A businesswoman who has spearheaded efforts to help create more female entrepreneurs has welcomed a formal government commitment to enact her plans across Scotland.

Ana Stewart, co-author of the Pathways review, said she was “delighted” following the Scottish Government’s adoption of a series of recommendations aimed at supporting women to become startup founders.

Ministers pledged £17.5m towards Scotland’s startup economy this afternoon, including a range of measures specifically tailored to help women benefit from better access to business support schemes.

The measures include setting up or working with existing hubs around Scotland to develop a network of pop-up ‘pre-start’ centres, making it easier for women to access them, as per one of the central recommendations of the Pathways report, co-authored by Stewart and Mark Logan, Scotland’s chief entrepreneur.

According to their joint report only one in five of Scotland’s businesses are led by women and start-ups founded by women receive only two per cent of overall investment capital. 

Stewart, a partner with St Andrews-based Eos Advisory, welcomed the response of the Scottish Government today and said the proposals were just the “beginning” of a wider societal effort involving government and the private sector to address the challenges faced by would-be female entrepreneurs.

She said: “I’d like to thank the cabinet secretary for his commitment and to government for putting their money where their mouth is, in terms of initiating some of the recommendations.

“And also for recognising that this is a much wider strategy of investment and implementation beyond just this activity. But this is something that they’re doing immediately to show their affirmative action, so I’m very pleased and grateful they have responded in such a positive way.”

Stewart said she was hopeful that existing regional hubs and networks could benefit from the funding for the pre-start centres and that the emphasis was on “collaboration” and “tapping into all the great organisations out there.”

She added: “Hopefully they’ll come forward as we progress that element of the strategy. We want to work with the expertise that’s out there; we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, we’re trying to utilise all the excellent local organisations across the country.”

In terms of the impact the adoption of the proposals could make, she said: “We’re bold in the sense that we want to be ambitious. We don’t want to overshoot but we see it as being potentially transformative, because we are trying to tackle the root causes and the societal issues which will hopefully drive a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship. It’s about creating an environment and infrastructure that everyone can benefit from.”

In a statement to Parliament, wellbeing economy & fair work secretary Neil Gray set out a range of actions and investments this year to support entrepreneurs and startups, which are worth nearly £1bn to the Scottish economy. He confirmed that the Scottish Government will take forward the recommendations of the Pathways report. These include:

  • developing ‘pre-start’ centres and pop-ups focused on encouraging women to start businesses and providing best-in-class support to help them develop products and get early access to funding.
  • relaunching the Scottish Government’s Ecosystem Fund with an explicit focus on supporting projects that address the report’s key themes
  • continuing funding for key partner organisations including Women’s Enterprise Scotland, Investing Women, Business Women Scotland and Scottish Edge
  • working with enterprise agencies, the Scottish National Investment Bank, and private sector investors to open up access to investment avenues for women-led businesses and other under-invested groups

The First Minister recently launched a ten-year plan to help create world-class entrepreneurial campuses at 45 universities and colleges across Scotland, with a £5.5m increase in the 2023-24 University Innovation Fund helping deliver the plan and support wider efforts to ‘turn world-leading research into important innovations’.

“We have all of the raw ingredients necessary to match the leading European exemplars: a proud tradition of innovation and entrepreneurship, a university system that is the envy of the world, and exceptional capability in emerging industries such as clean energy, life sciences and artificial intelligence,” said Mr Gray.

He said: “Over the last three years we have worked closely with Scotland’s chief entrepreneur Mark Logan to produce a series of publications that, together, form a sophisticated and comprehensive plan to make this vision a reality.

“I want to thank Ana Stewart for leading the Pathways review of Women in Entrepreneurship and am pleased to commit to take forward the recommendations of the report. We have a moral and economic duty to do more to support women to start and grow successful businesses.

“This is a package of vision and aspiration that sends a clear and powerful message to Scotland’s innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors – this Government believes in you and we are prepared to back you.”

The Scottish Government’s full response to Pathways: A New Approach for Women in Entrepreneurship is available on the Scottish Government website.