Women are constantly breaking boundaries in business, which was once seen to be a male-dominated space. It is predicted that a further £250 billion could be added to the UK economy if women started businesses at the same rate as men. However, currently only one in three entrepreneurs in the UK are female. Furthermore, female businesses are only 44% of the size of male-led businesses, but this is changing!
With searches for ‘famous female entrepreneurs’ up 131% over the last 12 months, this exposure to young women all over the world means that they are becoming more aware of the ability to work for themselves and become financially independent, as well as being prepared to take on the challenges (and perks) that come alongside this.
In light of the burgeoning female-led businesses, we at Paymentsense analysed Crunchbase data to find out which cities have the most female-owned businesses and who are the current female leaders in the UK market. We also have discovered which female social media influencers turned entrepreneurs have the largest followings on Instagram, as well as three female-founded businesses on Instagram that are certainly ones to watch!
The top 10 cities in the UK with the most female-led businesses
|Rank||Location||Total registered businesses||No. of female businesses||Percentage of businesses that are female-led|
UK’s capital, London has the highest number of female-led businesses in the UK
London has ranked as the city with the most female-led businesses, making the UK’s capital the female-led business capital too! With an impressive 3,088 female-led businesses, London sits comfortably ahead of the rest of the cities analysed. However, this is just 6.8% of the total business population in London so there is definitely room for growth and, with London's reputation for being booming with opportunity, it seems London is the place to be for any women looking to start up their own business!
110 businesses in Manchester are female-led according to data
Manchester has ranked as the second city in the UK with the most female-led businesses and is home to 110 businesses with female CEOs. This is equal to 3% of all registered businesses in Manchester.
Just 2.6% of businesses in Cambridge are female-led
Known for being home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Cambridge ranks in third place for the most female-led businesses in the UK. It is also home to 76 female-led businesses, making up 2.6% of all registered businesses in the city.
4.3% of businesses in Edinburgh are female-led
Edinburgh - renowned for its rich history and mesmerising beauty - takes a spot in the top five cities for the most female-led businesses. With 98 registered female-led businesses, making up 4.3% of all businesses in the city, Edinburgh ranks in fourth place.
Bristol ranks as the fifth city in the UK for the total number of female-led businesses
Bristol rounds off the top five cities with the most female-led businesses being home to 75 businesses with female leaders, which is 3.4% of all businesses registered in Bristol. As the first British city to be named European Green Capital, Bristol is a great place to be for any woman looking for a metropolitan place to begin their sustainable business journey!
Female-led businesses make up less than 7% of businesses in most UK cities
It is worth noting that these figures show a clear disparity between the number of male-led and female-led businesses in the UK, with our data showing that the percentage of UK businesses led by the latter range from just 0%-6.9% across the different cities - staggeringly low numbers.
However, with more women starting their own businesses, joining boards and occupying senior roles all across the country, these figures are creeping up.
Hannah Millist, founder of Twogether Digital shared the challenges she faces as a female-founder as well as her advice for fellow female entrepreneurs:
“The biggest obstacle I face is myself. Imposter Syndrome is a thing and I really struggle with it. Even though I’ve been working in SEO for years, I still feel like I’m a fake. Some of that is left over from my time in education; the education system makes you feel like a failure even when you’re not. I also struggle with taking calculated risks, even if it’s a risk that isn’t much of a risk at all, really. I’m constantly “putting the brakes on” and then having to berate myself for it. You can definitely accuse me of being overcautious at times.”
Female social media influencers turned entrepreneurs: The top 10 most followed on Instagram
|Rank||Name||Instagram following||Business name|
|1||Zoe Sugg||9.4m||Zoella.co.uk, The Magpie Society, Template, Filmm|
|2||Charlotte Letita Crosby||7.1m||Flique, Pepper Girls Club, Naked-Lane|
|3||Molly-Mae Hague||6.4m||Filter by Molly Mae|
|4||Michelle Keegan||4.8m||Rosia Promotions Ltd|
|5||Fearne Cotton||3.7m||Happy Place|
|6||Nigella Lawson||2.6m||Pabulum Publications|
|7||Rochelle Humes||2.3m||My Little Coco|
|8||Giovanna Fletcher||2.1m||Happy Mum Happy Baby: The Podcast, A series of fiction and non-fiction books|
|9||Olivia Attwood||1.8m||We Are Foolish|
|10||Lucy Mecklenburgh||1.7m||Results Wellness Lifestyle
Results With Bump
In the hands of social media it’s now possible to soar to stardom overnight, grow a business from the comfort of your living room, and connect with people thousands of miles apart in seconds - the opportunities are endless. When it comes to business, social media is key to building meaningful and long-lasting connections with consumers.
We have found out which UK based social media influencers have used their Instagram following to leverage their own brands, utilising the potential exposure to their millions of supporters in the UK and beyond.
The female influencer turned entrepreneur with the highest following is Zoe Sugg, with an impressive following of 9.4 million, Zoe Sugg has built an empire around her personal brand, with a portfolio including Zoella.co.uk- a blog platform, The Magpie Society- a collection of novels written by Zoe, and Template and Filmm- photo editing apps.
