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Case Study – Charlotte Windebank of FIRST

We caught up with one of our inspiring founders, Charlotte Windebank of FIRST Face To Face Ltd.

She told us about her thriving business and shared insights into her journey as an entrepreneur so far – detailing the challenges that women in business face, her experience with our specialist coaching programme and her hopes for the future.

“To start with, can you tell us a little about your business?”

“Sure. FIRST is a dynamic learning and development agency that works with underrepresented groups in business by empowering enterprise skills and building awareness of diverse opportunities within local communities.
We work in collaboration with government, educational and community organisations, ensuring equitable opportunities for learners to progress into meaningful education, rewarding work or resilient self-employment."

“Amazing, it’s great to see an entrepreneur focused on paying those skills forward – especially into underrepresented communities. How exactly does that work?”

“It’s true, we’re dedicated to facilitating inclusive economic growth. To do this, we offer accredited courses, workshops and events designed to cultivate courage, self-belief and motivation.
With these, we’re revolutionising the UK's £6.2 billion further education market by offering enriching, peer-to-peer learning experiences that are tailored to learners, businesses and the environment.
Overall, FIRST challenges the status quo by innovating and enhancing entry-level teaching and learning in enterprise and entrepreneurship.”

“You mentioned revolutionising the UK’s further education market. Could you share some details of your successes so far?”

“Last year alone, our work contributed £16 million in social return on investment to the North East economy and improved the quality of life for 547 learners in some of the UK's most under-resourced communities.
Since FIRST was established in Gateshead in 2014, we’ve grown to a core team of eight – between five and seven teaching associates, a non-executive director (NED) board, safeguarding board and stakeholder board. We’ve earned an Ofsted 'Good' rating, Matrix Accreditation and align our work with the internationally recognised EntreComp enterprise skill framework.”

“Wow, that’s very impressive. It seems like there’s a real demand for the work that FIRST does. Would you say you’ve faced extra challenges to get to this position, as a woman founder and entrepreneur?”

“I’ve always been acutely aware of the unjust systems that I work within. For example, did you know that within venture capital, for every £1 invested in UK businesses, 89p goes to all-men founders, 10p to mixed-gender teams and less than 1p to women founders?¹
I can’t help but feel disheartened and apprehensive about the challenges I might face while seeking investment for our growth journey in Autumn 2023. While the North East is a fantastic place to start a business, I still often encounter unconscious bias, like assumptions that I must be working for someone else, followed by surprise when I reveal my business has been established for nine years.”

“That’s a shocking statistic – I’d be interested to hear more about how you think women in business can overcome this uneven playing field. But first, you mentioned your upcoming growth journey, what exactly are your plans for the future of FIRST?”

“Well, now that FIRST is operating across all local and combined authority areas in North East England, my immediate aspiration is to expand our services to other under-resourced regions within the UK and globally.
Our long-term vision is to be recognised as a pioneering alternative to traditional further education. Our approach will provide learners, employers and the environment with sustainable and impactful learning experiences that create stability for individuals and energise economic growth by increasing startup business rates and job creation.”

“That’s a very inspiring vision, especially considering the progress you’ve already made. From what you’ve learned so far, what advice would you give other women with aspirations to become founders or entrepreneurs?”

“Start by building your network online with people that inspire you, as well as face to face within your local business community. This will increase your social capital so that more ideas and opportunities come your way.
Explore if entrepreneurship is the right choice for you by speaking to others who’ve already done it, and by attending all the free business and startup events in your area.
Also, consider a government backed startup loan. Don’t rely on friends and family to give you advice. Your business only gives up if you do – seize the day! If not now, when? If not you, who?”

“All excellent advice. Finally, I understand you took part in our specialist coaching programme. Could you tell us a little about this experience?”

“Definitely. In the short term, engaging with my Relationship Manager, Louise, was a refreshing experience. She provided a safe space to delve into our current business challenges, opportunities and direction. Louise's informal and relational leadership approach allowed for organic and meaningful exploration of areas where Barclays could offer support.
Ending the sessions with an investor pitch practice alongside Louise and her bank colleagues was an excellent learning opportunity that would usually be difficult to access. The connections we established with Louise and other national contacts from the bank will undoubtedly prove beneficial as we seek to expand our services beyond the North East.
Thank you again for the opportunity, our whole team are now fully cyber-aware thanks to the online course you shared too!”


Photo: No credit needed
¹British Business Bank, 2019