E2E Female Track 100 2024: Britain’s fastest-growing women-led businesses

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Such is the abidingly sexist nature of our society that it’s rare pleasure to meet a successful female entrepreneur. Rarer still to meet six at once and to hear them recount their experiences on the way to the top.

The occasion was the launch of the E2Exchange (E2E) Female Track 100 for 2024. In association with The Independent, E2E, the business networking and mentoring organisation, has published the definitive index of the 100 fastest-growing female-led or founded private businesses in the UK. The list is based on their profits growth rates over the past three years.

It’s the first such Track 100 to be produced this year. In all, six league tables will be published, covering different categories, including profitability, job creation and exports. The tracks are independently compiled by Go Live Data and Experian.

Top of the ranking is Darina Garland, co-founder and co-CEO at Ooni portable pizza ovens, who has seen an 88per cent increase in profits, Alison Doherty, CEO at Sarah Raven’s Kitchen & Garden Limited, up 83 per cent, and Fateha Begum, co-founder and executive director at Dare International energy tech, 81%. (For the full list, see here.)

For the launch, I chaired a panel comprising some of the E2E Female Track 100 stars: Emma Banks, ceo of Ramarketing, life sciences marketing; Angie Ma, co-founder Faculty AI applied AI consulting; Juliana Delaney, Continuum visitor attractions; and Pippa Begg and Jennifer Sundberg of Board Intelligence leadership and boardroom advisory.

First, we heard from Shalini Khemka CBE, founder and ceo of E2E. “There’s a lot around about women joining boards and the 30% Club, but what we’re really focused on is encouraging women to set up their own businesses.” Shalini gave some figures: only 18% of women ever consider starting their own business; there are 1.62m self-employed women in the UK; in 2023, women in the UK established 150,000 new companies; the economic impact of increasing women in employment in 2023 was £201bn, which represents 6% of GDP. “By shining a spotlight on the outstanding contributions of women entrepreneurs, the E2E Female 100 list not only celebrates successes, but also advocates for the recognition and equal treatment of women in business.”

Emma said she worked in a sector, pharma, that was male dominated. “Twelve years ago, at the time of the Olympics in London, I was invited to the ‘British Business Olympics’, to the pharmaceutical event. It felt like I was not only the token northerner but the woman ceo. I ticked both boxes. I walked into a garden of grey suits, I had to make a bee line for the handful of women. There were five of us, and 120 men. I really felt it.”

Another time, said Emma, “I was trying to raise money for the previous company I worked in. I was walking into pitches and being confronted with all men, and thinking ‘we did not get that because I was a woman.’”

Juliana’s solution was extreme: to try and behave like a man. She wore a trouser suit and bought a pair of glasses, which she did not need, to try to make herself look more serious. She gradually realised it was nonsense: it was better being seen as a woman and having a female approach to running a business. “Out went the trouser suit and the glasses. I thought to myself, ‘I am going to be me and earn their respect. I stopped walking into a room trying to command it, which is what most men do, and it worked.”

Things have changed as well since then, said Juliana. Women no longer need to be like men. “We have a broader perspective on business and we should be proud of that. Now, I don’t talk about equality, but parity. Quietly, I even talk about superiority. I do think we’re better.”

Pippa and Jennifer take a slightly contrarian view. They work in the City, probably the most discriminatory place of all. They’re often asked to join meetings and are parachuted in as the “token women”. But they claim not to mind, since it gets them into the room. After that they can impress and win the business. “Use the difference, celebrate it, use it to your advantage”, said Pippa.

During the banking crisis, Harriet Harman suggested – to wide ridicule – that if the banks had been led by women there would have been no global near-meltdown, they would not have got themselves into such a mess. I said I had come to the conclusion she was correct, that male, testosterone-fuelled aggression is responsible for many businesses going off track.

The panel agreed that men who get to the top still feel the need to prove themselves, whereas women who get to the top are more caring and nurturing. Juliana said, not entirely tongue in cheek, “it was time for the women to start trying to help the blokes”.

Emma and Angie said that women differed in one vital aspect. They were far less afraid to reach out and ask for help. Angie said she felt as well that women were more willing to share their problems and experiences with each other. Men were more guarded, less keen to admit to a weakness.

We’re in an election year and these women leaders did want to address the (mostly male) combatants to leave business well alone. They want to see the next government focus on less red tape, less interference, and ensuring that young people are equipped with the right skills. “Just leave business to run well,” said Juliana. “Go away. Stop telling us what to pay people. Stop telling us about HR and how to employ people. Just leave businesses to run themselves, well.”

They were a redoubtable, impressive bunch. Forget running companies. Increasingly, I found myself wishing this lot would put themselves forward, stand for election and run the country.

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