Breaking glass ceilings: Bristol’s women entrepreneurs

Today is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. To celebrate, I’ve invited some of Bristol’s women entrepreneurs to contribute to today’s blog.

Rachel Mostyn and Camilla Rigby, co-founders of the Women’s Work Lab, a social enterprise that supports unemployed mums back into work via training and work placements.

Co-Founders Camilla Rigby (L) and Rachel Mostyn (R) along with Women’s Work Lab graduate Samantha Cuffy who recently landed her first job in 11 years

What does your business do, and how did you get set up?

The Women’s Work Lab CIC supports unemployed mums aged 25+ and receiving benefits to become work ready. Our mums face challenges including domestic abuse, lone parenting, and children with SEN or home displacement.

Our bespoke classroom training, work placement and sponsorship programmes focus on building confidence, ambition and employability skills. We specialise in unlocking potential and laying the foundations for a brighter future. 2020 work placement partners include North Bristol NHS Trust, AXA PPP healthcare, Burges Salmon, Jacobs and the University of Bristol .

Outcomes for participants include new careers, positive role modelling for their families and communities and the creation of a vital support network.

We both come from a corporate communications and training background and met at networking events in Bristol. We both shared a passionate belief that all mothers should be supported to achieve their potential and be able to work flexibly around their children. Our desire to support the mums who needed it the most led to us creating the Women’s Work Lab. We have set it up as a social enterprise which means we reinvest profits to create positive social change.

Women’s Work Lab participants Irene Muthemba (L) and Joselynne Sabano (R) on placement at Southmead Hospital

How has COVID affected your business and working life?

We were part way through a training program when the first lockdown hit back in March. It meant we had to stop our face-to-face training and all of our participants and trainers were suddenly dealing with home-schooling on top of everything else. Our group of 15 mums became a vital support network for each other and we continued with 1-2-1 sessions and some online training. But of course there were also challenges such as access to IT and broadband poverty.

The good news is in the autumn we still managed to get some of our Mums out on placement to our incredible partners including Jacobs, Burges Salmon and North Bristol NHS Trust. One of our Mums has secured her first job in 11 years recently and several others are in the final stages of securing new jobs or training to further their career prospects. We are incredibly proud that we have achieved this level of success in the middle of a pandemic. We are now looking ahead to new programmes in 2021 and have had a great deal of interest from Mums across the South West, as well as businesses who wish to offer Mums placements.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to become entrepreneurs?

Our tenacity and drive to succeed is definitely helped by the fact that we are a partnership. Being co-founders means we literally have each other’s backs and that is enormous when you consider everything the world has thrown at us this year. Of course there are many successful solo entrepreneurs out there but for us our shared passion and different skill sets has been so important. We both want our Mums to be a success more than anything and are doing everything in our power to give as many women as possible the opportunity to unlock their potential and have a brighter future for their family. Our advice would be to work on something you truly believe in and from there success will come if you want it enough.

For more information on The Women’s Work Lab visit

Mel Bound, Founder and CEO This Mum Runs

What does your business do, and how did you get set up?

This Mum Runs (TMR) is the largest online and offline running community for Mums in the world, with a mission to empower 1 million women to feel great about themselves through moving more. We started in 2014 when I posted on a Facebook looking for an unfit running buddy, after I struggled to adjust to life as a new Mum and regular exercise went out the window. 75 women turned up to that first run and TMR was born! Six years later, we’re a global community of 100,000 Mums, with hundreds of weekly runs, a coaching App aimed at supporting women to start running after having children and an e-commerce store that has shipped to more than 30 countries. Facebook recently recognised us as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Communities in the World, and Apple listed our App as “the hottest running App in the UK”.

How has COVID affected your business and working life?

With the onset of Covid, we were forced to stop our free weekly runs immediately. I also took the decision to furlough the team and temporarily close our online store – to enable our team (all parents of young children) to focus on caring for their families. For several months it meant that I was flying solo, whilst also home schooling my own two children which was at times very challenging to balance – my work day started when homeschooling finished and so there were a lot of late nights!

It enabled me to become very single minded about only doing the most important things to provide what our customers, community and wider community really needed; the focus was on creating a range of new initiatives within our digital communities that enabled women to feel connected, stay active and feel mentally well – including taking our sessions online, virtual challenges and our new App. The hard work was worth it, with 68% of the TMR community telling us they were more than, or equally as, active as before lockdown started – compared with 25% nationwide. I also took the opportunity to make some changes to our operating model to future proof against further lockdowns – closing our warehouse and moving to a local outsourced fulfilment partner has enabled us to re-open the store and continue to grow the business throughout the second lockdown. And we also launched a number of initiatives supporting the local community – including supporting community pharmacies, with our runners delivering prescriptions to those isolating at home.

Doing lockdown, we were lucky enough to secure both National Lottery funding, and investment though a partnership with Vitality which has enabled us to invest in growing the team – with four new hires – and to really focus on continued growth going into 2021.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to become entrepreneurs?

Launching and growing a business is not a controllable, linear process – it’s more like a rollercoaster every minute of every day – I wish someone had told me at the beginning; it will feel hard because it is hard!

Reminding myself that everyone running a young business is going through the same things (even if they don’t talk about it) has really helped me to feel more centred when things have been challenging.

Understanding and accepting that we can’t control everything that comes at us, but that we can control our reaction to it is something to remember too any time you feel the inevitable turbulence of start-up life. Work hard, be nice to people – those things will get you a very long way!

Clare Serjeant, owner of Fox + Feather, Gloucester Road

What does your business do, and how did you get set up?

We are a bricks and mortar and online retail shop selling womenswear, lifestyle and homeware products. I started the business in 2012 after leaving a busy and fulfilling career in Fashion Buying and Visual Merchandising. I realised that to feel fulfilled by my role I needed to create something new, so I left my job (when eight months pregnant with my first child!) to set up Fox + Feather.

I used all the money I had in the bank (£10,000) and a few credit cards and bought as much stock as I could to get us through the first week, hoping we would make enough in sales to buy more stock. Luckily (and with a lot of hard graft) we did! We’ve slowly built the business up over the last eight-and-a-half years, learning many lessons along the way. 

 How has COVID affected your business and working life?

We have had a huge shift in focus onto online shopping. This means that social media and our website take up most of my day. Luckily we’ve had our website up and running for the last six years, so it wasn’t too much of a step away from what we were doing already. My days now consist of organising the store teams to get orders packed and ready, whilst I add items online and create content for our social media. Government grants and furlough schemes have meant we’ve managed to keep our team in place, but there have been some difficult negotiations with suppliers over pre-ordered stock. Fashion works approx. up to eight months in advance for buying which has created huge problems throughout the supply chain. On a positive note, the store currently being closed again does give some flexibility in my working hours so I am enjoying being able to do the school run with my two kids most days, where that wasn’t always possible before.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to become entrepreneurs?

Make sure you know your industry inside out. Be prepared to work extremely hard, for long hours and for not much pay when you are starting out! Employ an excellent accountant to give you advice along the way. Be inspired by those succeeding around you- don’t feel you are failing just because a similar business to yours is doing well.