Businesses in the North East are at the forefront of a dynamic British Embassy programme which has paired business women from Peru with counterparts in the region.

The female entrepreneurs from Lima spent several days on an exchange programme with their mentors at some of the region’s SMEs, including Be Active and B Fit, in Sunderland, MAC Security and Fire LTD, in Consett, Earth & Marine Environmental Consultants and the West End Women and Girls Centre.

The women also spent time with Newcastle United Football Club, Home Group and Newcastle University Business School, as they worked on scaling up their businesses.

Many of the women work in male dominated industries, such as mining, government and the military, and the programme has been designed to encourage more women to set up and grow their businesses in non-traditional sectors.

Thalia Simich runs Ligas Femeninas de Futbol, an organisation in Lima which runs private football academies, leagues and championships for women. She now has 3,500 female footballers playing in 150 teams and runs three social academies offering free places to underprivileged women. Thalia was placed with Spennymoor Football Club and Newcastle United Football Club during her visit to the North East.

She said: “Everybody needs role models and this programme has been excellent. With both clubs, while the skills were important, they showed me that it’s not just about focusing on football, they’re trying to focus their communities around sport.

“All the women on the programme are different kinds of entrepreneurs and we’ve all be learning from each other too.”

Other SMEs which have supported the programme include Momentum Skills, Xsite Architecture LLP, Samuel Phillips Law Firm, and Northern Clothing and Textile Network.alongside organisations such as the North East BIC, Create North, Bespoke Concrete,.DECIDE and Stick Theory.

Durham-based International Consultants for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise (ICE) and Global NGO Women’s Economic Imperative are delivering the project on behalf of the British Embassy in Lima.

Dinah Bennett, director of ICE, said the programme had been launched to encourage more women to establish and grow businesses in non-traditional sectors such as oil and mining, STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) sectors, environment, agro industry, construction and financial services.

Eight women-owned businesses from Peru and their UK counterparts have had the opportunity to participate in the proven growth programme, which was initially developed by Professor Allan Gibb and his team at the Small Business Centre at Durham University.

Said Dinah: “While women do face barriers in running business in non traditional sectors, research shows that when they do, they generally report better results in terms of turnover and profitability.

“We’re very grateful to all the North East organisations who have played a key part in this innovative programme. It’s been a fantastic way to, not only support these female entrepreneurs, but also encourage more women to set up businesses in non-traditional sectors in Peru.”

As well as the eight women who came to the North East, 100 women in Lima will also benefit from participation in practical awareness seminars to help them firm up their business ideas and identify the resources they will need to make their dream a reality. A further 20 women in the early stages of running their business will participate in a practical programme that includes workshops where they will learn to use tools and techniques to help them prepare their business for growth and build their social capital through networking and mentoring support