The European Investment Bank (EIB) has signed its second financing facility of the year focused on developing women-led SMEs in Europe.

The deal, signed in partnership with UniCredit, offers a credit line worth €500mn to finance Italian SMEs, with an emphasis on supporting sustainable energy projects and female entrepreneurship.

The total amount is split equally between the two banks and is available for financing of new or existing projects, with a maximum term of 12 or 20 years (the latter for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects).

The financing, which was signed in mid-February, is open to businesses operating in all productive sectors including agriculture, crafts, industry, retail, tourism and services. Pure financial investment and real estate projects are not covered.

An initial €400mn credit line will be provided by the banks for projects by SMEs located throughout Italy, with up to 25% of the total amount intended for businesses managed or controlled by women.

The remaining €100mn credit line is aimed at SMEs and local authorities that have an environmental purpose and aim to combat climate change.

UniCredit will oversee the project selection process and manage the financing for both credit lines. It is also able to cover up to 100% of any investment for an amount of €12.5mn. The maximum individual cost of such projects must not exceed €25mn.

A spokesperson for the EIB tells GTR that this is the bank’s first operation with a specific focus on female entrepreneurship signed with UniCredit, and far exceeds its previous women-focused finance facility in terms of scale.

The EIB’s first female-focused agreement was signed in January with Garanti Bank Romania. The deal set out to offer a €22.3mn facility to SMEs in Romania, and included a €10mn joint-tranche dedicated to female entrepreneurs.

Access to the tranche required Romanian companies to be more than half-owned by women, or for 26% to 50% of its shares to be owned by women, with a woman acting as the company’s chief executive, operating or financial officer.

These market-focused credit facilities come as part of the EIB’s strategy on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, which are part of the bank’s commitment to women’s economic empowerment.

With the recent deal, UniCredit joins the ranks of other major banks focusing on promoting women-led business in Europe.

Last month the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) committed to providing a €5mn loan to Intesa Sanpaolo Bank Albani (ISBA)  to finance female-owned small businesses in the country.

A spokesperson for ISBA told GTR at the time that the products include working capital loans of up to €50,000 and investment loans of up to €200,000, which include the possibility of skipping up to six months of installments in the case of maternity leave.