a school setting can make for young girls. Taking place in schools and colleges, students work in teams to develop their creative minds and attempt to create entrepreneurial solutions to current global issues.

The pilot was well received so this year the initiative is being given a greater push – and is available online as well as face to face – helping make it accessible to everyone. NatWest’s Leoni Quinn is the project’s co-founder.

She said: “Everyone deserves the chance to make their dream a reality but it is important to get the right support to make it happen. Through our work supporting entrepreneurs across the UK and through our own research, we identified some of the challenges and issues that affect mindset and stop people reaching their true potential.

“Something we’ve learned is that it is even more of a challenge for young girls and women and that is why we’ve created Dream Bigger – to help girls develop the skills and confidence to believe in themselves and not to compromise on their ambition.

“Hopefully those who take part go on to become a leader for a new generation – and at the very least find the confidence and get the support to follow their dreams and shape their future direction.”

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