Sixteen aspiring female entrepreneurs from east London have graduated from the University of East London’s Make it Real, Funded by RBS Inspiring Women in Enterprise, UEL’s Centre of Excellence for Women’s Entrepreneurship (CEWE) launched Make it Real last February to provide funding, mentoring support and office space to local women with serious ambitions of setting up their own business.
The project was aimed at women aged 18+ from the Olympic host boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, and received nearly 120 applications in just three months.
Whittled down to 15 projects by an expert judging panel, from May each has received a designated mentor to support them in their efforts to set up a business, three months office space at UEL’s Knowledge Dock Business Centre, and six expert workshops covering the ‘nuts and bolts’ of starting your own business. On graduation night they were each presented with £2,000 start up funding.
Now, the women are ready to turn their dreams into reality. Each has a professional business plan in place, and has either established or is developing a social media presence and marketing strategy. Many are already trading. They came together at a graduation event at the V&A Museum of Childhood to showcase how far their nascent business ideas have come.
These ideas include; a beauty website; poetry commissions; a brand of organic chilli chutney; a family-friendly board game with an Afro-Caribbean theme; luxury fashion and jewellery labels, a dating app specifically designed for London’s lesbian community; as well as professional and education services.
Linsey Cole, Head of Business Partnerships at UEL, said: “The sheer quality of the applications we received showed us what a wealth of untapped female talent there is in east London. Our entrepreneurs are dedicated to getting their businesses off the ground, becoming their own bosses, and supporting each other and other women to do the same.
At UEL, we want to become Europe’s leading institution for female entrepreneurship by 2020. CEWE connects women entrepreneurs with a trusted network of business specialists, for example RBS, providing tailored support for setting up and growing a new venture. Our members share their knowledge and experience, crucial for other women who have reached that critical point of taking the bold step of branching out into the world of business – at home and overseas.
At the graduation, Faith Douglas, National Enterprise Manager at RBS, said: “The fact is that 51 per cent of the UK population is women, but only 19 per cent of SMEs are female-led. We need women to succeed because with them we are really going to change the economic climate. If they open businesses at the same rate as in the US, it would contribute a further £42billion to our economy. Women entrepreneurs we need you!”
Graduate Robyn Exton, from dattch, said: “Make it Real helped me loads. Having the financial security to be able to take the first few steps was really critical. And meeting a fantastic set of women doing totally diverse businesses is inspiring, as well as having a network of mentors on hand who are really established in their careers to advise you on what you are doing.”
Monica Turcan, UEL MA Business Psychology graduate and founder of CARE Centre for Autism Recreation and Education, added: “Make it Real created a network where you can relate to someone else. We are all women, and it was good to see how strong we wanted to be and not apologise for it at any point. They pushed us in the right direction. Also, we had a place to come back to if we felt something wasn’t working. It was like a great business parent.”
Graduate Corrine Mighty of Vanityshare agreed:
To be totally honest, the main thing Make it Real has given me is the confidence boost I needed to go for my business idea. The access to people and networks has given me the tools that I needed. The confidence, experience and the money is invaluable.