L.E.V8 Women image

Each for Equal: celebrating International Women's Day 2020

For International Women's Day, we're proud to celebrate and showcase some of the wonderful, diverse women in our Oxford Foundry community.

See our IWD 2020 Women of the Foundry flipbook.

Read all about what the Foundry got up to in 2018/19 - and get a peek at what we have planned for the year ahead!

Did you know?

  • Only ~6% of UK women run their own businesses, compared to ~15% of women in Canada, almost ~11% of women in the US, and over ~9% of women in Australia and the Netherlands
  • Just 8.6% of all UK women surveyed said they plan to start a business in the next three years, compared to 14.3% of men
  • Less than 1% of UK venture funding goes to all-female teams and just 4% of deals
  • Only 39% of women are confident in their capabilities to start a business compared to 55% of men

Reference The Rose review of Female Entrepreneurship 2019 

Founder diversity data report, Sifted, May 2020 

So what are we doing about it?

We launched our L.E.V8 Women programme in 2018 to encourage, empower and nurture Oxford's current and future female leaders and founders to pursue their entrepreneurial purpose. Through an intensive programme, the Foundry aims to inspire and skill up female students to stride forward confidently into their professional lives post-University. 

Read about the latest cohort of L.E.V8 Women Ventures

The L.E.V8 Women programme is as much for women who aspire to leadership roles within established organisations as it is for those who have start-up ideas that they want to develop, launch and scale. It includes immersive learning workshops, guidance and advice from mentors, and access to a strong and diverse network of visiting experts, plus a pre-accelerator and a suite of e-learning resources, frameworks and templates. 

When it comes to recruiting women in leadership roles, or achieving salary equality, the vast majority of corporations and organisations still have a long way to go. Studies show that companies with women in leadership roles perform better across the board. However, globally, fewer than 1 in 5 organisations currently have a female founder or leader, and the percentage of venture-backed companies founded by women has stood still, at around 17%, since 2012. The level of both conscious and unconscious bias that women professionals continue to experience in the workplace today represents a major global and societal challenge.  

Key elements of the L.E.V8 Women programme include:

  • showcasing positive female role models – building an online resource centre specifically to highlight global female entrepreneurial talent, providing inspiration to those at the start of their journey.
  • Female founders startup clinics – hosting monthly drop-ins for women at the University who are interested in starting up their own business, providing business guidance and advice.
  • Practical workshops for team members of every gender on topics such as recognising unconscious bias, active listening, and working and thriving under female leadership. 
  • Immersive learning workshops to help women entrepreneurs skill up and move their business ideas forward.
  • Access to a network of female entrepreneurs - regular 1:1 slots for female students with notable, high-profile female entrepreneurs from a range of sectors. 

Shaking up some commonly held preconceptions about entrepreneurship and gender are key to the Foundry's activities in this area, as Foundry Director Ana Bakshi explains:

"Being taken seriously as a woman in a board room or in investor meetings is definitely still a challenge.  It's crucial that female founders can see that there is a network of support available to them, that giving up isn’t an option, and that we can only change the status quo when  more women feel empowered to pursue their desired ambitions, without the fear of failure or judgement that they may currently experience. As part of L.E.V8 Women, we are actively profiling female leaders and entrepreneurs from our network and beyond. As the adage goes: if you can see it, you can be it, and we know that the more examples of strong, successful women we can show, the more women will feel empowered and encouraged to engage with start-up life, and to take their ideas forward with confidence and resilience. "

Additional plans include working with local schools and communities to reach and inspire young women and girls, to tackle stereotypes around entrepreneurship and business building, and to show that it's a path open to everyone, whatever their gender.

Women entrepreneurs

About L.E.V8 Women

The 7-day L.E.V8 Women pre-accelerator programme will take you through a combination of intensive, immersive learning workshops and 1:1 mentoring from our incredible L.E.V8 Women Ambassadors. You will come away from the experience with the tools you need to take your venture forward with confidence and purpose. We achieve this by focusing on both personal development and business development.

Personal development: this element of the programme will focus on developing YOU as an individual to help you be the most successful entrepreneurial leader you can be. Specifically, we will focus on helping you increase your self-belief, resilience, ability to negotiate well, and your appetite for risk, and develop your skills in public speaking.

Business Development: alongside the personal development, the programme will take you through a collection of intensive, practical business development workshops so that you can walk away from the programme with an actionable business plan.


  • to support and empower participants to build their personal resilience and confidence
  • to offer practical business skills and frameworks to develop a clear business plan for participants' start-up ideas
  • to encourage participants to discover and work to their strengths
  • to provide an introduction to the entrepreneurial journey for all participants


The L.E.V8 Women pre-accelerator is open to early-stage female led start-up teams that include at least one Oxford University student or alumna as a founding member.

