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Women's entrepreneurship programme launched

Mentoring and advice to help women at Cambridge set up businesses

Three young women in a corridor with paintings, holding their hands out and smiling

Murray Edwards College is linking up with global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to launch a programme to help women across Cambridge University become entrepreneurs.

Murray Edwards Enterprising Women, which will be based at Murray Edwards College, will offer women students with entrepreneurial ambitions the expert advice, mentoring and support they need to succeed.

The College will collaborate with AstraZeneca with the shared goal of recognising the key role diversity plays in ensuring sustainable innovation in the Cambridge ecosystem and beyond. AstraZeneca will also offer to provide mentors and board members for the new start-ups.

The College is also in advanced discussions with other commercial organisations to support the College in this ground-breaking initiative.

Murray Edwards College aims to establish itself in Cambridge as the nexus for women operating in early-stage ventures as founders, non-executive directors, and investors. As a renowned global centre of innovation, Cambridge is the ideal centre for such an initiative. According to research conducted by the LSE, the total net economic impact of the University of Cambridge on the UK economy is close to £30 billion per year, 78% of which is generated by spinouts of the University or companies closely related to it. The University of Cambridge, and Cambridge as a whole, have been recognised as the most successful cluster and local ecosystem in the UK.

A hub for women entrepreneurs

As a modern college for women, Murray Edwards is in a unique position to realise this ambitious initiative and establish itself as a home for women in early-stage ventures and their male allies. Murray Edwards College will be the ‘hub’ to support, celebrate, and catalyse the impact that women have on the early-stage business landscape.

Murray Edwards College believes it has found in AstraZeneca a partner which shares the vision, the ethos, and the passion, with the right people to power the initiative and the convening power to disseminate the impact. Murray Edwards College and its future partners, including AstraZeneca, together can accelerate the building and the launch of this platform to celebrate and enhance the impact of women in the early-stage ventures landscape.

The programme will be announced during the national Women in STEM Festival being held at the College on October 26 and 27.

The Murray Edwards Enterprising Women initiative offers support to innovators wanting to start up, founders wanting to scale, advisors and non-executive directors looking to join the growth journey, and women looking to become early-stage investors.

There will be three intensive programmes – for women interested in entrepreneurship, for women in the very early stages of starting a company and, later, for women who are looking for venture capital backing or to be involved in early-stage growth.

  • ‘SheStarts’ This initiative will commence in early 2024 with intensive programmes of workshops, talks and mentoring for aspiring innovators led by leading executives from AstraZeneca and other companies.
  • ‘SheSoars’ This programme will be run for women-led start-ups, founded by University of Cambridge alumnae within the last two years. A platform for established female-led ventures that are investment-ready by providing introductions to investors and NEDs, with an emphasis on retaining female founders in the executive team and diversity in the boardroom. A structured intervention to support early-stage female-led start-ups through expert talks, curated networking, and tailored mentoring. It will include intensive sessions of one-to-one support and lectures to build skills and knowledge. The focus will be primarily on life sciences, with a guaranteed minimum percentage of companies in this sector.
  • ‘SheScales’ A series of lectures and networking events for advisors and non-executive directors looking to join the growth journey, and women looking to become early-stage investors. A series of workshops with women-led venture capitalists and other prominent women in business to assist ventures at the Seed and Series A stage in scaling up. 
Wide gender gap in business start-ups

In the United Kingdom, the gender gap in early-stage venturing is significant. While the number of female entrepreneurs and female investors has been growing steadily, women continue to be underrepresented in the early-stage venture ecosystem. Numerous studies have highlighted the disparities in access to funding, networking, and mentorship for aspiring female founders compared to their male counterparts.

Last year in the UK more women than ever launched businesses - 150,000 new companies. That’s twice the number of only four years ago. Women-led companies secured a total of £29.3 billion in equity investments. All female led companies now represent 20% of all new UK businesses. And, according to UENI figures, nearly a third of small businesses in the UK are now led by women – again, double what it was just four years ago. Most exciting of all, women aged 16-25 founded 17,500 businesses - more than 22 times as many as in 2018.

The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship’s most recent report stated that £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as men. At Murray Edwards, we want to help make that happen for women at the University and beyond, for the cause of women’s entrepreneurship and to contribute to UK and European industry and the wider economy.

Women venture capitalists and male venture capitalists who support women are key to the success of women entrepreneurs. While women-led businesses are surging in numbers, only 2% of venture capital is going to women-led companies.

President of Murray Edwards College Dorothy Byrne said:

Young female entrepreneurship is the hidden success story of the UK, with huge potential to turbo-charge our country’s economy. We are determined to play a leading role in supporting the brilliant entrepreneurial women students and alumnae of Cambridge University. We believe in championing women to succeed at university and beyond.

Caroline Austin, VP Business Development at AstraZeneca said:

We are excited to add this important partnership focused firmly on female founders to the range of activities we support across Cambridge aimed at sustaining the life science eco system which is the platform for innovation in our sector. In turn our people benefit hugely from spending time with inspiring entrepreneurs and founders and bring their energy and drive back into our own thinking and ways of working.

If you would like to learn more about the scheme or how to support it, please contact the Murray Edwards Development Team on

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