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South: Catalyst South pilot innovative AI programme

By Jo Whittle
8 March 2021

Catalyst South is hosting its first panel event at this year’s Innovate Local: Southern Pioneers on March 8 at 10:50am. The nearly all female panel will be discussing why gender disaggregation is so important and how LEPs are using this information to provide help and support to female business owners.

Sarah Dance, vice chair of South East LEP, will chair the event with panellists to include Julie Kapsalis, chair of Coast to Capital LEP. John Cushing, CEO, will be discussing how mnAI is working with the six Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in the South East on a gender disaggregation pilot to better target business support to female entrepreneurs. Julie Baker from NatWest as well as Enterprise M3 LEP will be sharing news of the Rose Review. Also on the panel is Sarah Atkinson from Micro Focus and diversity champion for Thames Valley Berkshire LEP who will be discussing how LEPs are upping their game and working on diversity, especially female directors. There will also be a chance for you to ask questions.

Dance, deputy chair of South East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The six Local Enterprise Partnerships working together as Catalyst South represent a globally connected economic region which collectively generates almost one-fifth of the UK’s GDP. We are the nation’s major international gateway and our ecosystem of innovative entrepreneurs, high-growth SMEs and world-leading international corporates, which the future economic success of the UK depends upon. This is a fantastic opportunity to unite the hidden innovators that the Catalyst South region has so that we can share with them the support we have on offer to help businesses adapt and grow.”

Kapsalis, chair of Coast to Capital LEP, said, “The south region has a strong tradition of women business owners and I look forward to sharing more on our work for The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship and our refined approached to equality, diversity and inclusion as part of International Women’s Day 2021. I am delighted that the Coast to Capital use of AI to better target female entrepreneurs has been adopted by Catalyst South to deliver our shared vision of providing a more equitable business support service soon.”

Baker, head of enterprise and climate engagement and partnerships NatWest, and EM3 LEP board member, said, “Female business owners, among other groups, have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic and therefore supporting women in business has never been more vital, as we look ahead not just to recovering from the pandemic, but unlocking creativity as we build back better.

“Over the course of the last 12 months, we have seen real action being taken to support female entrepreneurs. The initiatives as highlighted in the Rose review are the best way of ensuring that all female entrepreneurs who want to start, scale, and grow their business can do so and by extension the UK economy will benefit”.


Sarah Atkinson

Atkinson, director, corporate social responsibility, Micro Focus, and Thames Valley Berkshire LEP board director and diversity champion, said, “Local Enterprise Partnerships are seeking to lead by example and are determined to achieve gender parity on LEP boards by April 2023. Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day and we are proud that in the Catalyst South area to have already achieved 44% with some LEPs such as Thames Valley Berkshire having 55% female board member representation. However, we are not complacent, and know we have more to do to make sure that our boards fully reflect and represent the rich diversity of the businesses and communities which we represent”.

Catalyst South is an alliance of six Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), including Thames Valley Berkshire LEP, who are piloting the use of a new AI platform to identify, approach and engage with female-led businesses across the south.

Powered by mnAI, the platform will unlock new opportunities to support businesses including:

  • a deeper understanding of the number of female-led businesses across different geographies and sectors
  • providing baseline analysis by geography and sector on growth hub engagement with women-led businesses
  • using data to ensure equal business support opportunities are provided
  • the ability to work collaboratively with partners to engage with women-led businesses

This will help ensure a coordinated and strategic approach to equality across the region.

Catalyst South has chosen the inaugural Southern Pioneers event to meet with the region's innovators and entrepreneurs as it has a focus on championing an economic and business voice, promoting collaboration across boundaries and supporting issues of common importance to business to stimulate business growth and recovery, The two-day virtual event taking place between March 8-9, is dedicated to helping businesses, pioneers and entrepreneurs discover more about the vast innovation ecosystem across the South Coast region.

Click here to register: Innovate Local: Southern Pioneers

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