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Accelerating Women’s Enterprise (AWE) is a collaborative project funded by the European Union’s Interreg Programme to support women's entrepreneurship in the UK and France.

We're part of a network of organisations either side of the English Channel researching and delivering support to address the gender entrepreneurship imbalance through training and mentoring. Accelerating Women’s Enterprise is supported by the Interreg Programme, who are contributing €2,641,184.73 of European Regional Development Funds, to address economic and social issues in regions on either side of the Channel.

Through the AWE programme, we plan to help more female founders develop entrepreneurial skills and get support to set up and grow their businesses. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of new businesses launched in Portsmouth grew by 33%, making us the UK's most entrepreneurial city 2020 (Instant Offices). We want to make sure women are an integral part of the city's entrepreneurial growth in the future.

The AWE project aims to:

  • train 700 female entrepreneurs
  • recruit and train more than 160 mentors
  • help 134 women start new businesses

AWE Final Conference

Here at AWE (Accelerating Women's Enterprise), we're gearing up for our final conference and everyone's invited.

You will hear:

  • Start-up stories from female entrepreneurs
  • Research on the support eco-system for women
  • Mentoring, training, and learning resources
  • Project stakeholder's perspective
  • How to access our legacy toolkit

It's being held online from Monday 29 November–Thursday 2 December.

Book your free place

AWE Final conference

Find out more about the AWE Final Conference.

00:04 Accelerating Women's Enterprise (AWE) Final Conference

00:11 Start-up stories from female entrepreneurs 

00:15 Research on the support ecosystem for women

00:19 Mentoring, training and learning resources

00:25 Project stakeholder perspective

00:29 How to access our legacy toolkit

00:38 Accelerating Women's Enterprise (AWE) Final Conference

00:44 Online on Monday 29 November – Thursday 2 December 2021

00:52 Book your free place

Case studies

Ceri Winfield is the founder of Disable the Label, a non-profit business set up to support and empower parents with disabled children, as they navigate their child’s life.

Her experience in working with disabled children, as a rehabilitation therapist, showed Ceri just how little support there is for families. In an effort to combat this, she founded Disable the Label, recently developing an app, allowing her to give free support to more than just the 15 families she was working with directly.

"The app includes a directory full of information on businesses and charities that provide services or products for children with disabilities. It also includes a podcast where we talk to different people about relevant subjects, professionals and parents talking about their experiences."

Setting up a business was not straightforward; Ceri needed funding to develop and launch the app. After finding little success in crowdfunding, Ceri’s next move was to persuade the companies involved to pay to be included in the directory but she faced difficulties in convincing them to sign up.

Despite having Dyslexia, the biggest challenge Ceri faces is running her business by herself while still working a day job.

"I’m doing everything from social media, funding applications, building the app, contacting the businesses, making and editing the podcasts, Zoom calls with all the professionals and businesses."

Ceri joined the AWE about a year ago, after creating her business. She noticed how much more confidence men seem to have in business, her own self confidence was a barrier to taking her business further.

"I just felt connected with the AWE, they could understand how I felt. I was beaming throughout the first day of the Business Builder course, it was great to be with other women who were experiencing similar issues. Everyone has been so kind and supportive."

Ceri found the Business Builder course highly informative, making strong connections, not only limited to those within the AWE. Networking with people in similar situations and sharing information with each other. The course has helped improve her self-confidence; especially when making business pitches, as this was one of her greatest weaknesses. She received 1 to 1 advice about crowdfunding, giving Ceri the confidence to try this avenue again in future.

"It opened my eyes to what it could look like, rather than how it went when I tried."

Ceri also realised that she had some valuable skills to share with others:

"I connected with another girl, on the course, and helped her to start her podcast. In return, she helped me with giving pitches which is so scary for me. It was a really supportive mix!"

Another great thing she took from the course was being matched with a mentor. Having someone to speak to made Ceri feel less isolated. Being able to receive ongoing support from a like-minded person.

"My mentor is great, she gets me 100%!"

The Disable the Label app has now launched. She is considering changing the business to a CIC – in order to apply for more funding and to build a parent portal section on the app, where parents can access more specific information. Ceri has been advertising her business in newspapers and on the radio and is currently working towards her first corporate sponsorship.

Ceri Winfield, founder of Disable the Label

Jodie Hughes is the founder of Endometriosis South Coast, a non-profit organisation providing support and information to all those suffering from Endometriosis.

