16 pioneering female-led Gloucestershire businesses

From one of J.P. Morgan’s top 200 female-powered UK businesses to the best brownie-maker in the county, SoGlos is shining a spotlight on Gloucestershire’s female-led businesses.

Gloucestershire is home to some incredible companies being run by inspirational female leaders, holding their own in male-dominated industries and making a big impact in the business community.

In this hot list, sponsored by Cheltenham Ladies’ College, SoGlos highlights 16 female-led businesses in the county, from artisan bakers to senior managers at world-leading organisations.


About the sponsor – Cheltenham Ladies’ College

One of Gloucestershire’s most prestigious independent schools, Cheltenham Ladies’ College educates girls aged 11 to 18 years old, within a welcoming and diverse community.

Located in the heart of Cheltenham, the school has a reputation for academic excellence, with a varied co-curricular offering and state-of-the-art facilities – including the impressive CLC Health and Fitness Centre.

For more information, visit cheltladiescollege.org.


1. AccXel

The Forest of Dean’s new AccXel construction school is led by not one, but two inspirational women – managing director Nicola Bird and business and partnerships director Natalie Bell.

Co-funded by Bird and Bell’s family business, KW Bell Group, the school opened its doors on Thursday 9 December 2021, with the first cohort of trainees due to start in January 2022. Bird and Bell have ambitions to create AccXel schools all over the country too, in a bid to tackle the construction industry’s skills shortage.


2. Cheltenham Festivals

The world-famous Cheltenham Festivals announced a new management structure in December 2021, with three women appointed to senior management positions – Ali Mawle as joint CEO, Helena Bibby as director of people and Suzanne Ross as director of finance.

Along with joint CEO, Ian George, the new three-female-strong team has an ambitious three-year plan, with the aim of removing barriers to culture in the local community, sharing culture globally and harnessing the power of innovative new technology.

Another inspirational businesswoman, SGGBA Outstanding Contribution to Business in Gloucestershire winner, Dr Diane Savory, is chair of Cheltenham Festivals, too.


3. Gloucestershire Airport

Karen Taylor took the controls at Gloucestershire Airport in January 2021, with a mission to turn the airport into a ‘gateway to growth’ for the county.

Over the last year, she has helped secure £15 million of funding for runway improvements and been the driving force behind the creation of the CGX Connect business park, which is expected to be completed by spring 2022, creating around 1,500 jobs for the community.


4. Stagecoach West

Led by managing director, Rachel Geliamassi, Stagecoach West is one of the county’s biggest transport companies, providing over 44 million journeys each year.

It is changing travel in Gloucestershire for good, with the introduction of greener, more environmentally-friendly buses – not to mention introducing audio visual announcements on its services to make them more accessible for all.


5. Sibling Distillery

Sisters Cicely and Clarice Elliot-Berry form half of the Sibling Distillery team, with the family creating and bottling their spirits themselves at their Cheltenham distillery.

With the company having been started when the sisters were in their twenties, it has one of the world’s youngest distilling teams and its artisan gins quickly became award-winners, receiving the maximum of three stars in the Great Taste Awards in 2015.


6. Bamboo Technology

Led by CEO Lorrin White, Cheltenham-based Bamboo Technology provides digital infrastructure for businesses, helping them to transform IT and telecommunications, as well as protecting data.

The growing company recently acquired Worcestershire-based TechTeam Limited, taking it up to 70 staff. Known for its niche software development capabilities, it is one of the most well-known and respected ICT managed services firms serving cyber and tech businesses in Gloucestershire.


7. Madia & Matilda

Stroud-based luxury fashion brand, Madia & Matilda, is run by Shalize Nicholas and creates hand-crafted luxury garments from upcycled and sustainable fabrics, with a passion for creating beautiful clothing that lasts.

As well as selling online direct to customers, Madia & Matilda items are stocked on Silk Fred and ASOS Marketplace. It also offers a monthly clothing rental service – and offers bespoke alterations from its Gloucestershire studio.


