$5 billion program set to boost female entrepreneurship in Australia

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An Australian-first program to connect women with entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts launched in Sydney yesterday.

Springboard Enterprises, a not-for-profit program to start women in business, has created thousands of jobs and generated $US5 billion in capital.

The program currently operates in the United States and Israel, where 480 women in the two countries have raised capital through Springboard and over 2,000 have attended investor forums where women go on stage and pitch to investors.

Wendy Simpson, the newly minted chairman of Springboard Australia, told SmartCompany she has big plans for the program here.

“Springboard makes sure that women get connected to the best people possible to get them investor-ready,” says Simpson.

While many business programs for women target the percentage of women on boards, for Springboard the focus will be on statistics, which show 95% of venture capital funding goes to men and 5% to women.

“You can’t force somebody to put you on a board if there is no vacancy but, if you are a woman entrepreneur and you have a good deal, venture capitalists are looking for good deals, so market dynamics are working in your favour,” says Simpson.

Women entrepreneurs in the Springboard program will have access to venture capital and mentors from the US and Israel.

At Springboard’s launch yesterday, Simpson issued a “call to action” to find women entrepreneurs who want to be mentored and asked for expressions of interest from the venture capital community.

Simpson says a lot of people have already put up their hands to help.

Springboard Australia is operating on the basis of an underwriting grant from Grant Thornton with a board made up entirely of volunteers.

The program will seek government and industry support.

“We are as entrepreneurial as the women we are dealing with,” says Simpson.

“That’s important because if we were a government agency there is a certain way we would have to behave and if we were for profit we would not have started yet.

“We believe in something and know it needs to be done for the greater good of the country.

“This is definitely the right time and right place; there are so many things that are saying it needs to be done.”

Simpson says Springboard Australia will operate in a different way to the program in the United States and Israel, as it will work with investors and venture capitalists as well as assisting women because “[Australians] are not as entrepreneurial at our core as we could be”.

“Springboard does what it needs to do to help the women. In the US they don’t need to do much with the venture capital side as it is already robust and dynamic and women-friendly,” she says.

“In Australia it is not – so we have an objective to bring that entrepreneurial spirit to the fore, to enable the venture capital side to be more active and capable to engage with women entrepreneurs.”

Springboard founder Kay Koplovitz is a pioneer of the cable television industry in the US; she founded the USA Networks and Sci-Fi Channel.

“Kay was poorly advised because she could not afford the best legal minds to do her term sheet, so she signed off on what was a very bad deal,” says Simpson.

“She sold the business for $4.6bn but a lot of that money went back to the investors and she said, ‘It must never happen again’.”

In 2000, Koplovitz founded Springboard to provide support to promising women at the early stages of their business career.

“She realised that women don’t often have friends or family that have a top legal, accounting or science background. So she said we have to surround high-potential people with the best minds early on,” says Simpson.

Koplovitz got Simpson on board after meeting her at a Dell women’s conference.

At the launch in Sydney’s town hall, Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP said the initiative would help Sydney’s female entrepreneurs develop their ideas and forge industry links, giving city businesses a long-term boost.

“I would like to encourage the women entrepreneurs to do what women do so well – use your networks, use word-of-mouth and social media to encourage your friends and colleagues to register on the Springboard Enterprises website so that Springboard Enterprises can be brought to Sydney, and to Australia,” the Lord Mayor said.

“This will link local entrepreneurs into the global network of investors and industry experts and open new doors for growth.”

Visit Women’s Agenda for more news and advice for professional women.

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