Entrepreneurship is in my DNA

entrepreneurship gender bias Dec 02, 2019

Interview with Dr Yuliana Topazly by Clare Hewitt

What led you to decide to set up your own enterprise?

Entrepreneurship has always been part of my DNA as I have been involved in supporting my family business since I was 12 years of age. When I came to the UK almost 20 years ago, I became engaged with the university sector and the whole enterprise agenda in the UK, setting up an entrepreneur society, entering business competitions. But what actually pushed me to my first enterprise was that I used to work in a larger corporation and then I had my daughter. I got refused and was pushed to leave. So I was shocked with this situation and it really damaged my self-confidence and led to experiencing mental health issues. Then I realised that I was not alone, there was a huge amount of parents in the same situation as me, which got me thinking…. What always drives me is helping other people and I thought I could use my knowledge and experience to help other parents like myself to find their idea career path. I found there was no space parent entrepreneurs, especially those with younger children could go with children to get advice or work which also has flexible hours. And so my first enterprise, My OutSpace, was born. My OutSpace specializes in supporting female entrepreneurs with access to workspace, childcare provision, business advice and networking under one roof. No one's doing it, why not? We need it! So that's how I started. 

My OutSpace has been running for five years very successfully supporting over 300 families each year. We work closely with local authorities, enterprise agencies and community groups. But I am pleased to say now the government agenda is changing towards more flexible working, taking parents more seriously. In the last 2 years we are moving away from the space for working and focusing more on business support, which is still child- friendly. We are delivering our services in a 14 different locations across South London, delivering courses around starting a business, social media, employability skills, financial capability and providing childcare facilities for attendees. At the same time we’re creating the peer to peer support network. Parents love helping each other and so we extended our offer to an online platform, www.buddywith.org.uk which helps parents to connect, find relevant resources and access support completely free. It helps people to connect in a safe environment and with people who are in a similar situation. With the online resources we find men or fathers are using them as well. The face to face interactions are 99% women. 

What is the biggest challenge (or a challenge) you have faced in your career journey? 

One of the challenges was that because the concept of combining a workspace, childcare provision and a business was new, it took me almost 18 months to find a physical space because many landlords didn't want children around. It was challenging to convince people without having the track record. Networking was very important to overcome this barrier. Whether for work or for business doesn't matter what you do in your career, you must meet people and build a very strong network. You need it to lift yourself, to share experiences or ask for support for whatever you need to learn. And through network I found out that in South London there was a loan-based finance scheme particularly for early stage businesses, with a low interest rate and no personal guarantee. And this helped me to secure finance to get commercial property and start the business.

Has gender bias placed a part in this challenge?

I have definitely experienced gender bias, but also bias against being a mother. Being a woman is quite challenging within the business world. People smile, but they don't really take you seriously unless you do something quite substantial. There is a perception that if you are a mother you will not be serious. Even though is not the case, there is a perception that anything could happen at any point of time with your child to change your track. A small child just immediately makes people think, Oh, you know, she's not going to be around. Those kind of things really affected the way I had to make decisions and present myself. And sort of prove myself all the time. I consider myself quite a strong person, But yeah, it's been quite challenging. Seeing other women I helped to get ahead really helped me. It does make a big difference. You see that you can make a difference. I can achieve something, people are changing their lives. That kind of changed my life. 

Also considering labels I think the time when people started taking me differently from first impression is when I got my doctorate. Both in university and in the professional world. 

Many feel that progress on addressing race and gender inequality is not fast enough. What are your views? What do you feel will make the biggest difference to speed up the move towards equality?

I think in the last five years we've seen a really positive development. I was fortunate to contribute towards Alison Rose review on female entrepreneurship which was published earlier this year. This explored what  the challenges are and what the government can do to address these. A lot of women go into self employment when they become mothers because they are not able to go back to their work either for financial reasons or other circumstances. They feel penalized by the tax system. As you know childcare costs are astronomical. So my contribution was to put forward that childcare should be classed as a business expense. Also make business support more accessible to women. Because again, if you have a young child, you might not be able to travel too far. There’s a lot of conflicting information to take in. Many business advisors are white men in a suit. It is a barrier. 

We need to address race inequality as well. In the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report 2018/19  it was shown there’s been a huge decrease in BME communities of women starting their own business. So we need to target training programs and accelerated programs to focus on BME communities. But again, you can't just run one program and think that will turn it around. So it’s a process where all the key stakeholders need to get together and address the issue.

What advice would you give to other women who would like to set up an enterprise?

The main thing I see is that women who are thinking of setting up their own business can take too much time planning what to do and how to do it. In some cases this can take years. I would say if you want to start an enterprise take the decision and start. Don’t feel that you have to have everything planned. If you have passion and the confidence to do it then just try it on a smaller scale. Things are changing all the time so sometimes if you wait too long, the opportunity will no longer be there. You don’t have to start with a big step, you can break it down into smaller steps in order to try out an idea. Take quick decisions and small steps, this is important to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. The government actually do offer a huge amount of support for small businesses and there are a lot of things that you can get support with. But you have to be curious, ask the questions and get yourself out there. Break down what you want to do to smaller building blocks and go from there. Don’t be afraid to take risks. And be ready to fail, it’s not a linear path. I think all of this advice is transferable, to anyone who is thinking of making a career change, trying a new project or making a new life move. There is never the perfect time to start a new business just like there is never the perfect time to have a new baby. You just have to do it!

Dr. Yuliana Topazly
 is an Enterprise Educator, Business Adviser, Mentor and an award winning social entrepreneur.  Yuliana runs My OutSpace, an innovate business support provision for women – entrepreneurs and is currently works as a Business Acceleration Adviser at UCL.

In 2016, Yuliana was named ‘Top 100 Most Inspiring Entrepreneur in the country’ by The Sunday Times and the Centre for Entrepreneurs. Yuliana has supported over 400 small businesses and is very passionate about developing innovative training and mentoring solutions to support start-ups especially those run by women. She supports UCL ‘Launch’ pre-accelerator Programme, lectures on Enterprise and Innovation, Small Business Development and Growth in the UK and Russia. She was featured in the Migrant Entrepreneurship report 2016 published by the IoD and in the Alison Rose’s report on female entrepreneurship in 2019.