Virgin StartUp has pledged 50/50 gender investment equality for start-up loans by the end of 2020.

The initiative is being driven by newly appointed chairwoman Linda Grant and recently promoted MD Andy Fishburn.

Virgin StartUp says it is also proactively addressing the barriers faced by women starting up their own businesses with a new programme of women-led initiatives including business advice, guidance and mentoring.

Recent findings state there are twice as many men who are entrepreneurs as women and closing the gender gap could generate £250 billion to the UK’s economy.

“The barriers have been well documented. It’s now time to make a promise that will deliver a positive change for women entrepreneurs and the British economy as a whole,” said Grant. “We are committed to delivering on our 50/50 gender pledge and have worked with a number of external advisors to introduce a raft of women-focused initiatives that will address the barriers women face when starting up.

“I am really excited to be part of an organisation that truly wants to make a positive difference.”

The entrepreneurial hub is announcing new online courses to offer remote access to masterclasses to help upskill founders who may have childcare responsibilities.

StepUp with Virgin StartUp is a two-day scale-up programme of workshops and networking opportunities designed to equip women founders with the skills and knowledge to take their business to the next level.

Virgin StartUp will handpick mentors to work with entrepreneurs to help them grow, providing practical business advice from successful women founders.

Fishburn added: “The Virgin Group has always had entrepreneurship at its core and we are proud to address the recent conversations around the barriers facing women entrepreneurs and deliver workable solutions with the creation of our 50/50 gender pledge.

“We strongly encourage other investors to do the same.”

It is also partnering with Genderscope, a Virgin StartUp funded business, to develop a comprehensive gender strategy, addressing key organisational areas. As part of the Pledge, Virgin StartUp is also actively seeking more women mentors, who currently account for around 30 per cent of the mentor community.

Yael Nevo, co-director of Genderscope, said: “We commend Virgin StartUp for their progressive leadership. Gender equality is a business sustainability issue and companies who prioritise it, set themselves at a great advantage.

“A growing body of research clearly demonstrates how gender equality and diversity lead to better decision-making processes, greater employee satisfaction and performance, improvement in productivity, economic growth and much more.

“We are excited to work with an organisation who takes this goal seriously and is committed to investing the necessary resources to create a meaningful change.”