Lower debt levels and better networking abilities mean female-run businesses are better able to withstand a recession according to the head of a regional body promoting women’s enterprise.

Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise director Jackie Brierton’s comments came at the launch of a new online centre aiming to have more women thinking about starting up in business.

The virtual Women’s Business Centre for the West Midlands was launched yesterday as part of national Women’s Enterprise Day and is the first of the national women’s business centres announced in the Government’s Enterprise Strategy.

Women’s business centres are designed to encourage more women to think about setting up on their own, access business support and take advantage of online training and mentoring to grow their businesses.

Ms Brierton pointed to several ways in which female-run businesses were well-equipped to weather the economic downturn. “They usually do not take on so much in the way of debt so they are not suffering so much from the banks withdrawing,” she said. “They are also more cautious so, when something like this happens, women-run business are much more able to be able to withstand it. Also, a lot of women are able to share problems and network more effectively.”

The two organisations behind the centre, the Women’s Business Development Agency (WBDA) and the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise (WECOE), believe encouraging female entrepreneurship can help the region as the economy heads towards recession.

Women’s Business Development Agency director Sally Arkley said the website was part of a wider drive to encourage more women to set up on their own.

“In this climate it is not only important but vital to support women who want to start a business, not just as a social aim but also as an economic imperative,” she said. “Women are part of the economic solution to this crisis.”

The West Midlands Women’s Business Centre aims to build up an active online community which will help businesswomen make contact with each other, offer mutual support and advice as well as share opportunities.

The site offers free access to a range of services, networks and local business support information.

It also offers a library of fact sheets, case studies, research, newsletters and other business support tools such as business plan templates, market research questionnaires, cash flow forecasting, and confidence building.

Ms Brierton said: “Self-employment gives women more flexibility. It’s not an easy option but they can fit a business around family responsibilities. A lot of women will start a business part-time and grown it over a period of years and these small part-time businesses can be the big businesses of the future. We find women are coming up with more and more innovative ideas for business and drawing away from the traditional areas of retail and catering and going into areas like digital for example.”

The Women’s Business Development Agency also chose Women’s Enterprise Day to announce a women-only programme for high growth businesses.

In partnership with the University of Warwick Science Park and West Midlands Business Link, WBDA has designed the High Growth Business Acceleration Programme for Women which will cover an intensive training and a mentoring programme. It said: “Aspiration, education and confidence issues often tend to disable women from succeeding in this arena. The barriers faced by women experiencing discrimination and general disadvantage are immeasurably worse, yet there is no reason in principle why their business idea and entrepreneurial skills should not lead to a successful high-growth business.”

The free programme has been designed to help women achieve their full potential, combining a mix of specialist advice, guidance, practical workshops and mentoring support. It will award places to ten women who own businesses with significant growth potential. Each woman will receive training, business mentoring, and other specialist support worth £5,000.

To be considered they need to be living in, and have an existing business in, the West Midlands with an expected turnover of £200,000 in the next three years.