Being a businesswoman wasn’t originally on the cards for Jodie. She wanted to be a chef. With a clear career path in mind, she trained at college and became very good at her job. “I thought it was what I’d be doing for the rest of my life!”

However, she found her body could not cope with the physical demands of the kitchen, leading to a diagnosis of Endometriosis. Taking a step back, Jodie had to re-evaluate her future.

Thinking that she could perhaps share her chef skills with a new generation, she went to university to study Health and Nutrition, in the hopes of becoming a food tech teacher. “If I couldn’t cook, then I would teach other people to cook.”

Jodie found herself drawn to research around Endometriosis as part of her degree, even more so in her Masters program. The more research she did, the more she found that there was a lack of support for other sufferers in the area. Almost by accident, she found herself sharing her own experiences and signposting people to the few services available in the area. Thus, Endometriosis South Coast was born.

“I had the knowledge but getting it out there, to people, was tough. Setting up this business was my only way of doing it.”

With a lack of business experience, Jodie was aware that she needed to gain as many new skills as possible, to enable her to provide a solid service. She soon came across the Accelerating Women’s Business (AWE) program run by the University of Portsmouth.

“I knew I had to find something to teach me how to do things properly.”

Jodie first started on the ‘Start my Social Enterprise’ course and was surprised to find many other women experiencing the same overwhelming feeling of being out of their depth with running a business.

“It was a really good networking tool because we were all in the same position. None of us knew more than the other. It was nice to not feel so intimidated. Sometimes you go into these things thinking, ‘everyone knows so much more than me,’ but because of the way it was set up, it wasn’t intimidating at all.”

She has since attended the Business Builders course in order to enhance her skills and to refocus her business efforts. Through both courses, she has had the opportunity to ask questions of people working in similar fields, as well as keeping up to date with best practices. “It's always a good one to keep doing refreshers because it changes so quickly.”

Jodie says her business is now thriving! “We’re in a good place. We have the basics down now,” Jodie explains. “There are always more things that can be learnt.”

Through the AWE, Jodie learnt how to value herself as a businesswoman. She took what felt like an almost impossible task and broke it down into small chunks of achievable targets. She now feels she can see a clearer path to reaching her ultimate goal.

Jodie’s advice for anyone starting their own social enterprise journey is to take all the help you can get: “Sign up to all the courses you can find. The Portsmouth HIVE is amazing, Sandie is just a font of knowledge. You can’t get through this on your own. There’s no way you can set up a social enterprise on your own. It takes a network!”

Jodie Hughes, founder of Endometriosis South Coast

We spoke to Lynn Leach, the founder of MJLM Millinery to find out what the support provided through the AWE project has meant to her and her business. MJLM Millinery is a hat making service based in Portsmouth, Hampshire, serving local customers.

Suffering terribly from stress and depression, Lynn turned to millinery in 2016 as a way to cope through a difficult emotional period. Having been an established watercolour artist in her 20s, she knew the power of having a creative outlet as “a way to take the mind off of everything else!” Millinery became her main hobby. She had no intentions of making it her main source of income.

She started by buying 40 second-hand hats and began to upcycle them. “It got to the stage where I wasn’t just happy with the upcycling, I wanted to learn how to make everything from scratch,” so started taking classes at the London Fashion College. It wasn’t long before she found herself selling them to people who, much to her own surprise, liked them.

With all the good feedback and local encouragement she was getting, Lynn started to think seriously about how she could turn her hobby into a fully formed business.

“I knew all my life that I was going to run my own business at some point, I just never felt it would ever be possible, or even knew how.”

After hearing about the programme from colleagues at the University of Portsmouth, Lynn joined Accelerating Women’s Enterprise at the start of 2019, shortly after she decided to develop the business and has never looked back!

The program helped Lynn to develop the skills needed for her evolving business. As well as the importance of developing a brand for MJLM Millinery, she says the most valuable takeaway for her was how to effectively utilize her immediate network, family and friends, for sales as well as support.

“The support through networking was invaluable for me, and still is! I found that my concerns were shared by everyone in my AWE cohort. Questions such as how to find clients, how make enough money to cover the bills, how to stay motivated, and how to plan for success.”

2 years on from starting the business, Lynn feels that she is far beyond the hobby stage, her business is continuously evolving despite the challenges faced by a global pandemic. Lynn say that anyone thinking of starting their own business should “research your customer base, and if it’s a niche market like mine, research how you’re going to reach those people, then just do it!”

