The start of our new financial year is the ideal time to reflect on the progress of Start Up Loans over 2022/23 in supporting UK entrepreneurship and unlocking the potential of talented, ambitious individuals looking to start their own business. It's also a chance to lay out our aims for 2023/24, a year which promises to be as full of challenge and opportunity as ever.

The primary goal of the Start Up Loans programme is to make owning and running a business a viable option for people who might otherwise struggle to access loans. We work with a network of Business Support Partners (BSPs) across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to provide affordable loans and mentoring to help people start up and succeed in running their business

The UK boasted an impressive 5.5 million private sector businesses at the start of 2022, demonstrating the entrepreneurial spirit of the nation. However, there is more that can be done to boost the diversity of business ownership across the country, whether that be in terms of gender, ethnicity or the socio-economic background of founders.

Equitable loan distribution

Since its launch in 2012, the programme has delivered over £306m of funding through 36,446 loans to women-led businesses. This accounts for 40% of the programme's total delivery, which is double the level of female-owned businesses in the UK. Additionally, one in five of our loans have been to minority ethnic individuals.

But we want to do more. This year we plan to make further headway toward achieving our goal of a 50% split for female recipients. We are also in the process of evaluating additional pilot schemes with specialist BSPs, to grow loan distribution among other underrepresented communities.

Supporting entrepreneurs from a diverse range of backgrounds not only aligns with our values, but it makes good business sense. Tapping into the vast talent and creativity of underrepresented groups and regions in need of levelling up, we can foster a more equitable and prosperous society. To achieve this, we are closely collaborating with our marketing team to improve outreach and engagement. This objective has also been integrated into our recently renewed BSP contracts to ensure the coming year's results are stronger than ever.

UK-wide investment

With our new Business Support Partners across the UK getting up and running, we want to help level up the UK and make sure investment reaches businesses in every corner of the country.

Government figures show that currently the highest proportion of businesses per head of population is to be found in the South East. The London region has 1,452 businesses per 10,000 adults, and the South East 1,134, while at the opposite end of the scale, the North East has 704 - less than half of that in the capital.

Yet we know that the North East has lots of fantastic, high potential start-up businesses, having provided over £50m of Start Up Loans funding to businesses in the region.

A good recent example is Durham-based Start Up Loans Ambassador Emma Hamlett, the founder of Collected. She took out a £25,000 loan to open Collected, an independent bookshop specialising in work written by women.

Emma says: "At Collected, we simply love books and reading - and talking books and reading. We're also passionate about championing work by female writers, much of which - through imbalance and bias in publishing, literary journalism, and prize giving - has historically been overshadowed and overlooked."

We want to do all we can to encourage more people to consider starting up, regardless of where they are in the UK. 

Second loans

Although we are constantly working to address regional disparities, it's also important to recognise shared experiences among business owners across the country. Now more than ever they face a variety of challenges which might hamper their ability to make further investment in their businesses.

This is one of the reasons that we have extended the eligibility criteria for our second loan offering. These loans allow entrepreneurs to access capital in stages, giving them more flexibility and control over things like cash flow. Second loans can be especially helpful for businesses that need to make strategic investments over time and want a competitive interest rate (6%) in the current climate.

Inspiration and role models

One of the greatest assets to small business owners is having a strong network that encourages and supports development and innovation. To that end, through our Ambassadors Programme, we will continue to champion exceptional business owners who can inspire others through their own success. One of our current Ambassadors, Dhruvin Patel, founder of Ocushield is a great example of starting and growing a successful business.

Dhruvin started Ocushield with a £500 loan in 2015 and has recently become a recipient of The King's Awards for Enterprise, one of the most prestigious awards for UK businesses. Our Start Up Loans website allows aspiring or existing business owners to hear about how people like Dhruvin have made a success of business ownership and apply learnings from them to their own enterprises. 

As ever, the challenges faced by businesses of all sizes in 2023 will also provide opportunities to those who can see gaps in the market to set up and grow. Having so far helped over 100,000 businesses, we are also excited by the opportunity to work with our new Business Support Partners to support even more to succeed over the next 12 months.