“Women have the power to do anything that they want, but we need to create more optimal conditions for them to thrive in the entrepreneurial landscape”

For International Women’s Month, we have the pleasure of sitting down with female members of our club who have shattered the glass ceiling and paved the way for other women in the business world. In the spotlight today is Alison Cooper, CEO of Alicia J Diamonds. Alison’s is an (a)typical carbs to carats story. In 2017, she had been running her businesses supplying bakery products to the airline industry for 20+ years when she found herself thinking, “What comes next?”. When her UK-based friends started asking her to source them better value diamonds in Dubai, it became clear what her new venture should be.

“Many people don’t understand diamonds, their price point or, indeed, what makes for a good diamond, and retailers are often deliberately light on detail. Alicia J looks to change that. We make bespoke commissions using a very customer-centric approach, as well as offering our e-comm diamond jewellery collection, sourcing good value diamonds or diamond jewellery to fit a client’s budget”, says Alison.

Our eyes faintly sparkle as we ask Alison what makes Alicia J Diamonds ethical.

“I have witnessed first-hand people paying over market rates for substandard stones. Customers should know what they are buying and what they will get for their budget, and I’ve intentionally worked this into our company values, business model and operating practices to include supply chain, only sourcing stones from reputable industry platforms. Every day, we aim to excel in customer education and good value stones. I am now GIA qualified in diamonds and gemstones and our mission is to demystify the world of diamonds” explains Alison.

In Alicia J we trust. But how is it likely to evolve in the years ahead?

“I am always out to rethink an industry, to offer something a little different. Rethinking how diamonds are sold and creating a profitable business off the back of that is my current preoccupation”, says Alison. She is clearly out for success, though we quickly find out that it wouldn’t be a first. “My biggest achievement has been scaling my former business, En Route International, in 15 years to over 40 million GBP turnover in a very male-orientated industry and selling it to my largest client dnata (Emirates group). Scaling your business is hard and takes a lot of work, but if you have empathy and lead with empathy, your team will stick with you in the tough times. Treating people with kindness and respect is very important”, says Alison. Everyone had better take note!

We have done our research: according to Credit Suisse, women in the UK launch businesses with 53% less capital on average than men. What are her thoughts on the stats?

“I don’t think you can argue with the facts, the funding stats are fairly tragic. I saw a female funding scheme offered by major UK bank not that long back, for a derisory amount of about £10k. Covid created further disparities, so many women of working age were expected to be the primary caretakers and teachers of school-age children during that time, putting pressure on their own jobs. Women often spin up businesses in areas they know, meaning they often work on female-related products, often not getting the attention they deserve”, says Alison.
And how has she fared? “Personally, once I set my mind on something, I am very determined, so I couldn’t tell whether any setbacks I faced were due to being female. I set my business up as a single parent and had to make choices to be successful. In general, I’m a big believer in striving hard and not having a victim mentality. I think we should show young people that achieving as a woman is normal – then, they’ll take that on board”, explains Alison.

She has some precious advice for fellow female entrepreneurs:

“Like anything in life, you must work hard for what you want. The life of any entrepreneur is hard and can be a lonely one. Prepare to make sacrifices on time for friends and family. Make sure you have decent support at home. Also, follow your dream. Choose something that you are passionate about. Don’t focus on the fact that you’re female, simply that you’re an entrepreneur. And be resilient.”

But words are far from the only way that Alison makes her support felt to women.

“I do hands-on work as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust’s Women supporting Women programme, a great initiative that supports young women to get into work, whether by building up their confidence or adding to their skill sets. I’m pleased to say that they’ve reached their £10m funding goal way ahead of schedule, but so much more can be done. Women have the power to do anything that they want, but we need to create more optimal conditions for them to thrive in the entrepreneurial landscape”.

“International Women’s Day is a reminder that urgent reforms are still needed. Funding needs to be there, not just talked about. Supplemented child support systems and shared parental working options need to be in place to allow women to return to their jobs. We need to introduce entrepreneurship into the curriculum – all children need to leave school understanding the basics of finance”, concludes Alison.

Now is our time to shine – we ask Alison how she’s found her time at Home Grown so far.

“I chose Home Grown to immerse myself in a group of people who are pioneers interested in operating outside of the box. I absolutely love the club and its friendly community. It provides a familiarity of surroundings and people to an otherwise transient life, offering good thinking and learning, as well as social events and groups of like-minded folks. The cocktail bar is also not to be missed!” All the way up the stairs, the bar named after a certain mythical horse, you can’t miss it!

Clearly, much is in store for those who dare to dream and International Women’s Day offers a chance to make those dreams tangible. We at Home Grown will 100% take it.

If you’re interested in enriching your entrepreneurial experience and finding a strong community of entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders then contact our membership team at Home Grown.