Photo (from left to right): Ruth Lowbridge (SFEDI), Irene Graham (BBA/Mentorsme), Julie Hall (Women Unlimited) and Maria Miller MP.
Maria Miller MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities kicked off International Women’s Day by attending a Meet A Mentor breakfast at the THRIVE! conference, hosted by Women Unlimited. The breakfast event brought together mentors that have completed the Government funded mentor training with female entrepreneurs looking for mentors. This activity forms part of a series of Government funded activities designed to raise awareness of the benefits of mentoring amongst female led businesses.
She then went on to open the THRIVE! conference, which is known as 'the event of the year for female business owners and entrepreneurs'. The conference hosted more than 200 delegates and saw a number of inspirational speakers share their own experiences of running their own enterprises with the audience.
Maria spent time with Ruth Lowbridge, executive chair of Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative which delivered Get Mentoring, the government funded programme to recruit and train thousands of volunteer business mentors, to discover more about how mentoring can support newly established and growing enterprises throughout the UK. She also met with Julie Hall the founder of Women Unlimited, created to support females looking to establish and grow their own business, to find out more about its work in promoting and supporting female entrepreneurship across the country.
In opening the conference, Maria Miller MP addressed the audience to highlight the importance of female entrepreneurship to the UK economy. She said, “There are now more than one and a quarter million women who are self-employed – this increased by 76,000 during the course of 2012. These businesses are adding to the UK’s global competitiveness, and contributing to growth.
“It is great to see so many women turning their ideas and enthusiasm into reality. And today you’ll hear from some of those women, women with great success stories who can both inspire and challenge us.”
Julie Hall from Women Unlimited said, “The theme of this year’s conferences was ‘Grow Your Business Your Way’ and we were delighted that we were able to encourage and motivate the talented business women who attended THRIVE through a series of inspirational guest speakers and informative break-out sessions designed to support those who are running their own business or are looking to set up a new venture. The opening address from Maria Miller set the agenda for the day and captured the passion and enthusiasm that we have for encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship across a diverse range of business ventures.”
Prior to the conference, Women Unlimited teamed up with SFEDI, Mentorsme and the Institute of Entrepreneurs to run the special Meet a Mentor event to promote the benefits of mentoring for new and growing businesses and provide valuable introductions for those looking for the support of a business mentor.
Ruth Lowbridge from SFEDI said, “Mentoring has been shown to be an extremely valuable tool for a small businesses with many entrepreneurs benefiting from having somebody on hand who can act as a sounding board, share their experiences, and offer a fresh perspective on how to approach the challenges that come with running your own business. “With a host of recently trained volunteers , there has never been a better opportunity for business owners to find a mentor that can make a difference to their company.”
As part of the scheme, volunteer mentors have pledged one hour of their time per month for the next two years to working with a new or growing business.
Speaking about the value of mentoring, Maria Miller added, “The Government is working alongside the private sector to improve access to and stimulate the demand for business mentoring. Giving women inspiring role models to help guide and inspire them can be invaluable in giving them the confidence to achieve their dreams.”
“Our vision for business mentoring in the UK is for a vibrant, effective and sustainable mentoring network that supports both start-up and established small and medium sized companies locally, helping them to grow.”
The volunteer mentors are made up from the small business community and can be accessed through www.mentorsme.co.uk, national mentoring portal owned and operated by the British Bankers’ Association (BBA). The 15,000 volunteer mentors join 12,000 business mentors from across 115 mentoring organisations available through the portal.