The new girls'network

Women are the `business opportunists of the Nineties' - and a new organisation is helping them link up. Roger Trapp reports
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The Independent Online
It will come as no surprise to anybody who has spotted the growing numbers of acupuncture clinics, aromatherapists or ironing services, but research shows the emergence among small businesses of what is called the "other" sector.

Characterised by one-person businesses offering all sorts of services, from laundry to gardening, the sector is increasingly popular with women. They run three in 10 of all new businesses, but have set up more than half of the "other" businesses identified by an NOP survey for NatWest. Moreover, this sector has grown seven-fold in the past decade.

Ian Peters, head of the bank's small business services group, said: "Our survey shows women to be the business opportunists of the Nineties. They are seeing, and even predicting, the gaps in the market and are more ready than ever to chase up the chances provided by the changing world of work.

Encouraging though they may find this research, many women still feel isolated - and that is why Westminster Enterprise Agency in London has just formed Enterprising Women, billed as "a dynamic new networking group for the capital's businesswomen".

Launched a week ago at the Langham Hotel with the help of keynote speaker Eileen Mulligan, the award-winning entrepreneur who is behind the development in Britain of the CACI beauty treatment, it aims to provide members "with the opportunity to make the contacts which will improve their working lives through a range of activities which will be both informative and fun". This not especially new. Various professional women's networking groups have sprung up in recent years. But Enterprising Women will - as its name suggests - be targeted particularly at the sort of women identified in the NatWest survey.

Half of Westminster Enterprise Agency's customers are women, and all of them run their own businesses. So the agency set up the network in response to their demands, explains the chief executive, Gwen Rhys.

"Women who own small businesses said they felt isolated and wanted to meet other enterprising women," she said, adding that women needed to recognise how networking could improve business performance. "This is not just about having a good time, it's about doing business."

But the network is not confined to those working in small businesses. The organisers realise that women can also feel as if they are on their own in a corporate environment and will be encouraged to join the new group.

"Networking with other business women can enhance personal and professional development," added Jane Parry, small business manager at the Portman Square branch of Barclays Bank, which is the founding sponsor of Enterprising Women. "Moreover, corporate managers have a wealth of specialist knowledge and expertise which they are happy to share with small businesses as they grow."

For further information, contact Gwen Rhys on 0171-706 4266.