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25 October, 2023 - 09:58 By Tony Quested

AstraZeneca and Murray Edwards College unite to urge more Cambridge University women to set up companies

A Cambridge University college for women is linking up with ‘Big Biotech’ AstraZeneca to launch a programme to help women across the university become entrepreneurs.

Murray Edwards Enterprising Women, which will be based at Murray Edwards College, will offer women students with entrepreneurial ambitions the expert advice, mentoring and support they need to succeed.

AstraZeneca will collaborate with Murray Edwards aligned with the shared goal of recognising the key role diversity plays in ensuring sustainable innovation in the Cambridge ecosystem and beyond.

AstraZeneca will also offer to provide mentors and board members for new start-ups emanating from the initiative. Murray Edwards is in advanced discussions with other commercial organisations to support the college in this groundbreaking initiative and these will be announced shortly.

Murray Edwards and Cambridge ally Sana Capital, which is helping to build great businesses at the intersection of science & technology, have assumed sponsorship of the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Business Weekly Awards with Cambridge Judge Business School concentrating on the Graduate Business prize. AstraZeneca is a major Awards sponsor.

Murray Edwards College aims to establish itself in Cambridge as the nexus for women operating in early-stage ventures as founders, non-executive directors, and investors.

The three programmes which form part of the new initiative are SheStarts, SheSoars and SheScales and are designed to help women at all stages of their start-ups, from early-stage planning to growth and finding venture capital backing.

As recently as 2000, there were only four women-led Fortune 500 companies. By early 2023, more than 10 per cent of Fortune 500 companies – 53 – were led by women.

All-female led companies now represent 20 per cent of new UK businesses, with women aged 16-25 founding 17,500 businesses – more than 22 times as many as in 2018.

As a modern college for women, Murray Edwards is in a unique position to realise the goals of its initiative and establish itself as a home for women in early-stage ventures and their male allies. Murray Edwards College will be the ‘hub’ to support, celebrate and catalyse the impact that women have on the early-stage business landscape.

The college believes that in AstraZeneca it has identified a sponsor which shares the vision, ethos and passion, with the right people to power the initiative and the convening power to disseminate the impact. The programme was being officially announced during the national Women in STEM Festival being held at the College October 26-27.


The initiative will start in early 2024 with intensive programmes of workshops, talks and mentoring for aspiring innovators led by leading executives from AstraZeneca and other companies.


This programme will be run for women-led start-ups, founded by University of Cambridge alumnae within the last two years. A platform for established female-led ventures that are investment-ready by providing introductions to investors and NEDs, with an emphasis on retaining female founders in the executive team and diversity in the boardroom. 

A structured intervention to support early-stage female-led start-ups through expert talks, curated networking, and tailored mentoring. It will include intensive sessions of one-to-one support and lectures to build skills and knowledge. The focus will be primarily on life sciences, with a guaranteed minimum percentage of companies in this sector.


A series of lectures and networking events for advisers and non-executive directors looking to join the growth journey, and women looking to become early-stage investors. A series of workshops with women-led venture capitalists and other prominent women in business to assist ventures at the Seed and Series A stage in scaling up.

In the UK, the gender gap in early-stage venturing is significant. While the number of female entrepreneurs and investors has been growing steadily, women continue to be under-represented in the early-stage venture ecosystem. 

Numerous studies have highlighted the disparities in access to funding, networking, and mentorship for aspiring female founders compared to their male counterparts.

Last year in the UK more women than ever launched businesses – 150,000 new companies. That’s twice the number of only four years ago. Women-led companies secured a total of £29.3 billion in equity investments. 

All female led companies now represent 20 per cent of all new UK businesses. And, according to UENI figures, nearly a third of small businesses in the UK are now led by women – again, double what it was just four years ago. Most exciting of all, women aged 16-25 founded 17,500 businesses – more than 22 times as many as in 2018.

The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship’s most recent report stated that £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as men. 

Venture Capital

Women venture capitalists and male VCs who support women are key to the success of women entrepreneurs. While women-led businesses are surging in numbers, only two per cent of venture capital is going to women-led companies.

President of Murray Edwards College Dorothy Byrne said: ‘Young female entrepreneurship is the hidden success story of the UK, with huge potential to turbo-charge our country’s economy. 

“We are determined to play a leading role in supporting the brilliant entrepreneurial women students and alumnae of Cambridge University. We believe in championing women to succeed at university and beyond.”

Caroline Austin, VP Business Development at AstraZeneca added: “We are excited to add this important partnership focused firmly on female founders to the range of activities we support across Cambridge aimed at sustaining the life science ecosystem which is the platform for innovation in our sector. 

“In turn, our people will benefit hugely from spending time with inspiring entrepreneurs and founders and bringing their energy and drive back into our own thinking and ways of working.”

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