We speak with Rachel Mills, Buttercup’s female founder, on International Women’s Day 2023. She celebrates the supportive individuals in her business community, personal successes and equity for women in business.
Tell us about your role?
My company, Buttercup Learning, focuses on creating eco and nature content for families with young children. Children can explore the planet and its incredible wildlife with our nature activity boxes and prints. In addition to assisting my small team with educational content production, I also take part in web development, copywriting, and design.
What achievements are you proud of?
Hyer named us as an Emerging Impact 50 company this year. We were selected as one of the 50 most impactful companies to work for, where every employee feels they are contributing to an important cause. Creating a work life balance and a meaningful workplace have been at the top of my priority list. I’m glad to hear we’re on the right track!
The Creative Industries Council named us one to watch in 2021. It was fantastic to get recognition for exploring and using edtech, applying augmented reality to our nature prints and demo insects’ alphabet book.
When we first started out in 2020, Theo Paphitis gave us a Small Business Sunday (#SBS) award. At his annual business conference in 2022, we at last had the opportunity to meet Theo and receive our certificate.
What advice would you give to young women starting out in business today?
Seek out the support of other business individuals who can hold you accountable.
There are many excellent and encouraging networking groups for women founders and ed tech businesses. I recommend the Female Founders Squad. Being held accountable each week can help you stay on track when you are the only person juggling all the roles.
Find your likeminded network.
I surround myself with entrepreneurs who share my values. The duck pond group, run by Katie Skelton for sustainable business owners, was a good example of this. In 2023 I’m loving the growing Small 99 community and Sarah Davis’s Parenting Business Connections facebook group.
Look for a business mentoring scheme.
I’ve had some brilliant mentors since 2020, Nathalie Alpi, Maria Soleil and Daniel Owen-Parr. The advice and support from the Loop Programme I attended in 2021 keeps on giving.
Which women inspire you and why?
Dr Jane Goodall and young activists such as Dr Mya-Rose Craig inspire me. Since 2015, Mya-Rose has been advocating for equality in the environmental movement. I appreciate how they have influenced people’s views on nature, the environment, and conservation. I hope Buttercup will have the same impact.
How does it feel to be a woman in 2023?
We appear to have made some strides toward creating our own employment opportunities.
The recent #Womenterprise report shows female-led companies perform better, female-led teams produce better returns on investment, and year over year, female-founded startups show 100%+ increases over broader startup exits.
However, getting funded is harder. The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, published on March 8, 2019, is a depressing read.
Only 1% of all venture capital funding goes to companies founded by women, and women-led businesses receive less funding than those led by men at every stage of their entrepreneurial journey.
We still have a long way to go to achieve equality. Given the fact that there are investors who want to change this, I am optimistic that Buttercup will be able to acquire the funding it requires when we are ready! In this direction, we are moving forward.
Managing the daily work and family commitments
I’m compelled to spend very sparingly on my business as living expenses rise. My husband has so far helped my business by taking a regular job and giving up his freelance work so that we have two steady incomes. I continue to hold a part-time position as a lecturer in animation. I have to meticulously schedule my time for both roles each week. When I take time off, my young daughter is happy. Occasionally, after working on a Saturday or staying up late to meet a deadline, I feel bad. 2023 is the year I’m hoping to achieve a better work-life balance and manage my feelings of guilt.
My daughter is tentatively exploring job roles, she is very young yet so nothing is set in stone. She is interested in a wide range of professions, including professional ballet dancer, marine biologist, artist, research scientist, engineer, and inventor, which I find fascinating. I hope that she continues to find her path and is not swayed from it.
How have you used local business support?
Business West has provided me with excellent assistance. I’ve been able to investigate apprenticeships, kickstarts, and internships thanks to their support. We identified the necessary support for my kickstarts and mapped out any skills gaps. I have formed action plans with Business West to ensure that I retain staff and attract quality candidates as my company grows. The conversations I have had with Julia Gurr from Business West have been invaluable.
The theme for International Women’s Day in 2023 is #EmbraceEquity
Have you experienced lack of equity during your career? If so, how did you deal with it?
In both of my places of employment, I have once encountered bias. Once over my north east accent where someone had already formed an opinion of me based on their prejudices. A business support program recently assumed that because I am a woman, I needed to brush up on my basic digital tech skills. This female business advisor was dealt with swiftly and I removed myself from their programme. In an email I wrote to her explaining how patronising she had been. I never received an answer to my email, which is a shame. We need to all challenge gender stereotyping and I was happy to call her out.
Equity is our priority in 2023, we want to ensure that individuals can access our online resources. At Buttercup we are examining the usability of both our physical and digital products. We’ll take action to make sure they’re inclusive. There is work to be done, but I am eager to review and determine how we can improve.
What advice would you give to someone who experiences bias at work?
Never be afraid to speak up. I believe we can all learn from our mistakes as long as we can be open, truthful, and non-aggressive. Don’t let prejudice held by others prevent you from advancing in your career.
Listen to our podcast for more of Rachel’s journey. Reach out if you have a podcast and would like to interview Rachel.