Female entrepreneurs welcome export support at DBT webinar, but say more funding is needed

Mon 6 Nov 2023
Posted by: Danielle Keen
Trade News

Woman in front of laptop

Participants from government and industry praised the growing availability of schemes and networks for female entrepreneurs entering international markets, alongside digitalisation for removing barriers, at a Department for Business and Trade (DBT) webinar on Friday (3 November).

However, speakers said there was a need for more inclusive financing options.

The webinar, hosted by DBT’s UK Export Academy, a training programme designed to encourage more businesses to trade overseas, offered female business-owners advice on how they can grow their businesses by exporting.

Host, DBT Export Academy adviser Irina Shmakova, said that while progress is being made towards greater female participation in international trade, at both a national and international level the trade picture “is not gender-neutral”.

Challenges

Shmakova noted the detrimental impact of excluding women from leadership positions.

“If women scaled businesses at the same rate as men, up to £250bn of value could be added to the UK economy,” she said, citing research to this effect.

However, in order to achieve this, barriers to female participation in leadership roles need to be removed.

Noreen Burroughes Cesaero, president of the Organisation of Women in Trade UK (OWIT), laid out the biggest blockers: not having access to networks and not having sufficient time to dedicate to their businesses alongside competing family commitments.

In relation to exporting, she added:

“There are a number of challenges which exists regardless of whether you're trading locally or internationally, but they do get to be amplified when you start looking at those International markets.”

Digitalisation

Burroughes Cesaero said that digitalisation offers women “a level playing field, enabling us to move into new markets at a much lower cost”.

This is especially useful in the context of women-led businesses in international markets because these tend to be in the services sector.

She highlighted the comparative ease with which certain steps towards expanding into international markets can be completed digitally, such as market research, getting to know your new audience and tailoring product offerings to them.

Moving onto goods, Burroughes Cesaero described the UK’s Electronic Trade Documents Act, legislation giving digital trade documentation the same legal recognition as paper equivalents, as a “game-changer” for women.

She predicted it would accentuate the time- and cost-saving benefits of digital trade.

This is especially beneficial to women as they’re overrepresented in SMEs, for which trade documentation can represent a significant drain on time and cost.

DBT support

Divya Rajan, executive director at Treeco Commodities, which supplies cashews to supermarkets and factories in Europe and Asia, said that DBT support to access trade shows was instrumental to growing the business.

She highlighted DBT’s support in enabling Treeco to exhibit in Paris, providing a grant that covered 50% of the cost of attending.

“We found new buyers, developed more contacts and DBT also organised buyer-seller meets within these events, along with market visits, which really helped us to improve our knowledge of those markets and current trends.”

Progressive banking

Paul Bowman, vertical head of international at Barclays, said that high street banks were starting to provide solutions to the problems faced by female business-owners.

Given that female-led exporters are predominantly SMEs, Bowman also outlined some of the sticking points for smaller businesses when approaching banks for funding.

He highlighted structural problems within the SME support offered by UK Export Finance (UKEF) which prevent smaller businesses from securing funding but added that this is being addressed.

“Some of the additional costs and charges that are associated with getting funding or support from UKEF mean that the facilities provided tend to be towards the larger end of the SME spectrum.

“It is certainly something that UKEF has recognised and is actually working with the banks to try and find a solution.”

‘A positive time for women’

The advice was welcomed by Holly Piggott, director at Alinea Customs, who praised government support but said that “as a female business owner, I think that the funding and investment side is perhaps somewhere there could be more support for women”.

Reflecting on breaking into international markets with different cultural norms surrounding gender, Piggott reported that she hasn’t experienced any treatment that she could consider “discrimination”.

She added:

“I’ve felt really supported. I think it's a really positive time for women to go into business. If it's something that that they want to do, there's a lot of support out there, and more and more organisations.