The number of female graduates who shun the traditional job market to become entrepreneurs before the age of 25 leapt by almost a quarter between 2003 and last year.

The survey of graduate start-ups found that over the same period, entrepreneurship among all under 25s fell by 8 per cent.

The waning enthusiasm to start a business is thought to be a hangover from the dot-com crash.

The National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship (NCGE), which encourages university students to start their own businesses, is encouraged that more women are becoming entrepreneurs.

Lorna Collins, of the NCGE, says: “Of the 84 students and graduates shortlisted to work with NCGE mentors, over half are women, promising more Martha Lane Foxes and Anita Roddicks in the future.”

Many female entrepreneurs took part in the Young Enterprise scheme while they were at school, and equal numbers of boys and girls now take part in the competition.

Jenny Fitzpatrick, 24, a graduate of the Young Enterprise Company programme, studied business at university and set up The Fine Food Store, a delicatessen and coffee shop, in Stamford, Lincolnshire.

“What I do now is in many ways very similar [to the Young Enterprise scheme]: it is a stressful and demanding experience but it is equally as rewarding.

“I am frequently asked about the obstacles that I overcame to set up Fine Foods, particularly as a woman.

“I fully expected that I would find it difficult, not necessarily because I was a woman but the fact that I was 22 when I began to look for funding.”

Ms Fitzpatrick plans to open another shop within a year, which will create ten jobs. In five years time, she expects to have five shops and employ ten times as many staff.

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