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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 00:27 GMT
Female 'army' to boost enterprise
Minister Margaret Hodge, (middle) and the Women's Enterprise Task Force
Ms Hodge says the network will start a new movement for women
An "army of women activists" is being launched by the UK government to help and inspire women to start businesses.

Industry and regions minister Margaret Hodge will announce the 1,000-strong network at a conference on Wednesday.

The network will target women over 30, who are often recent mothers, and those over 50, after children leave home.

Women are half as likely to start companies as men are. "This initiative will lead to a new women's movement," Ms Hodge told the BBC.

Role models

The main impetus behind the move has been the "stark statistic" that if the same rate of women entered into business here as in the US, we would have 700,000 more UK businesses, said Ms Hodge.

Such an increase could boost UK wealth by 23bn, she said.

The plan, to be unveiled at a two-day conference run by women's umbrella organisation Prowess, promotes the idea of women acting as role models.

You have heard of the old boys club - now we have the new women's network
Margaret Hodge, industry and regions minister

The women, existing female entrepreneurs, will visit industries, schools, universities and communities, to encourage others to start firms.

"You have heard of the old boys club - now we have the new women's network," said Ms Hodge.

The Regional Development Agency (RDA) will be charged with recruiting the "army", with each region taking on about 100 women each.

To date much focus has been on those in school or graduates, but older women remain "an untapped source with huge potential", Ms Hodge said.

"When women have children, they want more flexibility in terms of work. Once their children leave home they often suddenly have more time and untapped talents," she added.

Challenge

While the move is a step in the right direction, launching schemes in themselves cannot be a substitute for good advice and support, warned Erika Watson, director of Prowess.

"The challenge is to ramp up the quality of their firms," she said.

The amount being invested in business support for female-led firms is actually a quarter what it was in 2003, when Prowess first surveyed its members, she said.

"There is strong evidence that women's businesses are not surviving as long as their male counterparts' and not making it through to the next level," Ms Watson added.

The network will work closely with the Women's Enterprise Task Force, launched last November, to assess how regional economic strategies are contributing to female-run companies nationally.


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