The Female Founders Inspiring the Next Generation

Jul 24, 2017 7:45 AM ET

The Barclays Eagle Lab in London’s Notting Hill was abuzz with entrepreneurial energy when a ‘speed-networking’ event, hosted by The Female Founders Forum, paired some of the UK’s top businesswomen with would-be entrepreneurs.

Sahar Hashemi is the Co-Founder of high street coffee chain Coffee Republic, who received an OBE in 2012. Chika Russell left a career in finance to start a food business inspired by the recipes and ingredients of her childhood in Nigeria. The pair met at a ‘speed-networking’ event hosted by Barclays – and are now planning to work together.

“I just see so much untapped potential in Chika,” said Sahar of Chika’s range of snacks, which she launched in 2014 and now sells in Ocado, Waitrose and Whole Foods. “It’s an amazing business and she’s gradually growing her brand’s presence. I’d like to get the word out that CHIKA’s are excellent products – and there’s a great story behind the brand.”

More than 20 women attended the event at the Barclays Eagle Lab in London’s Notting Hill, part of a new generation of co-working and innovation spaces set up by Barclays across the UK to help businesses network, collaborate and grow. The event, organised by the Female Founders Forum (FFF) – a partnership between Barclays and The Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) – brought together established entrepreneurs and businesswomen with a start-up to grow or business idea to pursue.

"Making yourself available to other entrepreneurial women is really important. I make an effort, as a woman in a senior position, to amplify our cause."

The daytime event paired “mentors” and “mentees” in five-minute slots to discuss everything about running a business, from negotiation and delegation to leadership, communication and deal making – and hopefully find ways of working together.

The event gave Sahar the chance to impart her hard-won knowledge and Chika the help she needs to move her company to the next level. Two years ago, the former investment banker turned down a £30,000 investment from Dragon’s Den panellist Peter Jones, and has since gone on to forge the business alone.

“I put the kids to bed at 7.30pm and then that’s when I get the bulk of my business strategising and admin done,” explained Chika, who has two children. “I often work until 2am, so I’m lucky that I’m someone that doesn’t need much sleep.”

Celia Francis, CEO of Rated People – the website that connects homeowners with local tradespeople – also took on the role of ‘speed mentor’.

“Making yourself available to other entrepreneurial women is really important,” she said. “I make an effort, as a woman in a senior position, to amplify our cause.

“It makes sense that tech companies, especially, are embracing all that women have to offer the industry. It’s a good thing to have women involved at every level, as it means we’re literally designing the future.”

“Our approach can be quite different from the way that men do things. Time and again, we’ve seen women undersell themselves when seeking investment.” 

Jo Field the Founder and Director of consultancy company JFG Communications and former Head of Campaigns at Transport for London, was at the event to “to learn as much as I can”.

“The mentors each had different stories to tell – as they were all from different corporate environments, they were coming at things from different angles,” she said. “I was really impressed by Rachael Corston, the Co-Founder of beauty brand Afrocenchix, as she spotted a gap in the market and immediately started the business on a shoestring budget.”

Jo said the most valuable piece of advice she’d been given was to consider offering internships to recent graduates, who could help with social media strategy in return for essential work experience. “It’s not something that I’ve really thought about before, but it could be really valuable for both of us,” she said.

Sara and Maria Trechman, sisters-in-law and co-founders of Well&Truly, a healthy snack brand, said the day had given them useful insights. “Our bond and our approach can be quite different from the way that men do things,” said Sara. “Time again we’ve seen women undersell themselves when seeking investment. Guys tend to be more ballsy. We hope the more women go to these kind of events, the mind set will eventually change.

“We’ve received some really useful comments on our packaging. We’ll feed back to our colleagues and see how we can grow the business further.”