Lynn Leach, the founder of MJLM Millinery

Free training programmes

We've launched 3 exciting new training programmes in June 2021. All our courses are completely free to attend as they're funded by the European Regional Development Fund. 

The courses run online and groups are small (no more than 15 people). 


If you're a woman who's running her own business, or thinking of setting up your own business, then you can sign up. You must have the right to work in the UK to join these courses.

Become an AWE Mentor

Would you like to support a woman on her entrepreneurial journey? Through our mentor training programme we can train you to pass on your skills and experience to women and help them address their barriers to entrepreneurship.

Our first mentors were trained in May 2021 and we'll be running more mentor training soon.

To be a mentor you must:

  • have run a successful business for at least 3 years, either currently or in the past


  • be a professional with business-relevant skills (such as book-keeping, accounting, social media, risk management, etc)

Dates and times

This programme will be delivered via a combination of online independent learning, and group sessions via Zoom. The zoom session dates are as follows:

  • Tuesday 23 November, 6.00pm–7.30pm
  • Wednesday 24 November, 6.00pm–7.30pm
  • Thursday 25 November, 6.00pm–7.30pm

Once registered, we'll send you login details for the online portal. There will be 3 modules that will take you approximately 1hour 15minutes each to complete.

Woman to talking to business mentor

Could you mentor a new entrepreneur?

Register your place

If you have the experience to be a mentor, or you know someone who'd like to take part in the mentor training programme, please complete the form at the bottom of this page. 

Why are we involved in the AWE project?

By closing the gender gap between male and female entrepreneurs, up to £250 billion could be added to the UK economy.

In March 2019, the Government-commissioned independent review of female entrepreneurship in the UK was published – the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship. The review highlighted possible solutions to the barriers women face when starting and growing businesses, such as knowledge of and access to finance, caring responsibilities and a lack of relatable role models and mentors.

The UK is behind other countries, such as the US, which perform better for gender equality in entrepreneurship. The Government aims to increase the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK by 50% by 2030. This is equivalent to 600,000 more entrepreneurs. The publication of the Alison Rose Review highlights why projects like Accelerating Women's Enterprise are so important.

Researching the entrepreneurial ecosystem

As part of the AWE project, we're researching the challenges women face when starting and growing a business. Our aim is to find out more about the current situation for female entrepreneurs so we can influence policy change at local, national and international levels.

As part of our research, we've interviewed women in England and France who are about to start-up, or who have already started, a business. We focused on women who face an additional barrier or disadvantage to setting up a business such as age, caring responsibilities, a health condition or disability. 

We also spoke to people who work for services that support start-ups, including:

  • banks and finance providers
  • education and training providers
  • business support and membership organisations
  • local Economic Partnerships (LEPS)

We’re currently writing up our findings and these will be published here soon. 

Follow the AWE project

You can keep in touch with this project in several ways. You can:

If you'd like to be notified about our next training and networking courses and events, or if you're interested in the mentoring scheme, please complete the form below.

If you have any other enquiries about the project, please email

Our team

Dr Zoe Dann is a Senior Lecturer in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, with a special interest in female entrepreneurship. Zoe is the Principal Investigator and project manager for the AWE project in Portsmouth.

View Zoe's research profile.

Dr Carol Ekinsmyth is an Economic Geographer and researcher of gender and entrepreneurship. A main responsibility for Carol on this project is the data capture and analysis of the England-based element of the research.

View Carol's research profile.

Dr Georgiana Busoi is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Marketing. She is the lead on materials development for the University of Portsmouth in the training element of the project.

View Georgiana's staff profile.

Professor Johnstone is Professor of Organisational Studies at the University of Portsmouth. Professor Johnstone has a strong research interest in gender representation. In 2015 she was made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences for her contribution to the study of gender equality.

View Karen's research profile

Dr Emily Yarrow is Senior Lecturer in international human resource management at the University of Portsmouth Business School. Emily is passionate about social justice in education and equality of opportunity in organisational life. She has a particular research interest in women’s career development and the power dynamics in organisations.

Mrs Amy Doyle is the founder of the University of Portsmouth's Female Entrepreneurs Network. Amy is the Entrepreneur Liaison for the AWE project, providing a first point of contact for entrepreneurs and organisations interested in participating.