Startup Advice

SheStarts documentary pulls back the curtain on life inside an accelerator: Here’s what we learnt (part one)

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

SheStarts

SheStarts director Nicola Hazell. Source: Supplied.

A new mini-documentary is allowing viewers to peek behind the curtain at BlueChilli’s SheStarts accelerator, offering an insight into some of the masterclasses, workshops and emotional moments that go on behind the scenes.

As the second cohort of startups graduate the program, SheStarts has released eight digestible seven- to nine-minute episodes through LinkedIn, offering snippets of inspiration and information as eight female-founded startups are put through their paces.

So, what are our heroes to learn? And what can we, in turn, learn from them? Tread carefully, there are spoilers ahead.

Watch the full series here.

1. It’s about the founder, as well as the idea

Episode one sees startups pitching to join the accelerator program, with SheStarts director Nicola Hazell stressing the accelerator is looking for “ideas we believe in and want to invest in”.

However, they’re also looking for the right kind of people, Hazell says.

“We’re looking for founders who we believe have the grit to make it through the startup journey, and grow those ideas into globally scalable tech startups,” she says.

And this rings true when prospective founders are pitching to the judges. After one pitch we hear one judge, BlueChilli chief financial officer Luther Poier, praise the founder’s “philosophic reason” for launching her business.

“[That] means to me that she’s going to be a lot more determined and specific in how she markets it and how she runs her business.”

After another pitch, one of the judges concludes they “back the founder, but maybe not the idea”. Spoiler alert: that particular founder makes it through.

2. Keep culture front and centre

Later, we meet Danielle Owen Whitford, founder of Pioneera, a machine learning startup addressing signs of stress in the workplace, who previously spent 20 years working in large corporates.

“You don’t realise the pressure you’re under, your body is under and you’re mentally under, until little breaks start to happen,” she says.

“My health started to suffer,” she adds.

Speaking at a session during the accelerator, Hazell advises the founders that the way to survive the startup journey, while keeping work-life balance intact, is to tap into “the culture and values that need to be ingrained from day dot”.

“How do we build companies that aren’t full of jerks? How do we build companies that make the world better, not worse?” she asks.

Knowing the culture of your company will likely make you a better founder too, according to BlueChilli founder Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, who explains the role of a startup founder is ultimately to sell.

“That selling needs to be based on authenticity — it needs to be based on a strong passion, a belief in a strong purpose, and your vision,” he says.

Founders have to be “compelling enough to convince customers, employees and investors to want to join you on that journey”.

3. Know your story

There’s a very personal story behind Dr Annie McAuley’s startup, TalkiPlay, an app to help children with language delay to learn to talk.

However, before SheStarts, she had never really told it.

“My story is that of a tired and frustrated parent who had a daughter with language delay and I was losing my mind on what I could do,” McAuley says.

However, she herself suffered a head injury when she was in her 20s and had to learn to speak again.

In the documentary, Kristen Holden, startup manager at MYOB, explains the story behind a business, and the difference it’s going to make to customers, is the “top line” of a founder’s value proposition.

The value proposition is “the big promise you make from a business — what’s different, why you’re better, why do you exist, what you’re going to give them as a product or a business”, Holden says.

“Value prop is going to be the one thing people see that’s going to make them feel like they are part of your tribe or your product or want to use business,” he adds.

“This is your chance to tell your story.”

4. Network, network, network

On the surface, the networking aspect of the accelerator is tactical, Hazell says, helping startups secure partnerships and sales, “things you’re going to need to get from here to the end of the program”.

However, it’s also about founders opening the door to conversations, and meeting people in the industry.

This could be “simply somebody that becomes a sounding board to them, that maybe is going to give them the piece of advice that could absolutely change the course of their company”, Hazell says.

Zoe Condliffe is the founder of She’s a Crowd, a platform allowing survivors of sexual violence and victims of harassment to share their stories, while also sharing statistical data from those stories to help institutions combat sexual crime.

She starts at universities, which she calls “a microcosm of the real world”, speaking to academics to understand how the data could be useful, while also getting feedback from university students using the platform.

It’s a testing, ground, Condliffe says, but “there’s a way to go in convincing my customers this is a problem they want to be solving”.

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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