What is International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day to celebrate the social, economic and political achievements of women. In 2024, International Women’s Day falls on 8th March and focuses on the theme of ‘inspire inclusion’. A key pillar of this theme is promoting diversity in leadership and decision-making positions.

This year, we’re celebrating Scottish women-led businesses. Here are a few of the innovative businesses leading the way in their fields.

Examples of women-led businesses in Scotland

Nc’nean Distillery

Meet Annabel Thomas, founder and CEO of Nc’nean. Nc’nean is an organic whisky distillery nestled on the west coast of Scotland with a focus on sustainability.

Nc’nean is one of the first female-founded distilleries in Scotland to be established in 200 years. They were also the first distillery in the UK to receive net zero verification, operating on 100% renewable energy.

Women-led business Nc'nean celebrating International Women's Day
Photo credit: Nc’nean

When setting up Nc’nean, Annabel decided to do things differently. Her goal was to “create a modern Scotch distillery that could create interesting, innovative spirits and pioneer sustainable production”. 

Over the years, Annabel has gained in-depth knowledge of the whisky industry from how to make whisky to how a distillery works. She said: "But I’ve also got to know a huge number of people within the industry and learned what an incredibly friendly industry it is – this never ceases to amaze me, and I will be forever grateful for getting to experience this!"

In 2022, Nc’nean became certified as a B Corporation for its sustainability efforts. The distillery is leading the way in sustainable whisky in Scotland and beyond. Their products are now available in both the USA and Canada.

As a female-founded sustainable whisky business, Nc’nean exemplifies Scotland’s ability to embrace both tradition and modern innovations.

Read more about Nc’nean’s sustainability journey


We’re also proud to be celebrating women-led businesses in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field.

Carcinotech is an Edinburgh-based medical technology start-up company, founded by Ishani Malhotra.

Ishani is a scientist, specialising in cancer diagnostics and stem cell research. She graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MSc in Regenerative Medicine. Ishani received Edinburgh Innovations support to develop the company. 

Carcinotech manufactures 3D-printed tumours using patient biopsies and cancer stem cells. Their mission is to lead the way in cancer drug testing to better the chance of treatment and survival.

We asked Carcinotech what inspired Ishani to establish the business. Carcinotech said: “10 years ago, when Ishani positively diagnosed a young boy with leukaemia, she knew it would take 10-15 years for an innovative treatment to get to market and he would not be able to access this treatment in his lifetime.”

Carcinotech added: “Ishani’s vision was to develop a technology that would directly address this problem so cancer drugs can get to market faster making innovative treatments available to all”.

Founder and CEO of medical technology company Carcinotech, Ishani Malhotra.
Photo credit: Carcinotech

Ishani has won several awards for her work with Carcinotech. These include the Female Entrepreneur of the Year award at The Scottish SME Business Awards 2022. Ishani also won the Science and MedTech category at the AccelerateHER Awards.

Carcinotech has recently raised £4.2 million of funding to build on its presence in the UK and EU. The funding will also assist with plans to expand into the US later this year.

Read more about Scotland’s medical technology and diagnostics industry

Danu Robotics

Another women-led company embracing technology is Danu Robotics, based in East Lothian. Danu Robotics aims to revolutionise the efficiency of the recycling and waste industry with a robotic sorting system.

Founder and CEO Xiaoyan Ma is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh with expertise in high performance computing. Xiaoyan has used her skills to develop the AI-powered robotic sorting system. The system focuses on machine learning which can identify which material is recyclable and non-recyclable.

Xiaoyan Ma has received recognition for her work with Danu Robotics in the AccelerateHER Awards where she won an award for CleanTech, Climate and Net Zero.

Raven Botanicals

The award-winning natural skincare company Raven Botanicals is another example of an innovative women-led business in Scotland. The East Lothian company was established by two sisters, Arabella and Charlotte.

Raven Botanicals founders Arabella and Charlotte in celebration of International Women's Day
Photo credit: Raven Botanicals

The female founders come from backgrounds in fine art and botany. They blend ingredients from the Scottish coastline with ethically sourced botanicals. The company is also focused on sustainability and uses plastic-free packaging and cruelty-free products.

Raven Botanicals was recently handpicked by entrepreneur Theo Paphitis to exhibit at Spring Fair, the largest trade show in the UK.

When setting up Raven Botanicals, Arabella and Charlotte were faced with many obstacles such as learning the business landscape and balancing this with family life.

To overcome these challenges, Raven Botanicals have received support from various people. Arabella said: “We’re part of Theo Paphitis' Small Business Sunday winners' network and I have also benefitted from 1:1 coaching and access to a brilliant, diverse network of entrepreneurs on the RBS Accelerator programme which helps with mindset and ambition.”

Arabella added: “We've also had support from a fantastic group of local business owners in East Lothian (overwhelmingly women) who have started a groundswell of creative businesses in the last four or five years and we just love those connections as they are great for keeping morale and energy up, as well as information sharing.”

CCU International

Meet Beena Sharma, co-founder and CEO of CCU International. CCU International is an Aberdeen-based company which provides technology to capture and reuse CO2 emissions.

The technology aims to capture gases from flue and chimney stacks, to avoid emitting them into the atmosphere.

Beena was recognised for her innovative business at the AccelerateHER Awards in 2023. She won an award in the Environment category for her work with CCU International.

International Women's Day featuring founder of CCU International, Beena Sharma
Photo credit: CCU International

When Beena established CCU International, she was faced with many barriers. Beena said: “My main barriers were actually being female and that of Asian origin. Starting your own business in an industry where there are very few people that look like you automatically becomes a barrier in more ways than one”.

To overcome these obstacles, Beena has received support from both her family and colleagues. “My biggest allies have also been my co-founders – all male. They have supported, encouraged, backed and respected my every decision on this journey and continue to do so. I could not be more proud of our small team,” Beena said.

Championing Scotland’s women-led businesses

We are proud to celebrate Scottish women-led businesses this International Women’s Day, and every day. In Scotland, we’ve made a lot of progress on the issue of gender equality, but we still have more to do. By celebrating our women-led businesses and encouraging diversity in leadership, we can make real progress towards a fairer society for all.

Interested in learning more? Find out about the theme of inspire inclusion this International Women’s Day 2024. You can also discover what Scotland is doing to support gender equality.

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