Government-backed programme has lent £175million to 25,000 female business owners across the UK since 2012

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A growing number of women are following their passions and starting their own business, according to new figures released today to mark International Women’s Day. 

Data from the Government-backed Start Up Loans Company shows that it has lent £175m to 25,000 female business owners across the UK since 2012.

Women aged between 31 and 49 emerged as the most entrepreneurial, receiving a total of £87million in the last six years, compared with £45million for those aged 25 – 30 and £21million for over 50s.  

One of these women was Razan Al-Sous, 36, who decided to set up her own business making halloumi cheese, after fleeing war-torn Syria with her husband and three children in 2012. 

Arriving in Yorkshire, Razan struggled to find work, despite having a degree in pharmacology. She soon noticed how the halloumi cheese sold in the UK was of poor quality and only available seasonally, so she decided to start producing halloumi cheese using Yorkshire-sourced milk instead.

She approached the Start Up Loans Company and received a £2,500 low-interest loan to kick-start her business idea. She used the funding to buy the kitchen equipment needed to manufacture the cheese. 

Her business - Yorkshire Dama Cheese - now has a turnover of £189,000, with products sold at Morrisons as well as online. It has also won a number of awards, including the World Cheese Award Gold Prize 2016, as well as being nominated by former Prime Minister David Cameron for recognition on International Women’s Day 2015.

Last year, Razan was also chosen to be a Start Up Loans Ambassador to represent start-ups and enterprise across the UK.

She now plans to launch a new Middle-Eastern range of ‘Arabica’ flavours and spreadable yoghurt products in the coming months. 

Razan Al-Sous, founder of Yorkshire Dama Cheese, said: “While I never imagined I’d be running a successful business, my struggle to find employment meant I had to explore different routes. After noticing the limited options for halloumi cheese in the UK, it sparked an idea that I could use this to my advantage and create my own business.

“Since receiving initial funding from the Start Up Loans Company, the business has really taken off. It’s gone from myself and my husband managing the cheese production ourselves to employing seven members of staff to service the business. I’m really excited about our future.”

A spokesman for the Start Up Loans Company said: “We’re delighted that our funding has helped Razan and so many other aspiring female business owners to realise their ambition of becoming their own boss.

“We recognise the value of small businesses to the UK and it’s our mission to help as many people from all walks of life to follow their passion and set up their own business.”

The Start Up Loans scheme has lent more than £468m in nearly 61,000 loans since its inception in June 2012. As well as finance, the scheme offers a dedicated mentoring service to every loan recipient to help them with every aspect of setting up a business.

Other female business owners who have used a government-backed Start Up Loan to set up their own business include: 

·       Meriel Kehoe and Lucy Betterton, both 43, who met when their children, Claudia and Fin, were little. They both loved healthy food but struggled to find any natural ice lollies for their children. They decided to take matters into their own hands and, with the help of a Start Up Loan, they decided to develop their own brand of healthy lollies and Claudi and Fin was born. Six years later, the business has an annual turnover of £1.28m and, after successfully defeating 400 other food start-up hopefuls in a competition called ‘Pitchup with Sainsburys’, Claudi and Fin secured a contract from the retailer to supply 250 stores with its products. In just nine months this grew to 431 stores.

Website: Claudia and Fin

·       Melanie Goldsmith and her Smith & Sinclair co-founder Emile were hosting a board game dating night when it sparked an idea to create edible cocktails. They realised that people were having trouble playing the board games and holding their drinks at the same time and so decided to experiment with jelly infused with alcohol to create grown-up sweets that could also act as ice-breakers. The edible cocktails were an instant hit, with event companies ordering large batches for catering and as a result the duo began turning branded drinks into pastilles. They have worked with over 35 alcohol brands to produce the deconstructed cocktails, and Melanie used her £25,000 Start Up Loan to help fulfil orders for major high street stores. They now sell their edible cocktails via their website, at John Lewis, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Fenwick and on Not on the Highstreet.

Website: Smith and Sinclair

·       After being made redundant twice in the same year from the oil and gas industry, Mechelle Clark was inspired by the London foodie scene to launch her own grilled cheese toastie shop. With the help of a £20,00 loan from the Start Up Loans Company, she founded Melt Aberdeen which has been trading for two years, serving up different toasties filled with quality local ingredients throughout the day. The business now generates a turnover of £129,829.

Website: Melt Grilled Cheese


Emily CorleyComment