To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March 2019, our Managing Director Sam Mickleburgh has joined us to discuss her work outside of the DuoBoots building. Not only is she our MD, she’s also a business mentor. During our chat, she tells us about the successes of female entrepreneurs she works with, and the challenges they face. Sam also shares her own experiences from her varied career in business, spanning many different industries.

Alongside Sam’s busy life managing DuoBoots, Sam is an Entrepreneur in Residence at ‘SETsquared'; an initiative between the universities in Southern England. Based at the University of Exeter, SETsquared supports high tech start-up companies with the resources and advice they need to get off the ground.

Sam Mickleburgh International Women's Day


What are the biggest challenges faced by woman-fronted start ups currently?

According to new research published earlier this month by Beauhurst, female start-up founders are missing out on billions of pounds of investment. The UK Venture Capital (VC) & Female Founders report found that for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams get less than 1p. By comparison, all-male founder teams get 89p and mixed-gender teams get the remaining 10p.


Quite startling! Why could this be?

The disparity has been explained partly by the fact female founders have a very low representation in venture capital deals (only 5% of pitch decks that reach a Venture Capital firm are from an all-female founder team), but also because it is well known that the sectors focused on by VC firms, tend to be technology oriented, where women are currently underrepresented.

With International Women’s Day on the 8th March, it feels like a good chance to consider these statistics!


What do you think is the reason behind women being underrepresented in those sectors?

In my mind, it’s not just about the sectors but often it’s confidence that holds female entrepreneurs back. It’s an issue I am aware of in my role as Entrepreneur in Residence at SETsquared as Managing Director at DuoBoots.


Tell us more about the female entrepreneurs you work with at SETsquared…

In Exeter, female founders are still in the minority but the ones we do have are a very encouraging start. We have some inspirational female talent, including Olivia Chapman, founder of BioSystems Technology who has developed a low-cost, ethical solution for medical testing. It’s great to see businesses such as hers doing so well. I’m also working with one female founder who has admitted that it’s her own self esteem that’s holding her back. This feels like a common problem for female entrepreneurs, but in my experience acknowledging this is already a step towards the solution. I have found that women are more willing to take the support offered and this can help pave the way to commercial success.


Tell us about your journey as a woman in business…

Personally I have been fortunate to have worked in a variety of industries and sectors throughout my career to date. Having started at BP, I then moved to British Airways, going from check-in assistant to managing Customer Services over the course of 13 years. After moving to Devon I took a role with Reuters, and later with ROK construction where I had my first brush with the University of Exeter as an MBA student, graduating in 2010. Since then I have helped start up the UK’s first online pound shop, set up a menswear manufacturing and retail business, been part of the turnaround team for Axminster Carpets - becoming the first female executive director in the industry - as well as becoming a council member for the Confederation of British Industry for the South West Region, before becoming MD at DuoBoots in 2016.


With all the success, how have you tackled the challenge of being a woman in business?

Despite my own successes I too have sometimes doubted myself. When I took on the role of Entrepreneur in Residence at SETsquared Exeter I questioned my own confidence in being able to impart knowledge and experience to help others. Could I really help? Did I know enough?

There is an incredible variety of technologies being developed by entrepreneurs in Exeter, across a wide range of sectors and industries, most of which were all new to me. But despite the diversity they are all underpinned by very similar business issues. It doesn’t matter what industry, sector or idea it is, the business issues don’t change and I realised there is relevancy to my experience across the board.

Once I got started I soon realised I had something to offer, with entrepreneurs I’ve worked with telling me they saw value in what I was bringing - which is always good to hear! In my view, women who are successful in business have a responsibility to support others who come through the ranks so I’m proud to be doing the job I’m doing now.

I do think, however, that the gender balance is, albeit slowly, starting to change. The younger female generation is coming through the ranks with more surety. At both school and university now, girls have better access to STEM subjects and I think as a result we’ll see the diversity mix changing over the next few years.

As an entrepreneur starting out, those first few steps can definitely be the hardest and I would encourage all women thinking of taking that leap to really take advantage of all the help and support on offer from organisations such as SETsquared.