2. Charlotte Letitia Crosby
After rising to fame on reality TV show, Geordie Shore, Charlotte Letitia Crosby is now the second most followed female influencer turned entrepreneur. With 7.1 million followers supporting her, Charlotte has launched a variety of different businesses during, from books and workout DVDs to her makeup brand, Flique, a clothing range Pepper Girls Club and a homeware range named Naked-Lane - Charlotte is definitely a businesswoman to watch!
3. Molly-Mae Hague
Like Charlotte, Molly-Mae launched into stardom after appearing on a reality show. Prior to Love Island Molly Mae Hague had a popular YouTube channel but has since grown a following of 6.4 million Instagram fans, making her the third most followed female influencer turned entrepreneur with her fake tan brand Filter by Molly-Mae.
However, you don't need to be an influencer to reap the benefits of combining influencing with entrepreneurship. Using influencer marketing is a great way to spread the word about your business, and it doesn't always have to require a large budget either. Micro-influencers often have higher engagement rates and can be very effective as their lower follow counts allow consumers to hear them as a voice they can trust, making them perfect for small businesses with lower marketing budgets!
Source data correct as of Thursday 22nd September
Inspiring female founded small businesses to watch on Instagram
1. Lifestory - Independent interior store
Source: Conde Nast Traveller
The first female-owned small business to watch on Instagram is Lifestory, an independent lifestyle store based in Edinburgh. Lifestory offers a uniquely curated mix of Scandinavian design-led items, including some smaller-UK-made brands and local artists' work. They currently have a following of 23.2k, and were featured in Elle Decoration UK on their launch!
2. Liv and Dom - Handmade Ceramics
Source: Liv and Dom
Liv and Dom is a namesake brand created by Liv and Dom Cave-Sutherland, a creative duo of identical twins based in Lewes, UK. Together they create unique and carefully crafted ceramics and prints which are sold online to their impressive collection of 82.8k Instagram followers and occasionally at pop-ups/events.
3. Kinship Press - Handmade and bespoke stationery
Source: Kinship Press
The top 10 most invested in female-led businesses in the UK, ranked by amount of funding received to date
|Business name||Female Founder, entrepreneur or board member||Industry of business||Location of business||Year business founded||Number of employees||Number of investments||Amount of funding received||Money raised in year founded||Growth since year founded|
|Generation Home||Sophia Guy-White||Finance||London||2019||51-100||13||£1.55B||£7.3M||20,448%|
|Lendable||Victoria van Lennep||Banking||London||2014||101-250||19||£1.38B||£3.4M||40,488%|
|Starling Bank||Anne Boden||Banking||London||2014||501-1,000||11||£940M||£60.2M||1,461%|
|GFG Alliance||Nicola Gupta||Energy||London||1992||101-250||1||£862M||£302M||174%|
|Zepz||Catherine Wines||Financial Services||London||2010||501-1,000||9||£603M||£471K||127,925%|
|Union Trade Pro||Marie Donald||Financial Services||Sheffield||2006||51-100||1||£563M||£175M||222%|
|Propel Finance||Anne Williams||Finance||Newport||1996||101-250||3||£500M||N/A||N/A|
|Hyperoptic||Dana Pressman Tobak||Internet||London||2011||501-1,000||12||£470M||£65.1M||622%|
|Orchard Therapeutics||Andrea Spezzi||Biotechnology||London||2015||101-250||29||£397M||£26.2M||1,415%|
Unfortunately one or more of the entrepreneurs listed have sadly passed away since founding these businesses, however, the foundation built and subsequent investment the businesses received still serve as an inspiration for budding female entrepreneurs.
- Generation Home
Generation Home is a mortgage lender on a mission to make homeownership possible for everyone. Sophia Guy-White conceived the idea after facing difficulties when trying to buy her first home with her partner and co-founder, Will. Since being co-founded in 2019 it has raised an impressive £1.55 billion in funding from a total of 13 investors, making it the most invested in female-led business of our top 15!
The second most invested in business of our top 15 is Lendable, an AI-powered consumer finance platform offering fast loans at fair rates. Lendable was founded in 2014 by Victoria Van Lennep, who holds a bachelor’s and master’s in Economics from the ULB and an MSc in Environmental Policy from the University of Oxford. Since launching, Lendable has accumulated £1.38 billion in funding and grown by an impressive 40,488%!
Founded back in 2004 by Kate Hyndman, FNZ ranked third on the index for the 15 most invested in female-led businesses receiving £1.21 billion in funding! FNZ is a financial services company that aims to help everyone to invest in their future on their terms. FNZ is also the company with the most employees in the top 15, with 1,001-5,000 employees!
- Starling Bank
Anne Boden founded Starling Bank in 2014 after a distinguished, 30-year career at some of the world's best-known financial heavyweights. Starling Bank is a UK mobile-only bank and has received £940 Million in funding, making it the fourth most invested in female-led business of our top 15. Starling Bank is also the business with the most money raised in the first business year of our top 15, having raised an incredible £60.2 million!
