The European Commission (EC) has launched a new initiative to create a network of mentors across Europe to promote female entrepreneurship.

It follows the UK government's announcement of plans to recruit 5,000 business mentors for female entrepreneurs, and to expand the overall number of volunteer business mentors in the UK by 10,000 people.

According to the EC, women account for just 34.4 percent of the self-employed in Europe. It wants to increase this by encouraging successful business men and women to help female entrepreneurs who started their own businesses two to four years ago.

"It is clear that female creativity and entrepreneurial potential are the most underexploited source of economic growth and new jobs that should be further developed in Europe.

"Having more women entrepreneurs will economically empower women and contribute to growth," said Antonio Tajani, the EC vice president responsible for industry and enterprises.

A network of 170 mentors covering 17 European countries, including the UK, will give new entrepreneurs advice on how to run and grow their businesses, as well as coach them and help them to develop the necessary soft skills.

To qualify to become a mentor, businesswomen and men have to have personal experience of owning and managing an SME successfuly for at least five years.

Mentors need to be able to engage with at least two entrepreneurs, and meet with them regularly for a minimum of a year.

They also need to be aware of specific challenges that female entrepreneurs face, and be willing to share their knowledge and expertise on a volunteer basis. Mentors must not take any economic interest in the company they are helping, however, to avoid conflicts of interest.

Concerns that may affect female entrepreneurs more than men include family circumstances. Women are also more likely to be more cautious, for example, keeping their former job and working on a start-up in parallel for some time before devoting to the latter full-time.

Separately, the UK government has announced an investment of £1.2 million to support the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative's Get Mentoring scheme, to recruit and train 10,000 volunteers to become business mentors.

Around 11,000 business mentors are already available through, and with the announcement of 5,000 mentors for female entrepreneurs, the new investment brings the total number to around 26,000.

Mark Prisk, minister of state for business and enterprise, said: "Building a relationship with a mentor can have a positive effect on your business, whether you are just starting up or are already established."