Women In Business 

October 6, 2017

North East Times celebrates some of the female entrepreneurs who are running successful businesses and enterprises in the region

Michaela Reaney

A law graduate, Michaela began her career on the Nigel Wright International graduate scheme before joining a global consulting firm, where she worked as an account manager for FTSE 100 client Rio Tinto, with responsibility for delivering the world’s largest executive coaching programme, across 23 countries.

Michaela launched Gradvert in 2012. The initial aim was to support graduates by working closely with education and employers. Now, with offices in Newcastle, Birmingham and London, the company works to develop and nurture talent across all levels of an organisation.

Gradvert’s mission, is to enhance business performance, by improving people through life-long learning.

On being a female entrepreneur… 

“The bottom line is that if you know your stuff – if you are great at what you do – then questions about your gender will become less relevant. Determination and hard work go a long way.”

Laura Middleton
The Office Rocks

The Office Rocks, was first created as a virtual assistant business in January 2014 by Laura, who had previously been a stay-at-home mum for five years. She initially began managing social media accounts for small businesses, before reinventing the business as a digital marketing agency, specialising in affiliate marketing.

The Office Rocks now works closely with local, national and international retailers, to drive large volumes of traffic via a portfolio of social media brands, websites and mailing lists. In September 2017 The Office Rocks Academy was launched to provide digital coaching and mentoring to SMEs.

Laura is a firm believer that ‘life comes first,’ and for this reason, The Office Rocks core office hours for its 21-strong team are 9.30am to 2.30pm, with the rest of the time worked flexibly, to fit around family and other commitments.

On encouraging more women to start their own businesses… 

“As a female business owner, I make a conscious effort to speak to as many people as possible about my journey, to show them that although starting and running a business is a lot of hard work, anyone can do it, as long as they have the ambition and determination to make it succeed.”

Anna Maria Moutafis
Cento Clothing Ltd

A fashion graduate and junior fashion designer, Anna Maria established Centro Clothing Ltd in late 2013, after seeing a gap in the market to help start-up fashion brands find reliable clothing suppliers.

The company now works with a number of fashion and fitness brands offering them a range of services, from branding and CAD design to sourcing, sampling and packaging.

As a young business owner, Anna Maria must deal with the fast-paced nature of the fashion industry but she is very proud of what she and her team have achieved, and media coverage the company has garnered.

On business becoming more gender neutral… 

“I think we are lucky that business is becoming more gender neutral and it’s a lot more accessible now, thanks in part to social media. My advice would be to believe in yourself. It’s always a risk starting a business, but it can also be really rewarding.”

Joanna Feeley
Trend Bible

Joanna Feeley set up as a freelance trend consultant in 2008 and grew this into a business in 2011.Previously, she was head of trends at Tesco and worked as a fashion designer for retailers including Topman in London and American Eagle Outfitters in New York. Joanna saw a gap in the market for a trend forecasting company that focused on the future of the home. While most trend agencies are based in Paris, London, New York and Amsterdam, Joanna has opted to base her company in Newcastle, where she and her 15-strong team help retailers and brands in the UK, Northern Europe and the USA understand how their consumers will think, feel, behave and shop in the future, so that they can shape new product ranges and marketing campaigns.

On the challenges of being a working mum… 

“The biggest disadvantage for me has been running a business and having maternity leave. I remember googling ‘how to run a business and take maternity leave’ and finding a handful of articles, some of which said don’t tell your clients you are on maternity leave! There’s a serious lack of useful guidance and conversation on the topic.”

Louise Richley
Beyond Digital Solutions Ltd

After running a marketing company that specialised in the property market, Louise Richley established Digital Solutions Ltd in 2009.

The company supports clients to communicate digitally. This could be helping retailers communicate with customers at their point-of-sale using digital screens, or assisting corporates to communicate with employees at health and safety briefings.

Digital Solutions Ltd, boasts in-house expertise in design creative, IT, software and engineering to create bespoke digital communication solutions, to brand including Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and Greggs.

Keen to support more women in entrepreneurship, Louise has become involved in Newcastle University’s Founderships’ programme that encourages business leaders to help and mentor start-up businesses.

On the perceptions of being female business owner… 

“Particularly at the start of my career, I was often dismissed as the secretary or person taking notes in a meeting. I once took a cold call where the man on the other end of the line asked if he could speak to the MD. When I explained that he was speaking to the MD, he said, ‘but you’re a woman…I’m not interested in talking to you’ and hung up!”

Emma Pace
House of Objects Community Interest Company

House of Objects (HOBS) was originally established in 2009, as a council-run service, but in 2012, in line with the recession, the council found it was no longer able to fund the service. Emma bid to save the project, and has since transformed it into a social enterprise.

House of Objects Community Interest Company, now has two key parts for the business. It operates as a scrapstore, collecting good, reusable waste from companies, while running workshops for children and young people, allowing them to explore properties of materials and their own creativity.

In 2015, the enterprise invented Invention Sheds to take the HOBS approach and services directly to schools. Between 2015 and 2017, 19 Invention Shed programmes were sold.

On inspiring women into business… 

“I believe the best way to inspire women into business, is to present them with role models in their education. I would welcome careers interventions where all types of professionals are invited into schools to share what they do with students. If this included a broad range of women who had set up their own businesses, it would be inspiring and illuminating for young women.”

Julia Austin
Tyne Bank Brewery Ltd

Julia graduated from Newcastle University, with an MEng in Chemical Engineering, and enjoyed 17 years in the industry working for blue-chip companies. While on holiday in 2006 she was inspired by the brewing scene on the West Coast of America and, in 2011, established Tyne Bank Brewery creating craft beers and lagers for pubs, restaurants and the home consumer. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the brewery moved to new premises which features an open-view brewery tap room and events space. While there have been a number of highlights for Julia, the one she is most proud of is winning the Great British Beer Hunt, with Tyne Bank Brewery’s Silver Dollar American Pale Ale.

On the secret to success… 

“I don’t feel that being a female entrepreneur is an advantage or disadvantage. As long as the entrepreneur has a strong enough character to believe in their idea, has the determination not to give up, to ask for help when needed, and most importantly learn from their mistakes, then success will follow.”

Kate Welch
Social Enterprise Acumen

Kate established the Social Enterprise Acumen Community Interest Company in 2010 and started trading in 2012. Previously, she has

founded a number of social enterprises, including Acumen Community Enterprise Development Trust in 2003 (where is still a non-executive director), and before this, she ran the family Garden Centre business for 15 years.

Social Enterprise Acumen provides professional support and advice to people who want to start an enterprise and organisation’s that make a difference to society in a financially sustainable way.

In September this year, Kate moved her social enterprise to on the Grade II-listed, Old Rectory, in Houghton-le-Spring, with the aim to develop it into a centre for social enterprise and community businesses in the North East.

On trying to conform… 

“When I was younger I would wear glasses rather than contacts, so that I would be perceived as having more experience than I had – but that may have been more about my age than my gender.”

Scroll to next article
Go to

10 Questions: Kim Miljus