After-work business support programme sees huge rise in female founders

An after-work programme designed to support people in valleys communities into starting a business has seen a large uptake from women keen to found their own enterprises. 

5to9 Club

In its first twelve months, The 5 to 9 Club™ supported 98 people, with 85% of those being women, a stark contrast to recent Welsh Government figures that suggest only 28% of businesses in Wales are owned by Women, below the UK level of 31%.

Similarly, the recent Alison Rose review of Female Entrepreneurship found that only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs were women. 

The clubs, which are open to anyone, consist of an eight-week course featuring a series of workshops where attendees can develop their idea into a business plan right through to launching and even seeking investment. 

They take place once a week from 5pm to 9pm, to allow those who work full-time to gain the experience and support needed to grow their business idea without taking the risk of giving up full-time employment. 

In its first year, The 5 to 9 Club held programmes in Merthyr, Ebbw Vale, Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Treorchy, and resulted in 39 businesses being created and starting to trade, with 60% of those being founded by women.

The programme is headed up by ICE’s Outreach Engagement Manager, Lesley Williams. Lesley said she felt the programme particularly resonated with women as it breaks down many of the barriers women face when starting a new business.

Lesley said: “We are very proud to have had such a high proportion of women join our programme and go on to start businesses. There are a number of reasons why we think the programme has particularly spoken to women. Firstly, the fact that these clubs take place on a weekday evening means they provide that all-important flexibility. 

“There has been a lot of research into the barriers facing women and key amongst them has been childcare issues with women still being the main source of early-stage-care in fledgeling families. With the workshops taking place after-work, there are more options available to women that can help free them in the evening so they can take advantage of the support.

“Another important factor is the highlighting of role models in business. The majority of our experts and speakers on the programme are women, and importantly, are women that have founded their own businesses from scratch whilst being the primary carers for their children. They stand as an inspirational example that it can be done, whilst also offering their technical expertise.”

“Research also tells us that women network differently to men, with many experiencing a “glass ceiling” effect in professional environments. This results in women having less information-rich connections when first starting out, which could be crucial to the success of their startups.

“To help combat this, the 5 to 9 Club also provides members with a professional and supportive network, including introductions to potential funders and new experts every week in a local, supportive and fun environment. We believe this develops our member’s networks, and confidence to source funding, tenfold in a short period of time.

“We are working with other organisations to study just why our programme, which is not ‘women-only’, has had such an impact. With our model moving online, for the time being, we feel this further flexibility could increase the number of potential founders we reach.“

The next 5 to 9 Club will take place online and is open to anyone looking for support to turn an idea or plan into a potential business. To sign up, you can go to

The 5 to 9 Club is a key part of the Welsh Innovation Centre for Enterprise’s (ICE) outreach programme, as it looks to connect with potential business founders across south east Wales. 

Welsh ICE is one of five regional enterprise hubs across Wales, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. The hubs will see over £4m invested to provide supportive spaces and mentoring for new and growing businesses, with the ICE Campus supporting the South East Wales Valleys region.

For more information about your local 5 to 9 Club™ contact Lesley on or call 02920 140 040