Initiative for Social Entrepreneurs
Funding round:
2017 Round 1
Midlands and East

Initiative for Social Entrepreneurs

Enterprising skills for women (ESW)

Initiative for Social Entrepreneurs (iSE) is a leading, social enterprise development organisation with a 16-year track record of supporting the start-up and growth of enterprises and women-led businesses across the West Midlands.

They requested funding to support Enterprising Skills for Women (ESW), their project addressing the lack of culturally appropriate start-up business support for women from BME (Black & Minority Ethnic) backgrounds locally.

“The project aims to build the skills and confidence of disadvantaged women, breaking down cultural and gender barriers to starting an enterprise,” explains Sarah Crawley.

“Thanks to the funding, we were able to give 100 women from inner city Birmingham the opportunity to benefit from courses on personal and business finance, as well as enabling 60 to take part in a customised enterprise start-up programme.”

While taking part in the project, participants have access to experts and workshops in finance, markets, enterprise development, marketing and technology – both face-to-face and online, as well as peer-to-peer support and mentoring.

As well as aiming to create 20 new women-led businesses, increased confidence has also been a valuable outcome for the women taking part, as Sarah explains:

“Matt and I looked at the business plans the women have worked on during the programme. Most women had underplayed their personal skills and their qualifications, so we undertook an exercise on self-promotion.

“At the start of the programme, one lady described herself as having a hobby business and wanted to be financially independent. By that she meant not having to ask her husband for money. I have challenged her throughout the programme and pushed her to look at alternative ways to turn her ‘hobby’ into a small business. To date she has undertaken pop up shops is selling on line and has met her goals.”

Many participants face a number of challenges to starting their own business, making the support iSE provides even more vital, as Sharon Farrell underlines:

“In my life, I have me, my 3 children (18, 9 and 7 – one with autism) and now a boyfriend. I have anxiety and they depend on me, sick or well, so life is highly pressurised. It means a lot that someone cares and truly understands my business and vision.”

The project has been an undoubted success, surpassing its objectives. “We were inundated with applications to join. Support has been plentiful from corporate businesses and participants have attended and fully co-operated in each workshop, as well as taking part in a networking group to share best practice,” confirms Sarah.

As well as providing financial help, NatWest have also donated the skills and expertise of staff. Matt Jenkins, Growth Enabler from the bank has been very impressed by the drive and commitment of participants:

“I am really seeing the thirst for knowledge and how engaged the business owners are. It’s really pleasing to see that they value the learnings. It is evident already that they are thinking how to put the learnings into practice when devising a strong strategic plan, which will be the backbone of their businesses.”

In total, 11 women are now fully committed to the programme, with funding having enabled the Women’s Enterprise Hub to support their start-up businesses and demonstrate to the City of Birmingham the need for business support. The organisation is now ready to launch their second Fuse programme, which will again support 11 women to begin their business journey.