Make space to bring women social enterprise leaders together

10 Jan 2022

Chloe Tingle, learning manager at SSE in the South West reflects on the successful Accelerating Women’s Enterprise Programme.

“If this is a room full of leaders there is hope for the future!”

In mid-October the School for Social Entrepreneurs in the South West brought together 16 women and non-binary leaders running successful social enterprises across Devon, Somerset, Cornwall and Dorset for an accelerator intensive weekend to help focus on their financial sustainability. 

This marked the end of the Accelerator Women’s Enterprise programme (AWE), a three-year programme delivered by a consortium of partners in the UK and France. AWE  was specifically aimed at women (including trans and non-binary people) who experienced additional barriers or obstacles, such as those living in a rural area or those with caring responsibilities. Over the weekend, we also hosted an evening event to celebrate the successes of the programme which has supported 163 women and non-binary people since June 2019. Many of them joined  the programme with an inkling of an idea, and left SSE with a working business. 

Why focus on women? 

According to the Rose Review, only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs is female: a gender gap equivalent to ~1.1 million missing businesses. Female-led businesses are only 44% of the size of male-led businesses on average, in terms of their contribution to the economy, and male SMEs are five times more likely to scale up to £1million turnover than female SMEs. Alongside this, perceived bias within the UK venture finance community is a concern. Only 13% of senior people on UK investment teams are women, and almost half (48%) of investment teams have no women at all.  

How did our students react to the Accelerating Women’s enterprise programme? 

We created a space for those who face misogyny to come together to work on their businesses. We hoped to use our programmes to break down barriers, especially for those who may not always feel able to access mainstream business support. Here is some of their feedback: 

“I have felt my confidence grow as a result of the weekly sessions. I have more belief in myself. I have met such inspiring and articulate women who have been both mentors, teachers and a support network.” 

“Such an inspiring, inclusive, supportive network of amazing women, all very encouraging and personable. This course has just been incredible for providing the foundations with which to grow an enterprise and all the topics have been taught in the most careful and conscientious feminine way. I feel a lot more confident in my own abilities to set up my enterprise.”  

“As a female in the ‘closer to retirement age’, who also has conflicting neurodiverse conditions and feels ‘shame’ and often doubts myself and my ability or my need to work outside the box, this was a weekend that ended up being a gift.” 

“I’ve never worked in a female only environment and it was ‘different’ in a very good way. The warmth, openness and acceptance of the group towards each other had a big impact on me, and I came away believing more in myself.” 

What have we learnt about delivering programmes aimed at women? 

Over the last three years of delivery, we listened, adapted and shaped this programme to fit the students’ needs. We explored topics that appear across various SSE programmes, but we approached them from new angles, chunked them down into small pieces to fit into hectic lives and encouraged discussion and debate about attitudes to risk, to wealth and growth. We’ve delivered at weekends, in the evening, with babies on laps and women on their commute home from their day job. The students have felt able to bring their whole selves to these programmes and we have been able to provide an extra level of care and support to them in response to them sharing their vulnerabilities.  

Delivering throughout the pandemic created both challenges and opportunities. Some of our students had no access to technology which was quickly solved by one of our SSE fellows Borrow Don’t Buy, who lent us laptops so people could participate.  A benefit of online delivery was that those who felt unable to engage in face-to-face training due to illness, confidence or caring responsibilities, were able to engage fully from their own home. We created a unique support network for these students to thrive. 


I’d love to hear your views on women focussed programmes. Should we run more in the future? Connect with me on LinkedIn