8. 5 On The Square

Formerly known as the Stuart Holmes Salon, Sara Rigby-Holmes recently took full control of the business, leading the Cheltenham destination hair salon through its rebrand to 5 On The Square.

With a string of awards under its belt, it is one of only a few salons in the UK to achieve the accolade of Salon of the Year from the British Hairdressing Business Awards.


9. Bedfolk

Bedfolk was recently named as one of J.P. Morgan’s top 200 female-powered UK businesses, with co-founder Jo James also being a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year at #SGGBA in September 2021.

Set up in 2018 with a mission to disrupt the bed linen market by creating inspiring products using the highest quality materials from around the world, the company saw an incredible 500 per cent growth in 2019, with that growth continuing throughout lockdown in 2020 and the business going on to win a £1 million investment in 2021.


10. Wye Organic

Wye Organic farm near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean is run by first-generation farmer, Kitty Stainsbury. After moving to Gloucestershire from Sussex and graduating from the prestigious Hartpury University, Stainsbury set up Wye Organic with the aim of producing 100 per cent organic no-dig vegetables and pasture-fed beef and lamb.

Wye Organic uses traditional, old-fashioned farming methods, with the animals free to graze amongst long mixed grasses, wildflowers, thistles and nettles, which also provide a habitat for insects and birds.


11. Hetty’s Kitchen

The hugely popular artisan bakery Hetty’s Kitchen, set up by ‘brownie wizard’ Henrietta Kitt, produces some of the best brownies in the county – if not the country – having a dedicated following of both locals and mail-order customers.

From delivering brownie boxes across the country during lockdown, to creating innovative treats to sell at its Gloucester Cake Hatch (brownie Scotch egg anyone?), Hetty’s Kitchen also opened its second cake shop at Five Valleys in Stroud in 2021. Coming from a farming family, Kitt is passionate about using the best quality local ingredients in all of her products – and the proof is in the pudding!


12. SOHO Coffee

Former owner and current managing director of SOHO Coffee, Penny Manuel, bought the business from Superdry founder Julian Dunkerton in the late 90s, growing the business before selling it onto an investment company in 2016.

With turnover surpassing £10,000,000 in 2019, the now multi-national brand still retains its ethos of being simple, original, honest and organic, serving handmade food and Fairtrade coffee, as well as supporting charities and good causes in the community.


13. The Beeswax Wrap Co.

The Beeswax Wrap Co. was founded by entrepreneur Fran Beer, who has taken the business from her kitchen table in Gloucestershire to working with some of the UK’s biggest names, including Cath Kidston, Emma Bridgewater and Liberty.

The SGGBA Green Business of the Year aims to help people go plastic-free by ditching single-use plastics like cling film, replacing them with reusable wax-covered wraps. It even offers a range of products using vegan wax, too.


14. Vanilla Pod Bakery

Set up by Pia Cato in 2009 after entering a business planning competition while at university, the Vanilla Pod Bakery went on to win Best Wedding Cake Company at the UK Wedding Awards in 2017.

As well as creating some of the most stylish wedding cakes in the Cotswolds, Cato has also created showstopping bakes including a cake shaped like Cheltenham Racecourse for Paddy Power – not to mention baking cupcakes for HRH The Duke of York.


15. Holland Cooper

Cheltenham-based designer fashion brand Holland Cooper has gone from strength to strength since its founder, Jade Holland Cooper, started selling tweed miniskirts at Badminton Horse Trials.

The famous fashion brand trebled its turnover in 2020, due to huge online growth during the pandemic, before going on to launch its first childrenswear range and open its first flagship boutique, complete with Holland Cooper Boot Room, in 2021.


16. Cotswold Security Group

Having spent years working in the male-dominated security industry, Kay Clifton fulfilled her dream of working for herself when she set up Cotswold Security Group in 2017.

The business provides a variety of services to homeowners in Gloucestershire, from keyholding and alarm response to its ‘professional neighbours’ service – and is responsible for a number of well-known buildings and people in the county.


For more information about Cheltenham Ladies’ College, visit cheltladiescollege.org.


By Chloe Gorman


© SoGlos
Tuesday 11 January 2022

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