Accelerating Women's Enterprise

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see also AWE

The Accelerating Women's Enterprise Development Partnership (AWE) brought together a number of leading agencies in women's enterprise development, spanning the English regions. The overarching aim of the project was to develop a programme of activities and interventions, to ensure that mainstream business support was developed to meet the needs of excluded groups of women.


Together they have developed a programme of activities which tests approaches to ensure that mainstream business support is developed to meet the needs of excluded groups of women (e.g. ethnic minorities, lone parents, women returners, unemployed and low income women, disabled women, young and third age women and women from deprived rural and urban areas). EQUAL provided a budget of around £2.5 million (c. EUR 3m).

Research and policy development

AWE has produced a guide on routes out of benefit dependency into entrepreneurship, indicating the major hurdles faced by women. Similarly, some of the partners of AWE run their own sheltered workspaces and have carried out a benchmarking exercise into women friendly incubators. This has led to a series of guidelines which can be applied to both mainstream and specialist projects (longer and more flexible opening hours, space for part-time working, longer incubation periods, access to public transport, security, childcare, space for networking, security, professional business image, etc.).

One partner, Prowess, has developed a set of 12 best practice standards for business advice to women as a whole. These fit across 4 key areas: inclusion, equality, client focus, and quality. 60 of the 68 organisations in Prowess that provide business support to women have had service delivery assessments completed according to these criteria. 8 members have been identified as meeting the best practice criteria and will be awarded "Flagship Member" status. Another partner, Women Into the Network (WIN), conducts research into a range of issues, for example, assessing the perceptions of banking professionals of their male and female business clients and vice versa. As a result of the findings, as well as influencing policy, successful training interventions have been developed such as 'Developing effective working relations with your SME clients' for bankers and 'How to manage your bank manager' for women owner managers.

Training, support and development

The partners have developed a wide range of professional development training programmes in women friendly business support issues. For example, the "Gender Lens for Business Support" is an intensive and interactive one day course that looks at the issues facing women in business and the way business support organisations, banks, accountants and so on can best help. The Rural Women's Network, another partner of the AWE DP have successfully tendered for the contract for mainstream business support in Cumbria (Business Link) and are now delivering women friendly business advice and training throughout the region

AWE partners also provide tailor made training and support for specific groups of women, distance learning programmes for rural women; female business champions, support for the development of childcare initiatives and the development of complementary women business counsellors/trainers qualifications.

Access to Finance

Several partners run loan funds specifically for women. Research by them shows that many women prefer to set up businesses in a more tentative manner, requesting significantly smaller loans than their male counterparts (as low as €65-650 in the case of the Power Loan Fund). Other significant barriers affecting women are the exclusion of part-time businesses and certain traditional sectors, low levels of benefit disregard and traditional risk assessment criteria. This has led to the production of a best practice guide focussing on micro-credit for women entrepreneurs; development work on improved access to higher value markets for women entrepreneurs; post loan support; development of women's time banks, and peer lending circles.

Networking, Promotion and Awareness Raising

The aim is ensure that a coherent web of women's business support services is developed in a strategic way at national level in a way which truly meets the needs of existing and emerging women entrepreneurs and leads to equal numbers of women and men starting up businesses. For example, the AWE partners through Prowess, have had a major responsibility for drawing up the UK Department of Trade and Industry Strategic Framework for Women's Enterprise. The research carried out by AWE was helpful in ensuring that the DTI adopted demographically disaggregated data for setting the targets, monitoring and evaluating policies

AWE has its own website and e-magazines; digests of relevant government and EU initiatives, news and information from member organisations, digest of new research, best practice guides, dissemination strategy, award schemes, role model publications, workshops and seminars.


  • To strengthen support activities for women’s enterprise through the establishment of networks and networking for developing and sharing best practice
  • Establishment of an effective promotion and awareness raising strategy and programme for women’s enterprise development
  • Production, delivery and dissemination of a range of learning materials and activities for effective development of women’s enterprise
  • Establishment of an effective programme of research and policy development work which informs better knowledge and understanding of women’s enterprise (in England, the UK and Europe)


Women's enterprise development was a strategic priority of the Government Women's Unit and the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) PAT 3 Report identified 'a need for a systematic identification and promotion of best practice across the different organisations providing business support, and the aggressive pursuit of higher standards.’