- GFG Alliance
GFG Alliance rounds off the top 5 most successful female-led businesses in terms of investment with £862 million in funding. After being founded in 1992 by Nicola Gupta, who with a finance background, felt very passionate about the need for charity to help people reach their potential and realise long-term employment; enter GFG foundation, one of the companies under the GFG group.
The top 10 female-led companies that received the highest number of investments
|Business Name||Industry of Business||Location of Business||Year Business Founded||Number Of Employees||Number Of Investments||Amount of Funding received|
|Amadeus Capital Partners||Finance||London||1997||11-50||259||£484,533,450
|Development Bank of Wales||Banking||London||2001||101-250||221||£164,000,000|
|IQ Capital||Financial Services||London||2006||11-50||121||£392,188,170
|London Co-Investment Fund||Finance||London||2014||1-10||117||£123,852,260
|Founders Factory||Digital Media||London||2015||101-250||117||£12,664,592
Interestingly, all of the top five, and eight of the top ten most invested in female-led businesses are in the financial services industry. Companies from Banking and Digital Media and Biotechnology industries also made it into the top ten for female-led companies that received the highest number of investments, with the latter receiving 29 investments in this sector.
Funding available for your female-led startup
The thought of starting your own business may feel daunting. However, it is always important to remember that support is out there. There are plenty of different options available when it comes to looking for investors, so we at Paymentsense have picked out three to help get you started.
On a mission to level the investment playfield for female entrepreneurs, Astia is a global network of over 5,000 investors and industry experts committed to aiding the growth of women-led ventures through their investment and advisory services.
2. Cartier Women’s Initiative
Cartier Womens Initiative selects twenty-one female applicants from all around the world once a year to supply with grants of up to £80,000 as early-stage funding to assist with growth. To make it even better, they support twenty-one successful applicants on their journey into the world of business, with workshops, networking events, 1:1 coaching and the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship six-day Executive Programme.
3. Fredericks Foundation
If you are planning to start a business but find that your financial history is affecting your applications, the Fredericks Foundation aims to provide people excluded from mainstream credit schemes with access to small business loans. Their brand morals promote the dignity and choice of those trying to improve their current circumstances.
Top tips for female business owners
Feeling inspired yet? Here are some top tips for any women looking to start up their own business from us at Paymentsense, as well as first hand advice from female-business owners.
- Embrace Challenges
Nobody said this was going to be easy! Overcoming challenges is how we learn and grow, so embrace them. If something doesn't go as smoothly as planned at first, refrain from being disheartened. Take time to stop and think about what you can do differently or how this issue can be solved and move forward from it!
- Connect with others
Spoiler Alert: You can still be an independent woman even with the help of others! Sometimes we all need someone to lean on and one of the most exciting benefits of business is the connections you make. Networking is a great way to spread the word about your work as well as learning from like-minded entrepreneurs in your industry. Try reaching out on Linkedin, or get in touch with other business owners in your area, you might just learn something new!
- Never stop learning
Keeping yourself in tune with current climates is what will help you to keep ahead of the curve. Business is constantly changing and in order to know how and, most importantly, when to adapt you should adopt a mindset of being open to learning. This will help you to hear your customer's needs and generate new ideas. Try signing up for conferences in your field or if you don't have time for this, network and ask questions- they’ll likely have something to learn from you too!
- Remain focused
If you’re feeling demotivated, don’t worry it happens to us all. Try to think back to the reasons you started the business and work out what motivates you. Do you work better at different times of day or in a certain place? It’s also important to manage your time efficiently, but don't be afraid to take a break when you need one. Your brain works best when it’s well rested! Remember- nobody can chase your dreams for you other than you, so find out what works for you to remain hungry for success.
- Finally, don't be afraid to make waves
The business world is a competitive place, but your point of view and individual ideas are what make your business unique to you. Don’t be afraid to be different and make some bold moves, if you have an idea that you believe in, chase it, or someone else will!
Jess Magill, Co-owner and founder of PowderKegg Beer shared her advice for women in business:
“There are plenty of challenges for you out there in the world – make sure what’s going on in your head isn’t adding to them. I have had some really bad periods of imposter syndrome, and that lack of confidence can really hold you back. Coaching is a really good way to address this – I had some online sessions which I found incredibly helpful. Also don’t be afraid to play to your strengths – I used to think I had to be across everything, and was somehow failing if I wasn’t.”
We also spoke to Jane Hatton, CEO of social enterprise Evenbreak. Jane also shared her advice for female entrepreneurs with us:
“Never under-estimate how strong you are, and give and receive support from other women in business – we tend to be a supportive and collaborative bunch!”
Small business funding with Paymentsense could be option for you
Paymentsense has also partnered with YouLend to offer monetary support for small businesses in the form of small business funding. If you’re eligible, and depending on your monthly card revenue, you could borrow between £1,000 - £1 million. And unlike a typical bank loan, repayments are made as a fixed percentage of your daily card takings – so you don’t repay the same agreed amount every month.
Datapoints were collated from Crunchbase on the top female led businesses in the UK including:
- Business Name
- Industry of Business
- Location of Business
- Year of Business Founded
- Number of Employees
- Number of Investments
- Amount of Funding received
- Money raised in year founded
- Growth since year founded