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Catalyst South LEPs lead the way with innovative A.I. programme to help support female business leaders

Business leaders across the South East have heard how the region’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to support women entrepreneurs power-up the economy and make businesses and society more inclusive than ever.

On International Women’s Day (March 8th), business leaders and entrepreneurs at the ‘Innovate Local – Southern Pioneers’ conference heard how the Catalyst South alliance of six LEPs are piloting the use of a new AI platform which will use transformative data-gathering to identify, approach and engage with female-led businesses across the South.

Created by business intelligence firm mnAI and piloted by Coast to Capital LEP, the Insight technology provides analysis on business sectors and companies by gender enabling LEPs to target work programmes and funding towards women in a number of ways, including by geography, age and sector.

Coast to Capital chair, Julie Kapsalis, said:

“I began to realise just how powerful and groundbreaking this work was and could be. With women disproportionately hit by the economic impact of COVID, the opportunity to scale this work and scale it quickly was critical.

“This is a huge opportunity for us as LEPs to show national leadership in diversity and use tech in ground-breaking ways. This is increasingly important in an economy where advancing productivity depends on giving opportunities to all parts of society.”

John Cushing, mnAI CEO, whose company owns the ‘gender-desegreation’ technology announced the launch of the world’s first gender index at the session and that mnAI was working with universities to analyse businesses at the macro and micro sectors on a national level and produce results over the next 12 months.

Sarah Atkinson, non-executive director and Diversity & Inclusivity Champion at Thames Valley Berkshire LEP, welcomed Government-set gender targets to double the number of women entrepreneurs by 2030 and for LEP Boards to be 50% women by 2023.

She said:

“We’ve got to tap into that huge, unrealised economic potential of female entrepreneurs and make the UK one of the best places in the world to start and grow a new business. We know there are barriers and women need and deserve a much greater access to business support if the UK is going to achieve gender parity in business.

“LEPs through Business Growth Hubs are seeking to widen and target the reach of their support and key to that is data, having that baseline data which is the trial with mnAI. As well as providing leadership, LEPs themselves want to be exemplars of diversity and inclusion.”

She added:

“Business shutdowns are disproportionately affecting women and ethnic minorities, one in 10 BAME women are out of work. Diversity is critical to LEPs but also our economy and society more broadly. We know we have to do more to reflect the diversity and richness of the businesses and communities we all represent.”

The ‘Unlocking Business Intelligence through AI’ event also heard how LEPs and financial institutions were working together to implement recommendations of the Rose Review of female entrepreneurship, and provide women in business with mentors, expertise and funding.

Enterprise M3 Board Director, Julie Baker, who is business lead for the Rose Review and Head of Enterprise at NatWest, said:

“Our economic recovery needs the untapped potential of women businesses. The Rose Review headline is that if women were to open and scale businesses at the same rate of men, it would mean an extra £250bn GVA to the UK economy by 2030.”

Catalyst South chose the inaugural Southern Pioneers event to meet with the region’s innovators and entrepreneurs as it has a focus on championing an economic and business voice, promoting collaboration across boundaries and supporting issues of common importance to business to stimulate business growth and recovery. The two-day virtual event was dedicated to helping businesses, pioneers and entrepreneurs discover more about the vast innovation ecosystem across the South Coast region.