ENTREPRENEUR Poonam Gupta has revealed dramatic overseas growth for her company PG Paper in China, while declaring that female business owners continue to face discrimination as they attempt to grow their ventures.

Ms Gupta said the Greenock-based firm has secured £5 million of sales in China since October, boosted by what she described as changes in “industrial and economic policies” in the world’s second-biggest economy.

She noted that the company, which provides paper for publications and packaging, has started to see the benefits of contacts made in the country in recent years, adding that she and her team have made multiple trips to China to meet customers and capitalise on the upswing in demand.

The company is also seeing significant growth in overseas regions such as Africa, where sales have reached £2.2m so far this year, and Latin America, where sales are nearing £1m.

Ms Gupta, a former Scottish Asian Businesswoman of the year, said the progress made by the business internationally is in “in synch” with a five-year strategy set out for the company last year. Acquisitions remain “very much” part of the strategy, with Ms Gupta revealing that she hopes to tie up a deal to acquire a business in Japan soon.

The most recent accounts for PG Paper, which Ms Gupta runs with husband Puneet, show the company increased turnover to £35.9 million in the year ended March 31, 2017, up from £22.6m, while profits grew to £1.4m from £573,473. PG is expected to report turnover of £40m year when the accounts for its most recent year are published.

Speaking specifically about its growth in China, Ms Gupta said: “That opportunity opened up because of some changes in Chinese industrial and economic policies. Fortunately, because we were always keeping a close eye on China, like everybody else because it is identified as one of the biggest growth markets, we were just a little bit ahead of the game there.

“We managed to go and capture the opportunity and are sustaining it now and trying to grow it further. And it is actually across most grades, most products that we do.”

Ms Gupta added: “China became one of the major players in paper production. We have held relationships there for a very long time, but only capitalised on them every so often.”

PG Paper buys its paper from a variety of locations, including North and South Africa and around Europe and Asia. Ms Gupta noted, however, that the digital revolution has lessened global demand for paper in the western world, which is leading it to focus more on supplying packaging and labelling for the e-commerce sector. She said: “Because of the diminishing supplies, there’s a big gap between supply and demand currently for the paper industry, which is actually great for the suppliers for a change because suddenly the market is looking up for them. But for us, that means we are not able to grab every order which is coming on the table, because we cannot get it made fast enough.

“Based on all these dynamics I would say we are still striving for about a £40m turnover this year.”

Ms Gupta is scheduled to speak at Entrepreneurial Scotland’s "Evening With…" event on Tuesday (May 22). Asked what the key messages from her speech will be, Ms Gupta will say that women in business continue to face discrimination, particularly when attempting to secure funding.

That is in spite of research which suggests that, if women were to start businesses at the same rate as men, it would boost the Scottish economy by £7.6 billion.

“Women entrepreneurs generally find it hard to get investment to grow their business," she said. "80% of women want to scale up, but face discrimination."

Asked where discrimination is encountered, Ms Gupta said there was a “general lack of confidence” in female entrepreneurs. She cited research from Women’s Enterprise Scotland, which found that 80% of women face different challenges from men in business, and a study by the Federation of Small Businesses, which reported that 34% women said they faced gender discrimination in business. Other challenges faced by women in business include their role being frequently mistaken, which Ms Gupta said she has experienced herself. She believes an increase in the number of female business leaders who can act as role models can help tackle prejudice.

Ms Gupta added: “I’m going to be speaking about mentoring as well, and how important mentoring is for businesses and their growth.”