Target Beneficiary groups

The target group this DP aimed to assist was existing and potential women entrepreneurs. Importantly the following excluded groups of women were targeted for assistance and support: 10% women with disabilities; 15% ethnic minority women; 25% rural women; 20% young women; 10% third age women (i.e. 50 years +), 75% urban women; 50% unemployed women; 60% low income women and 20% lone parents. The projects took place nationally across England.


  • over 2,500 new businesses
  • over 1,200 new jobs created
  • over 900 women receiving training
  • 2 new training packs
  • 28 new accredited courses
  • 1 accredited distance learning course
  • 30 tailor-made workshops developed

Main outcomes

Prowess, a DP partner, was a major contributor to the drawing up of the UK Department of Trade and Industry's National Strategic Framework for Women's Enterprise. Women’s business support services were developed in a strategic way at national level to meet the needs of existing and emerging women entrepreneurs leading to equal numbers of women and men starting up businesses.

The EQUAL development partnership

Lead partner: University of Durham

Core partners

Enterprise Tamar Ltd

Foundation for SME Development

Prince's Trust - Prince's Trust (London, Park Square East)

Quaker Social Action

Women's Business Network

WEETU - Women's Employment, Enterprise & Training Unit

Transnational partnership

Information for Transnational partnerships]

Nine EQUAL DPs joined together at a transnational level and formed ‘Women Entrepreneurs in Europe’, to learn from each other and co-operate productively across borders. This was a collaboration between more than 100 organisations, participating in the following national development partnerships:

  • Belgium: Diane Development Partnership
  • Germany: Women's Way of Entrepreneurship (WWoE)
  • Greece: Insular Confederacy - Equal Access Development Partnership
  • Italy: RA.S.P.U.T.I.N. Development Partnership
  • Netherlands: Stimulating Female Entrepreneurship in ICT and Van Achterstander naar Middenstander ('From disadvantage to self-employment')*Spain: Regenta Development Partnership: Equality Creates Employment
  • Sweden: Future Keys
  • UK: Accelerating Women's Enterprise (AWE)

International research was undertaken into employment versus self-employment for women across Europe, comparing the situation in eight different European member states.

Eleven transnational partnership meetings were held contributing to the pan European exchange of good practice, agreeing strategy and ensuring objectives were achieved.

Five exchange visits took place where network co-ordinators met up with their counterparts in Belgium; women in business established contacts in Sweden, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Clients from across Europe came together in Holland to benefit from a training programme developed specifically for complementary therapists.

Three training events were delivered to a European wide audience to share experiences of developing mentoring relationships, with partners and their colleagues from across Europe.

Activities and products

Access to Finance Research was undertaken on the financial needs of women’s businesses leading to the development of new financial products.

Networking and Sharing Best Practice Networks were established through the women’s European counselor network, the national women’s enterprise network and Women into the Network.

Promotion and Awareness Raising Promotion was through AWE’s website and e-zines; digests of relevant government and EU initiatives, circulation and dissemination of news and information from member organisations, digest of new research, best practice guides, dissemination strategy, award schemes, workshops and seminars.

Research and Policy Development Research was undertaken into issues/barriers affecting women’s enterprises.

Training, Support and Development A training module and pack for bankers, policy makers and others regarding issues affecting women entrepreneurs was developed.

[ Accelerating Women's Enterprise: A celebration The final project report. Business Support with the 'F' Factor] A multi-lateral approach to providing Female-Friendly business support to all women.

East Northern Lights This is a booklet featuring inspiring and enterprising role models from a variety of businesses across the Northern region.

East Northern Lights Two national issues of IF ONLY were produced, promoting entrepreneurial role models.

The Regional State of Women’s Enterprise in England A comprehensive overview of women’s enterprise in England published by Prowess.

Women-friendly incubation environments and managed workspaces The aim of this report is to look at ways in which business incubation environments can be tailored to meet the needs of both female and male business owners and highlights examples of current best practice.

Fast facts

DP name: AWE

DP ID: Ukgb-2

National Partners: University of Durham (Women Into the Network), Prowess, Bolton Business Ventures, WIRE - Women in Rural Enterprise, Prince's Trust, Quaker Social Action, Train 2000, Voluntary Action Cumbria, WEETU (Women's Employment, Enterprise and Training Unit), Women's Business Network (North West)

Transnational Partnership: Women's Entrepreneurs in Europe (TCA 352)


Dinah Bennett: mailto://


See also

Working for Women in Business, article in Independent on Sunday 25 Oct 05: