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

Through the AWE programme, we help more female founders develop entrepreneurial skills and access 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.

Our research has found that for women entrepreneurs:

  • The cost of childcare was prohibitive, which impacted upon opportunities for business growth.
  • The limited financial support available often comes with complex bureaucracy, which disadvantaged female entrepreneurs do not find accessible or user-friendly.
  • The cost of access to the internet and the lack of e-skills led to a digital divide for disadvantaged female entrepreneurs.
  • Government regulation and social benefits created the unintended outcome of being a disincentive to entrepreneurship for disadvantaged women.
  • Disadvantaged female entrepreneurs did not suffer from a lack of confidence but were resilient in their business efforts.

We're part of a network of organisations on 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. We have received even more funding from the EU extending the project until April 2023 for more research and training delivery.

Services for women and women-led startups

The AWE project has received additional funding from the European Union to extend our support provision of training and mentoring. We have launched a new programme of workshops, starting in October 2022, primarily focussing on the West Sussex region.

To find out more about the services we provide to women-led startups, and to view case studies, visit our business services page.

Women smiling at phone

We have already:

  • Provided over 50 hours of new learning content to help female entrepreneurs start a business
  • Trained 600 women entrepreneurs
  • Recruited and trained more than 200 mentors
  • Helped over 120 women start businesses
  • Conducted new research on women's entrepreneurship
Explore our services

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

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 and Local Economic Partnerships (LEPS).

Browse our reports

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Get in Touch

If you’d like to find out more about the AWE Project, email us at

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 profile.

Courtney Elkins is the AWE Programme Coordinator.

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.

Dr Georgiana Busoi is a Principal Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Marketing Programmes. 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 Johnston is Professor of Organisational Studies at the University of Portsmouth and Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Business and Law. Professor Johnston 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 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 Beldina Owalla is a Research Fellow in the Faculty of Business and Law. Her research primarily focuses on understanding the impact of gender and culture on entrepreneurial activities. She is working on intersectional case studies for the project.

Dr Xing Huang is a Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Financial Management at the University of Portsmouth. Her current research interests include Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) issues in finance and enterprise. On this project, she is mainly looking at disadvantaged female entrepreneurs’ obstacles in accessing financial resources such as bank credit.