With thanks to our L.E.V8 Women Ambassadors

Arlan Hamilton, Founder and Managing Partner, Backstage Capital, Honorary Advisor to the Oxford Foundry

Nicole Vollebregt, SVP Global Purpose, adidas

Marcus East, EVP & CTO, National Geographic Partners

Helen Riley, CFO at X (an Alphabet company)

Jenny Tooth OBE, Chief Executive, UK Business Angels

Srin Madipalli, Product Manager, Airbnb

Kal Patel, former EVP, BestBuy, Inc and CEO, BestBuy Asia

Niamh Gavin, Venture Capitalist and start-up advisor     

Kathy Harvey, Associate Dean, MBA & Executive Programmes, Saïd Business School

It is our duty and responsibility as a world-leading institution to offer women a platform that will enable them to develop their entrepreneurial purpose. The direct societal benefits of this approach are deep and sustained – it’s something that we all need to be part of.'

Ana Bakshi
Director, The Oxford Foundry

“The workshops, the pitching practise, and the conversations I’ve had with others during the programme have all given me a real taste of what entrepreneurship is like. It’s helped shape my strategy,
my go-to-market plan, my branding – everything. It’s been phenomenal. My next steps will be to work hard at developing the product, and then to get out there and start hustling!”

Sophie Adams, PG Diploma, Founder, Beeyond

“Through participating in L.E.V8 Women, my colleague and I now have a business plan and some practical ways to navigate the funding landscape, so that we can work towards our goal of making the go_girl programme available on a national scale. We know that it can really make a difference in the lives of marginalised young women by increasing their digital skills and their confidence, and enabling them to become self-sufficient and socially mobile.”

Dr Tracey Denton-Calabrese, Postdoc researcher

“The number of high calibre mentors, and established and successful advisors I met through L.E.V8 Women helped me form a tangible business plan with clear next steps. We’re now working on obtaining a grant that can help us formulate our compound and validate our research results to-date. The continued contact with fellow female founders, even after the programme, means we
have established a wonderful network of friendship and support.”

Dragana Savic, DPhil, Cofounder, Carntrol

“Surrounding early-stage female founders with peers, mentors and role models will both inspire and equip them to fulfil their full potential and aspirations. This programme is a terrific addition to the ecosystem.”

Niamh Gavin, Start-up advisor

“Encouraging more women entrepreneurs, and increasing their potential to obtain investment is paramount – I believe it will have enormous positive economic impacts. I’m delighted and honoured to be
an L.E.V8 Women Ambassador, and to be part of this important programme from the Oxford Foundry.”

Jenny Tooth OBE, Chief Executive, UK Business Angels Assoc.

“The economic and societal impact of empowering the next generation of female entrepreneurs and leaders is deep, far-reaching and self-sustaining. I am thrilled to continue my support of this important programme at the Oxford Foundry, supporting the next cohort of female founders in their journey to becoming their best, most successful professional selves.”

Helen Riley, Chief Financial Officer, X

“I believe that it’s incredibly important that opportunities in innovation and technology are open to everyone, regardless of their gender or cultural background. I’m delighted to be an Ambassador for
the Oxford Foundry’s L.E.V8 Women programme, and to be supporting participants as they skill-up and move their ventures forward.”

Marcus East, Technical Director, Office of the CTO, Google

“The Foundry’s L.E.V8 Women programme empowers and upskills Oxford’s talented women founders, so they can build their strong ideas into strong ventures. All of us benefit when women are supported and encouraged in this way, and I’m delighted to be involved in this important programme.”

Kathy Harvey, Associate Dean, MBA & Executive Programmes SBS

“We need to do everything that we can to protect the potential, the passion and the talent of the next generation, by partnering with talented girls and women and supporting them to be successful
leaders. I am excited about the possibilities that entrepreneurship brings for women, because it gives them the control which is still so difficult to garner in the corporate sector. The more companies that are started by women, the more we will start to shift workplace culture and what the organisations of the future will look like.”

Nicole Vollebregt, Senior Vice President, adidas

“As an alumnus of the University and former start-up founder, I feel especially strongly that entrepreneurship and its opportunities should be accessible to everyone at Oxford, particularly those
groups that are currently underrepresented, where there is so much potential for entrepreneurial growth. The L.E.V8 Women initiative is an important step forward for Oxford, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Srin Madipalli, Product Manager Airbnb, Cofounder, Accomable

The L.E.V8 Women pre-accelerator programme has been brilliant. After the very first workshop, I knew it was a positive, supportive space, and a rare opportunity to learn from the experts and to connect with this wonderful cohort of talented Oxford women. My confidence to take Fivo forward has increased, thanks to the encouragement from the incredible mentors and advisors. Hearing about their struggles and past failures has helped me to push past previous setbacks, and I also got valuable advice and connections from them to help with practical aspects of building our business. My big vision for Fivo is for it to really grow and expand to institutions worldwide, so that more people are able to apply for university without having the worry of ‘how am I going to fund this?’ I feel ready to do that now, and I’m excited for what lies ahead.”


Thanks to the L.E.V8 Women pre-accelerator, I now have a clearer vision to develop That Oxford Girl into a viable business, and some practical, next steps to follow so that I can scale it nationwide. With sessions from angel investors, entrepreneurs and seed funders, we were learning from the best in the field and the information they shared was invaluable. By day two, my brain was ready to explode, and my notepad was fit to burst! This programme has not only given me structure and focus, it has inspired me to think big, and has connected me to some amazing mentors and fellow entrepreneurs.
I’m so excited now to start the next phase of the journey!”