Next up from our burgeoning community of #TGIGameChangers is businesswoman Sahar Hashemi, the co-founder of coffee chain Coffee Republic and confectionary brand Skinny Candy. She chairs the UK Government Scale Up Taskforce and sits on the board of The Scale Up Institute.
In 2022 she launched Buy Women Built. An innovative platform aimed at encouraging consumers to buy from female led businesses.
Sahar’s insights are incredible, as a company founder and a thought leader with vast knowledge of the SME landscape.
Can you tell us (in a nutshell) what Buy Women Built does and why it’s important?
I know The Gender Index works closely with The Rose Review, and both are highlighting (and tackling) the obstacles for female entrepreneurship. But the one thing we haven’t covered is the consumer angle; and getting consumers to support women-built businesses. This idea came from a tweet I saw in November 2020 which said: “not all of us can invest in women, not all of us can mentor women, but we can all buy from them.”
Ultimately what a business needs is customers. And that’s the best way to grow. And in these times, Gen Z shop with mission and purpose. And buying from a business is essentially investing in that business. So, here is a great opportunity to get consumers to buy from women-built businesses. It’s another way to support and encourage female entrepreneurship.
What was your inspiration or calling to start this company?
The first book I wrote when I left Coffee Republic was Anyone Can Do It. Predicated on the belief that we all have an entrepreneur in us. I have a soft spot for female entrepreneurship because a lot of the more female qualities are ones that entrepreneurs need in spades. From multi-tasking to being around consumers, from vulnerability to resourcefulness. There’s so much around entrepreneurship that actually suits women well. Often these are qualities that women are taught to hide in the corporate workplace. Plus if the consumer economy had a sex, it would probably be female.
And now the UK is a start-up nation. So why don’t we have more female founders? One of the things that came out of The Rose Review was that only 39 per cent of women are confident in their ability to run a business. I find this very frustrating.
So, in the November 2020 lockdown I am going through my Twitter feed and I see the tweet from Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, who was president of Tech UK. I called her immediately. We realised that most consumers don’t know which businesses have been founded by women. But this could be a great way for women to support women.
Why is it important to redress the balance between male and female-led entrepreneurship?
It’s the ultimate in levelling up. We should have a fair society where each half of the population (in terms of gender) contributes as much. And I know from The Rose Review that we’re 30 per cent behind America, Canada and The Netherlands. We are behind! So we’re not opting to be trailblazers, we need to catch up!
What do you think are the biggest challenges for female entrepreneurs?
I’m part of a community of one hundred of the UK’s top female-founded consumer brands on a WhatsApp group, from Jimmy’s Iced Coffee to Little Moons to Absolute Collagen. And it’s clear that it’s a turbulent time for them. We’ve got a perfect storm, higher costs in general and higher costs for raw materials.
We know the struggle around raising finance and how female founders often don’t get taken seriously. I’ve heard some absolute horror stories from female founders.
And there’s the fact that home duties often fall to women, being the default carers.
That’s why it’s even more admirable that female founders have gone and started their own businesses.
Where are the biggest opportunities?
One of the questions I always ask founders is whether they started their own business because of an unmet personal need or something they miss. And 95 per cent do! Julianne Ponan of Creative Nature for example. She’s got 17 allergies and Creative Nature snacks are now sold everywhere and allergy free. Sarah Chapman used her own experience in facials to start Skinesis. The stories are incredible. We just need to ask women ‘what are you missing?’ and we get a smorgasbord of amazing business ideas.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for female company founders?
Times are tough, so batten down the hatches. Become as lean as possible to survive. But remember every time we have seen tough times, we’ve come out the other side. And there will be opportunities to build again.
And of course, if you’re a consumer business, the Buy Women Built community is incredible. With a strong and supportive network of women going through the same thing. We share in a different way, so it’s wonderful to be part of a community that has your back.
How do you think The Gender Index can help grow female entrepreneurship?
Everyone needs data. We need to see where we’re at, what we need, in what regions and industries. And that’s going to help policymakers. If we know the obstacles, we are properly armed. It’s incredibly useful to have this measurement tool in real time. Because now we can tackle the problems.