Friday, 28 May 2021
Covid-19, changing shopping habits and the need to be environmentally sustainable are key challenges for businesses in 2021. But as panellists explained during NatWest’s International Women’s Day event, there are ample opportunities to adapt and evolve.
Female entrepreneurs are leading the way when it comes to creating ecologically sustainable businesses – and global warming is not the only challenge they have been quick to adapt to. NatWest’s recent International Women’s Day event, Championing Change, explored multiple ways in which female business leaders are responding to change, tackling everything from ecological issues to the impact of Covid-19.
Leading female entrepreneurs shared insights from their own successes – and gave their tips to help other businesses thrive in times of rapid change.
The Climate and Sustainability session featured Camilla Ainsworth, a finalist from The Apprentice and founder of dairy-free milk company M+LKPLUS; Jules Shorrock, owner of Citrus Sharp Security Shredding; Frances Lucraft, founder of Grace & Green, a company providing ethical, plastic-free period and personal care products; and Dr Rae Ritchie, a writer specialising in sustainability and ethical living.
Ainsworth, Shorrock and Lucraft all built environmental sustainability into their businesses from the outset. Grace & Green, for instance, pays close attention to everything from the sourcing of its cotton to the packaging of its products and also works to help reduce period poverty; Citrus Sharp Security Shredding recycles all the paper it shreds; and M+LKPLUS is a plant-based business with low emissions that's currently working on introducing compostable packaging.
“If you don’t get on board and make these changes, you’re going to get left behind by consumers who are increasingly committed to sustainability. There’s also a massive moral imperative; we want to be on the right side of history”Dr Rae Ritchie, sustainability editor
While being ethical can raise the prices of a company’s products, Ainsworth and Lucraft said that customers are accepting of this. “We realised that our customers are hugely planet conscious, and that they didn't mind paying a little bit more,” said Ainsworth.
Lucraft agreed. “Our products are priced at the high end. However, we do counteract that by giving a lot of products away,” she added, highlighting its donations to developing countries and to the NHS.
Even if your business does not have great green credentials, the panellists agreed that it’s never too late to become more sustainable.
“It can start with just small changes and the acknowledgement of being dedicated to bettering your business,” said Ainsworth. “You don't have to make all the changes straight away.”
Ritchie agreed that the focus could be on “turning the dial” rather than making overnight changes. “There are lots of different steps that you can take; begin with the easy ones and then maybe move to the more complex ones,” she said.
Shorrock emphasised how customer demand for businesses with good ecological credentials is increasing. “As businesses we have a responsibility,” she said. “There's legislation that's backing it up, and the customers really want it, so if you want to provide a service, and be a part of the supply chain, you have to be involved in this.”
Ritchie agreed. “If you don't get on board and make these changes, you're going to get left behind by consumers who are increasingly committed to sustainability,” she warned. "There's also a massive moral imperative; we want to be on the right side of history.”
Watch the session on Climate and Sustainability:
An afternoon session, Adapting to a changing landscape, picked up on some of these themes and also explored other factors that are driving businesses to adapt – including Covid.
NatWest CEO Alison Rose opened the session with an update on the ground gained following the 2019 Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, which set out to help increase the number of successful female entrepreneurs.
Key advances include news that the Investing in Women Code (IiWC) – a commitment by financial services firms to improve female entrepreneurs’ access to tools, resources and finance – now has nearly 80 signatories, including most major UK banks and investment firms.
“We remain committed to supporting and promoting those less visible than most in order to build back better and fairer and unlock an important contribution to our economic recovery”Alison Rose, CEO, NatWest
Another important step has been the launch of new investment vehicles for women. NatWest provided £1bn of ring-fenced debt funding for female entrepreneurs last year and, in partnership with the Business Growth Fund, Coutts is launching the UK Enterprise Fund to invest in diverse and high potential businesses and provide a support programme for female investees. Meanwhile, NatWest has doubled its original £1bn of funding.
“The pandemic triggered exceptionally high demand by women-led businesses for financial support,” said Rose. “We exceeded our £1n target and have therefore doubled it with a further £1bn.”
NatWest is also collaborating with others across its sector to offer free mentoring programmes to women looking to take their businesses to the next level. “We remain committed to supporting and promoting those less visible than most in order to build back better and fairer and unlock an important contribution to our economic recovery,” said Rose. “We need a true diversity of entrepreneurs in our business community.”
Adapting to a changing landscape: watch the session here:
The panel discussion went on to explore the lessons learned by three female entrepreneurs: Holly Tucker MBE, founder of Notonthehighstreet and Holly & Co and UK Ambassador to Creative Small Businesses; Jackie Mulligan, CEO and founder of ShopAppy.com; and Karina Jadhav, owner of Menagerie restaurant and bar in Manchester.
A key theme was the need for female founders to have greater confidence: Jadhav recalled being told by her mentor that confidence is “the biggest corporate aphrodisiac,” and emphasised the value of mentoring as a way to build confidence.
It’s also important to build a team you feel confident in. As Mulligan put it, you should “employ people who are better than you.” She added that female-led businesses are well placed to thrive in a more ethically-aware environment where the focus is no longer purely on profit. “We have a role, as businesses, to shape better futures. We should be a force for good and also have successful businesses – and women bring a lot of that to the table. They generally have a stronger ethical mix."
“We’ve got to be quick, we’ve got to execute things, we’ve got to make mistakes and pick ourselves up – which women are brilliant at. Learn from it, and then move forward”Holly Tucker MBE, founder, Notonthehighstreet
Mulligan noted that an effect of Covid-19 has been a revived interest in shopping locally and supporting small businesses, which is core to ShopAppy’s mission – her company makes it easy to buy online from local retailers. She emphasised that to compete with online giants, it’s essential for local shops to make it convenient to shop with them. “Make yourself available in the way that customers want to access you,” she said. “Stop making it difficult, because that's the way the giants win.”
Tucker agreed, highlighting that small businesses find it easier to be nimble and adapt to changing environments. “I like to call small businesses chameleons; we are phenomenal – and lots of small businesses are rooted in values,” she said. “We’ve got to be quick, we've got to execute things, we've got to make mistakes and pick ourselves up – which women are brilliant at. Learn from it, and then move forward. And just remember to enjoy it as well.”
Discussing the future beyond Covid-19, Jadhav took a positive view despite the pandemic’s impact on the restaurant sector. “We are about to start another wave of growth,” she said. “It's going to be about looking at new ways to engage with our customer base and keep it really fresh and exciting. We’ve just got to get through to those key dates where we can actually reopen.”
Mulligan added that as businesses grow and evolve, it’s vital to retain authenticity and a clear sense of purpose. “There are bumps in the road, but you need to know what your purpose is, and just keep heading for that,” she said.