Pioneer of gender in tech to inspire new generation at Festival of Female Entrepreneurs

October 14, 2019

The woman who ran a female-only software business in the 1960s and strived to change the gender makeup of the technology sector is set to inspire a new generation of women in business as the annual Festival of Female Entrepreneurs returns to the West of England this week.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, now 85, pictured below, pioneered a new way of working at her company Freelance Programmers that helped women with dependents on the career ladder – and made 70 of them millionaires. 

Since then she has campaigned and worked tirelessly to promote the role of women in business.

Dame Stephanie completes an impressive line-up at this year’s Festival of Female Entrepreneurs, which takes place in the Bristol’s Mercure Grand Hotel next Friday, October 18.

She joins Mowgli founder Nisha Katona, who gave up a successful 20-year career as a barrister to concentrate on growing her chain of Bengali Street Food restaurants.

The event, run by small business support network Enterprise Nation, will feature female start-ups and female-led SMEs exploring issues and finding solutions – as well as being inspired by women who have built strong businesses.

Nisha said it was important female entrepreneurs spoke about their lives in business. 

“Why should it be that ambition, on the lips of a woman sounds like hubris and on the lips of a man, sounds compelling,” she said.

“We need to be braver. We need to be loud and we need to be disinhibited because women CEOs in this industry are such a minority with such an important contribution to make.”

According to research, the number of UK women engaged in total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA) in 2018 was 5.2% of the UK population, almost exactly half that of men (10.5%) and the unchanged on the previous year.

The male/female ratio is very different in the US and France. In the US, for example, the gender gap is much narrower – although a relatively recent development, female entrepreneurship rate is now three-quarters that of men.

The festival will also hear from Nimisha Raja, founder of Nim’s Fruit Crisps, who gave up her job and sold her home at the age of 50 to fund her award-winning sustainable snack firm.

It will also include panels on how to find finance, how to use social media and just how to straddle the challenges along the way and think big.

Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones said: “Dame Stephanie is a legend and someone I can’t wait to hear. Events like the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs are important to inspire the next generation of women looking to start-up, giving them the tools and confidence to take their idea or business to the next level.

“Helping to raise awareness of female entrepreneurial success stories like those of Nisha and understanding the barriers they have to overcome, can make a big difference to women who are just taking their first steps.

“While we’re making progress, the reality is female entrepreneurship remains static – and half the rate of men in the UK.”

Enterprise Nation is working with the Facebook She Means Business campaign to celebrate female entrepreneurship across the UK, with a special event on Thursday evening ahead of the festival.

As part of that effort the Female Start-Up of the Year award, which takes place at the event, will be powered by Facebook She Means Business, with the chance to win business boosting prizes.

For more details and tickets visit



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