SOME of Dorset’s brightest female entrepreneurs gathered to discuss what can be done to help more women set up businesses.

Only one in three UK entrepreneurs is female – a gender gap that a report says is equivalent to 1.1million “missing” companies.

NatWest came to the Daily Echo offices to host a round table event for women in business following the Rose Review into female entrepreneurship.

The review was led by Alison Rose, deputy chief executive of NatWest Holdings, who was asked by the Treasury to look into barriers facing women entrepreneurs.

It found that 8.6 per cent of women planned to start a business in the next three years – compared with 14.3 per cent of men.

Women were half as likely to start a business, while female-led businesses were, on average, only 44 per cent the size of male-led business in terms of their contribution to the economy. There was a big gender gap in the venture finance community – only 13 per cent of senior people in UK investment teams were women, and almost half of such teams had no women at all.

The NatWest event was opened by Daily Echo editor Andy Martin, who said the gender gap in business was equivalent to four “missing” years of growth in the economy.

Cheryl Gourlay, NatWest’s regional strategic lead for women in business, said the Rose Review should have practical results.

“The key for us is that we don’t want it to be another thing that sits on the shelf. It’s a question of what can we get in place to make a difference?” she said.

The review recommended more funding for female entrepreneurs, greater support for family care, a rollout of entrepreneurship-related courses to schools and colleges, expanded mentorship and networking opportunities and a new digital “first-stop shop” for businesses.

NatWest is signposting women to a host of support in Dorset, including:

  • Initiatives with Bournemouth University and further education colleges;
  • Start-up loans through, Dorset Business Angels, SWIG Finance, Screw It Just Do It and Capital Investment;
  • The Dorset Growth Hub Business Finance Finder;
  • Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership’s Dorset Gateway support service;
  • Back Her Business, the UK’s only female-only crowdfunding programme;
  • NatWest’s pre-accelerator programme for early stage start-ups, which has just launched, with a programme starting on June 11.

Wrapping up the discussion, Cheryl Gourlay asked the women present for a “commitment that we will continue this conversation and make a pledge to do something differently”.

“This is just the start of the conversation,” she said.

Sam Acton, founder of home help franchise Domestic Angels, said: “I thought it was an extremely successful afternoon that’s begun a discussion that will go on for some months and is going to be an education for everybody involved.”

Other businesswomen present were: Anna Barwick of AC Barwick Accountancy; Lucy Beck of Setfords Solicitors; Samantha Birks of Sandpiper Mortgages; Sarah Buckingham of SB Protect Ltd; Natalia DaCosta of the Athena Network; Rosie Radwell Marsham Court Hotel; Claire Skerrett of the family attractions website Picniq; and Kate Chastey and Jenni Bowman from the Passionate PA (UK) Ltd.