Virgin StartUp, the nonprofit incubator started by Richard Branson in 2013, has announced its commitment to become the first business funder to pledge 50/50 gender investment equality for its startup loans by the end of 2020.
Virgin StartUp aims to further address the barriers faced by women starting up their own businesses with a new programme of women-led initiatives. To encourage more women to start up businesses and thrive, the organisation is designing an entrepreneurial model for equal gender-based funding with expert business advice, guidance and mentoring.
The new initiative is being led by Virgin StartUp’s newly appointed chairwoman Linda Grant, and its new managing director Andy Fishburn.
There are around twice as many men who are entrepreneurs as women, and closing the gender gap could generate £250 billion to the UK’s economy. During the course of engaging with an increasing number of women entrepreneurs, Virgin StartUp will work to remove the most common barriers to starting their own business.
“The barriers have been well documented,” said Grant. “It’s now time to make a promise that will deliver a positive change for women entrepreneurs and the British economy as a whole. We are committed to delivering on our 50/50 gender pledge and have worked with a number of external advisors to introduce a raft of women-focused initiatives that will address the barriers women face when starting up.”
Childcare tops the list of barriers currently faced by women in business, so one programme will be to offer new online courses to help upskill founders and provide parents with the necessary tools to build better businesses. Virgin StartUp is also open to partnerships with organizations in the startup ecosystem who can add further support to these women founders.
In a further move towards removing gender based discrimination, Virgin StartUp is partnering with Genderscope, a Virgin StartUp funded business, to develop a comprehensive gender strategy, addressing key organizational areas. As part of the pledge, Virgin StartUp is also actively seeking more women mentors, who currently account for around 30% of the mentor community. Genderscope provides businesses with training, workshops and consultancy services to support the understanding of the gender dimension in their organization.
“We commend Virgin StartUp for their progressive leadership,” said Yael Nevo, co-director of Genderscope. “Gender equality is a business sustainability issue and companies who prioritise it, set themselves at a great advantage. A growing body of research clearly demonstrates how gender equality and diversity lead to better decision-making processes, greater employee satisfaction and performance, improvement in productivity, economic growth and much more. We are excited to work with an organisation who takes this goal seriously and is committed to investing the necessary resources to create a meaningful change.”
The 50/50 gender pledge is being supported by women founder meet-up events and StepUp programmes. StepUp with Virgin StartUp is a two-day scale-up programme of workshops and networking opportunities designed to equip women founders with the skills and knowledge to take their business to the next level. Virgin StartUp will handpick mentors to work with entrepreneurs to help them grow, providing practical business advice from successful women founders.
Virgin StartUp already outperforms the industry and currently provides funding and support to women that is double the national average, at 41%, but is now committing to 50/50 with this pledge. The organisation will invest in more women and continue to invest in at least the same number of men.
Virgin StartUp is devoted to reaching and engaging more women entrepreneurs to not only start-up and survive, but also to thrive. Women-founded businesses supported by Virgin StartUp have a 76% survival rate (73% for founders who are men) and are still trading after three years, surpassing the national average of 54%.
“The Virgin Group has always had entrepreneurship at its core and we are proud to address the recent conversations around the barriers facing women entrepreneurs and deliver workable solutions with the creation of our 50/50 gender pledge,” said Fishburn. “We strongly encourage other investors to do the same.”