1. ITV Report

North West women leading the way in business

Charlotte Mills designs bridal footwear Photo: ITV Granada

Traditionally men have always ruled the roost when it comes to business. In fact, despite steady progress to address this, there are still only 20 percent of board positions held by women in the FTSE 100.

But it seems the tide is beginning to turn - especially in the North West. Figures released by the Greater Manchester Business Growth Fund shows record numbers of women are now setting up their own businesses in our region. Women now make up 50% of the business growth hub's clients - nationally it is only a third.

I think women are more willing to take advice, speak to others, be mentored and look at what other people have done themselves and take that on board ...whereas men will make mistakes and learn from them and go on from there.

– Janine Smith Greater Manchester Business Growth Hub

Charlotte Mills from Oldham, is one example of someone who's been helped to start her own business. Her business idea started as a design project at University to design a range of bridal footwear and, after graduating from the prestigious Cordwainers, she designed footwear ranges for many of the UK's best known high street brands whilst building her own business plan and investing in the design and production of a range of samples.

Charlotte's new range now offers brides a choice of 11 bridal footwear styles, all made with luxury materials, crafted by a Spanish supplier who has been making shoes for over 50 years. The shoes are hand finished with a silver sixpence, and the leather sole is embossed with the phrase "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a silver sixpence in her shoe".

Charlotte's shoe designs Credit: ITV Granada

Charlotte, 27, came to the Business Growth Hub's Start Up team looking for funding to invest in additional samples to enable her to market them more widely to UK and international buyers.

Charlotte was awarded a £20k low interest loan from OBLG and was able to invest it immediately in the manufacture of more samples, building her new website and marketing her brand more widely to potential trade customers. To date Charlotte has secured several stockists around the country and says: "Starting my own business designing and selling shoes has been something I've dreamed about for years and to see it now becoming a reality, thanks to the help and support of the Business Growth Hub's Start Up team and OBLG, has been an incredible experience. Shoes have been my passion since I was at school and I wanted to create a very distinctive product that would become a key part of any wedding day. Just as the distinctive Louboutin red sole has become instantly recognisable, so I hope our unique designs and finishing touches, such as our sixpences for luck, will become a keepsake of the wedding day and an heirloom to treasure forever".

Gemma Roe set up her own business Credit: ITV Granada

But its not just traditionally female-orientated businesses that women are starting up - take Gemma Roe for example. She launched her Hazel Grove based company Rotunda Living - which is the only one in the UK building exclusively in the round. Thanks to a loan by Start UP Now, she's now been awarded a unique commission to build the country's first completely round modular eco-classroom for a primary school in the North West.

"The loan and advice from Start Up Now really helped me to get Rotunda Living up and running and we have hit the market at just the right time, with the garden buildings market now estimated to be worth £198m in the UK. People are craving that extra bit of space at home - for a home office, guest bedroom, exercise studio or simply just for a bit of sanctuary and space - and there is real demand for something different. The earliest structures built by all civilisations were round for good reason; round structures are more efficient to build and to heat, provide a greater floor area and provide the greatest structural strength of any other form."

Gemma's business Credit: ITV Granada

Greater Manchester's Business Growth Hub supports growing and ambitious businesses, delivering a wide range of business support services from our expert public and private sector partners. The Business Growth Hub was launched in 2011 and has helped thousands of businesses across Greater Manchester, from established and large companies to start-ups and SME enterprises. Accountable to the Local Enterprise Partnership, the Business Growth Hub's challenge is to ensure that companies across Greater Manchester reach their growth potential and are able to access the right support and services for their needs. This project run by the Business Growth Hub is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and was conceived in response to the Communities and Local Government Department (CLG) call for proposals under Priority 1 Business Growth Hubs, Action area 1.1 and 1.2, which covered all North West Sub regions except Merseyside. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund Programme, which is one of the funds established by the European Commission to help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support local businesses and create jobs. For more information visit www.gov.uk/erdf-regional-guidance-north-west