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People, Skills & Talent

Greater Manchester female entrepreneurs – challenged but not out

Janine Smith, Head of Specialist Services at GC Business Growth Hub, looks at how some of Greater Manchester's female entrepreneurs have been innovating over the past 12 months, and challenges aspiring entrepreneurs to start their growth journey. 

This year’s International Women’s Day, taking place today – Monday 8 March 2021 – is themed #ChallengetoChange and I can’t think of a more appropriate theme when I reflect on the past 12 months and the bearing that this has had on our business community.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago we have seen our hospitality, leisure and retail sectors closing their doors or providing a reduced service for much of the last 12 months, 11.2 million jobs have been furloughed (UK Government: Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme statistics, 2021) and we’ve been collectively asked to work from our homes.

Caring isn’t always sharing

Certainly, one of the most challenging aspects of all has been the closure of schools, seeing parents and carers across the country home-schooling for up to six of the past 12 months. We’re all now familiar with seeing family members pop up during video calls, or receiving emails from our teams at unusual hours, but there is a disparity in that it appears women are bearing the brunt of the responsibility.

Research reveals that whilst 90 per cent of households with school age children are home-schooling, 67 per cent of female respondents had done so compared to 41 per cent of males (Coronavirus and home-schooling, 2021). I can speak on behalf of colleagues, clients and my own experience to say that finding a balance between work and life has never been so challenging. We are working first thing in the morning until late in the evenings in order to fit our work around the demands of our home-resulting in high levels of stress and anxiety. This is reflected in a recent survey by the TUC of 50,000 mothers, which found 65 per cent are working from home with caring commitments, with nine in ten saying this had a negative impact on their mental health (Working mums: Paying the price, 2021).

Today, as schools reopen their doors to our children, I hope that this means our working parents can put this particular challenge behind them and see normalcy returning in earnest.

Offering female entrepreneurs practical solutions

Here at GC Business Growth Hub our priority as always is to help small and medium businesses reach their full potential by helping them to start, scale or grow productively and sustainably.

It was heartening to see that whilst the Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring Consortium shows that only seven per cent of women were involved in entrepreneurial activity (GEM Global Report 19/20, 2020), over the last 12 months, 22.4 per cent of the businesses we supported were female owned. In addition, of the 389 businesses that we’ve helped start up in the same period, 53 per cent are female owned.

Last year we launched EnterprisingYou, a programme dedicated to supporting self-employed businesses to develop and grow. Since its inception 950 businesses have been supported, 64 per cent of which are female-led.


Ernst & Young, one of the largest professional services networks in the world, identifies ambitious women entrepreneurs with its EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ programme, providing information and resources.


 My colleagues in GC Business Finance are also bucking the trend. The team provide businesses with essential finance and access to investors to start, scale or expand globally and over the last 12 months provided £3,375,680 to female owned businesses.

Their GC Angels programme connects innovative businesses with investors to start up or develop new products or services, 30 per cent of whom are female owned. This is way ahead of other angels or professional investment programmes, which have on average 5% female clients. GC Angels have supported female and mixed gender founded companies raise over £15m in just over two years.

It makes me inordinately proud to know that the Hub, with our wealth of services, is playing such a key role in developing female entrepreneurs and leaders in our region, but clearly there is more to be done. My challenge to the women of Greater Manchester with aspiring ambitions to start or grow their business is to reach out to the Hub to help us improve on these figures over the next 12 months.


Inspirational entrepreneurs challenging to change

I’ll use this opportunity to showcase some of the incredible female owned businesses that we’ve worked with during this time, all of whom have demonstrated resilience, tenacity and strength in the face of enormous challenges.

Digital transformation safeguards turnover for Bury wholesaler

Innovation case-study - Dunsters Farm

Dunsters Farm, a Bury based wholesalers, lost 95 per cent of its customers at the start of the lockdown in March 2020. The business quickly established Dunsters Farm Shop online, enabling customers to purchase local produce directly from the firm via their website.

The Hub’s Digital Innovation Advisors worked with Hannah Barlow, Managing Director of Dunsters Farm, to digitally transform the business, introducing them to technology to help them operate from a traditional supply chain-based business to a online-customer facing business.

Hannah said of the support they received:

“GC Business Growth Hub has given us access to programmes we would never have heard of. Even our management team has been able to access development opportunities, and together this is not only making us more efficient as a business, helping us reach new customers and market ourselves, but it’s given the business a new and exciting future."

"Last year our turnover was £12m and we were looking to grow this to £15m before COVID hit. We’re now expecting £9m to £10m. There is going to be a loss, but we have placed the business in a far better position than six months ago."

Innovative shoe start-up generates £300k for patent

Gaynor Thomasson founded It’s All About Shoes in Salford with a focus on fashion, comfort and sustainability. Her patent for the world’s first modular designed shoe will make footwear more comfortable, customisable and better for the environment.

One of the Hub’s Innovation Advisor worked with Gaynor to secure funding through the Innovation Voucher Scheme helping the business to grow, increase headcount and generate £300k of income to pay for the costs of her patent.

Gaynor said of her advisor:

“She found a plastics specialist for me and she’s introduced me to programmes from the Hub and the NatWest Accelerator, which has been amazing."

"Another huge help was introducing me to MMU PrintCity who I also can’t praise enough. The team provided a range of expertise around product development and 3D prototyping that we’ve been able to use to pitch the idea to investors. Being able to quickly make informed changes to our designs based on the manufacturing constraints and feedback from these rapid prototyping techniques has made a big difference for us. The Hub’s Innovation Vouchers scheme meant we were able to reclaim half of the project costs, which has also helped us to develop other projects."

To find out how the Hub can support you to start or grow your business Enquire at or call 0161 359 3050


For further information and support check out our Start-up page and Enterprising You


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Janine Smith

Janine Smith, Director of Business Growth

The first female director to lead the GC Business Growth Hub, Janine has been with the Hub for the last eight years.

Janine first joined Greater Manchester’s GC Business Growth Hub in 2013 as a Start-up Manager, before being promoted to Head of Growth Services and latterly, Head of Specialist Services, leading the Hub’s sector specialist and growth teams.

Janine is an experienced operational and development director specialising in managing successful multi-million-pound contracts and programmes, within both the public and private sectors.

Janine started her career in sales and marketing for a national property development company before moving into teaching where she taught Business and Management Studies. 16 years ago, Janine entered the world of business support where she was initially a workforce development advisor before moving into leadership roles with Business Link and later a Lancashire based enterprise agency.

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