The UK has produced some astonishing examples of driven, self-made entrepreneurs who have built uber successful businesses. By managing to turn ambitious and disruptive ideas into viable and profitable products from scratch.
Over the last few years a significant and increasing number of which have been women.
The 2023 Alison Rose Review Progress Report found that the number of new businesses founded by women in the UK exceeded 150,000 in 2022. Which is over double the amount seen in 2018. And also that in 2022, businesses led entirely by women made up 20% of all UK companies, a rise from the 16% recorded in 2018.
This trend signals shifts in societal attitudes, reflecting a growing acceptance and support for women in leadership roles. And could have a multitude of positive implications, as diversity often leads to more creative problem-solving and innovative approaches, benefiting not just the companies involved but the economy as a whole.
In this case, by adding an estimated £250 billion of value if women launched and expanded new companies at an equivalent rate to men.
So to support the progress being made towards greater equality we want to share and celebrate three phenomenal success stories. That we hope aspiring female entrepreneurs will find inspiring and empowering.
What makes these particular stories so amazing is the fact that all these ladies started with very humble and challenging beginnings. But that hasn’t stopped them from living the self-employment dream, and building multi-million pound fortunes.
Julie Deane CBE - Cambridge Satchel Company
Starting with only £600 and a resolute vision, Julie founded The Cambridge Satchel Company. Motivated by her daughter's social struggles in school, she aimed to fund a different educational path for her, eventually transforming her modest initial investment into a thriving multi-million-pound enterprise.
Although she encountered production challenges and a demand that far exceeded her original supply capabilities,
‘’It didn’t go well the two years after the investment,”
“There were a couple of reasons, and one was that my 24-year marriage fell apart and I didn’t see it coming. The other one was that when you get an investment and you think they know how to scale, and all these kinds of things, you are almost saying: I’m taking this investment because I don’t know enough how to do it’’ - Julie in conversation with VanityFair.
Julie navigated these obstacles by adhering to her fundamental business objectives, and established control over the company.
Eschewing the temptation to move production overseas, Julie insisted on keeping every aspect of the manufacturing process within the UK. She has also used her company's influence to revitalise the British workforce, particularly in her Leicestershire facility. This includes hiring apprentices, engaging with disengaged youth, and promoting the art of craftsmanship.
Thanks to her steadfast values and superior product, Julie has had the opportunity to collaborate with an array of high-profile designers like Vivienne Westwood, Comme des Garcons, Christopher Shannon, and Chris Benz. Her journey from a humble £600 to gracing the stages of fashion weeks in London and New York serves as compelling evidence that with the right mindset and work ethic, anything is possible.
Kanya King CBE - MOBO Awards
Born to an Irish mother and Ghanaian father in Kilburn north London, Kanya King MBE, CBE has built one of the biggest music awards in the world - the MOBOS.
After having her baby and being forced to drop out of school at 16, Kanya, as a young single mother, was still determined to realise her dream of working in the music industry.
She can’t have imagined that following her passion would have led her to become one of the most powerful figures within the UK music scene.
Raised in an environment rich with black musical culture, Kanya felt a deep urge to spotlight authentic talent. Fueled by unwavering commitment, she took the bold step of refinancing her home to kickstart the inaugural MOBO Awards.
It certainly wasn’t plain sailing, she had to overcome some significant hurdles in order to turn her dream into reality. These included negative attitudes to black music and a lack of industry experience and contacts meant it was difficult to be taken seriously at first.
‘’People felt that with black music events, there would always be trouble; that the artists wouldn't show up, that the media wouldn't get behind it, that there wasn't an audience for the music. People felt that black British music wouldn't sell, that it wasn't marketable. All of these things. I was told time and time again that I was wasting my time and energy, because people had done it before and not been a success. There was a lot of negative noise out there, but I just had to shut it out and have that single-minded focus that I would make it work.’’ - Kanya King, speaking to Complex.com
Serving as both the CEO and the visionary behind the brand, Kanya has successfully established an annual awards event that is now regarded as a pinnacle occasion in the music sector. Her journey not only qualifies her as a trailblazing female entrepreneur but also serves as a motivational blueprint for upcoming generations to chase their dreams and create something meaningful.
She has won a host of accolades and built a multi-million pound fortune in the process. Notably being awarded an MBE in 1999 and being ranked at number 60 by Richtopia on their list of 100 Most Influential British Entrepreneurs.
Liz Jackson MBE - Great Guns Marketing
Losing her sight at the age of 25 didn't deter Liz Jackson MBE from establishing her own marketing powerhouse. Armed with a £1,000 grant from the Prince of Wales Trust, Liz has propelled Great Guns Marketing to achieve a million-pound revenue. Even without a formal higher education, much like other women on our list, Liz recognized that her tenacity and willpower were the crucial elements for her entrepreneurial journey.
She also credits leaving academia at 17 and taking an apprenticeship as a formative and valuable experience that has influenced her success,
‘’The world of work is what switched me on to finding a goal, passion, excitement, and talent – all those things happened within the apprenticeship. It was so exciting to win clients, retain clients, work with people towards a common purpose, earn money and build something. It was like I’d entered into a completely different universe, and I absolutely loved it.’’
Honoured with the Women Mean Business Award, the UK's most prestigious accolade for female entrepreneurs, Liz epitomises the essence of business acumen, marketing innovation, and motivational drive. Her knack for surmounting challenges and defying norms has rightfully earned her a spot on our list of awe-inspiring female business leaders.
Liz's inspiring journey is documented in her book Start Up! which ranks among the top 50 business books on the market. Published by Pearson Prentice Hall, Start Up! ' is available in both print and audio formats.
You can do it too! If the stories of these women’s achievements inspire you to start your own business project, then you might want to learn about the following mentorship and support schemes for female entrepreneurs:
- The Santander Breakthrough Women Business Leaders' Mentoring Programme pairs aspiring female entrepreneurs with seasoned mentors for nine months to foster business growth. Open to UK businesses with up to £6.5m turnover. Both male and female mentors contribute, focusing on objectives and strategies for development over the nine-month term.
- Metro Bank has declared its dedication empowering women entrepreneurs, offering tailored support for business growth. Their Local Business Managers provide comprehensive guidance on topics from startup basics to advanced funding. Their commitment to the Investing in Women Code and specialised IIWH ambassadors further solidifies this.
This list is a reminder to us all that formal education in business or initial capital aren't the sole prerequisites for success. These women had little more than determination, resilience, and an immense work ethic to turn their visions into reality. Their stories serve as compelling examples, encouraging each of us to boldly pursue our dreams and forge our unique routes to success.