“It’s the right thing to do”: The women investing in women, and boosting diversity in Aussie entrepreneurship

Utano Consulting founder Christine Mudvanhu-Makumbe. Source: supplied.

Australian startup and small business investment continues to be dominated by men. At the same time, support for women in business continues to revolve around mentorship and coaching.

Some of the grant schemes available to women include strict criteria that exclude many women-led businesses.

But, when it comes to backing women in business, there are Aussie women ready to hand over their own hard-earned cash, as well as their advice, wisdom and guidance.

It’s not because they’re philanthropists. These are investments like any other, into businesses they wholeheartedly believe in.

As these five women explain, they are investments that can make a difference.

Joan Westenberg, founder of Studio Self and angel investor

Let’s not beat around. It’s hard to build a business without money. But if you don’t fit into a box, finding access to that capital can be a brutal process. Angel investing in women-led startups is the way to break that barrier, backing bold ideas without compromise.

Women in tech face different challenges than male founders. We don’t have the same networks, the same support, the same perceptions of our value. Angel investing funds female entrepreneurs to help close the gender gap in startup funding.

With more women investors coming to the table, we have a better chance of breaking down barriers and increasing access to equitable opportunities.

Funding women in tech is not just an opportunity to back under-supported ideas and find rocket ship startups — it’s the right thing to do.

Joan Westenberg

Joan Westenberg. Source: supplied.

Julie Trell, SheEO country lead for Australia

If money and ROI is the reason to invest, women-led businesses return almost twice as much for their investors as their male counterparts.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 could prove harder for women than men. We are at risk for investors to retreat to familiar and ‘safer’ investments, when in fact we need to be investing in solutions and products that are good for the planet, address health issues, and create a positive impact in communities.

These companies, often founded and led by women, do have a social impact or greater purpose which traditional investors don’t always factor into their investment. We need to start considering the value of things we can’t write on the P&L and take a holistic look at the possibilities beyond the bank account. We are missing out on intellect, innovation, generative approaches if women are not in the mix as founders and funders.

It’s important for the planet, next generations, and decolonisation processes that women are actively investing in startups and scale ups.

It’s important for impact and redistribution of capital. We need to move away from extractive economic activity and towards generative and inclusive models working on what SheEO likes to call the ‘world’s to do list’ or the sustainable development goals.

When it comes to writing checks to founders, we should be looking at equitableness in the ecosystem, not just diversity.

Equitableness is different to equality. We have to build new runways, not make everyone fit into the runways that are built to exclude them.

Diversity will happen when we recognise that the we need to move away from having the same conversations with the same people holding the purse-strings (mostly men). When women invest in women we have the opportunity to change this dynamic by opening doors, listening differently and connecting them to our own diverse networks.

Too many times I’ve heard stories of investors asking women founders if they will be able to ‘raise a family’ while running a company. These lines of questions make it even more challenging and require unnecessary additional effort for female founders to prove their worth.

When the investors are women who have raised both a family and a company, the ‘family raising’ question is irrelevant. Breaking the cycle of who holds the capital will allow the funds to start flowing into new hands and different markets and create more opportunities within the ecosystem.

This new system includes creating opportunities for Black women, Indigenous women and Women of Colour as investors and founders.

When asked what ‘investment in women’ means to me, it’s beyond the capital. It’s about a network. It’s about women having each other’s backs. It’s about collaboration. It’s about making sure everyone succeeds.

That kind of currency is invaluable and will ensure equitableness is closer to being achieved. We must use our capital for the world we want.


SheEO Australia country lead Julie Trell and founder Vicki Saunders. Source: supplied.

Christine Mudvanhu-Makumbe, founder of Utano Consulting and SheEO activator

I’ve been putting a lot of my time and money into supporting women for a long time, particularly women from multicultural backgrounds.

As a woman, it’s really, really hard to find support for your idea. A lot of people don’t give women’s ideas the time of day, and women are sometimes not as confident at putting our ideas forward. We also find it very difficult to find platforms that will entertain our ideas.

A lot of women don’t even know about the investment community, or how to interact with it.

Part of it is finding those women who have great ideas that we, as women, can support. We know the challenges, we know the stories that we tell eachother. We owe it to each other to invest in one another.

We’re all dealing with the same insecurities and the same challenges. The more you get women investing in other women the more diversity we’re going to get in business; the more solutions to complex problems we’re going to get; and the more innovative solutions we’re going to get, because women are pretty innovative in their thinking when given the opportunity. They just need to be supported.

If you look across all industries there’s a lack of diversity, and poor advancement of women even at a professional level, never mind trying to start a business, or trying to get a foot in the door where people actually give out their money.

The people who are shelling out their money are the same group of white men who have very particular views about what they will and will not spend their money on.

Getting up in front of a largely male-dominated audience, if you’re not practiced at that, is intimidating. Then, the way you’re articulating the information might not be the way they’re used to receiving it.

There are not a lot of women in those circles that can give you the mentorship as to how you actually put those proposals together so you do get VC attention and funding.

I think there’s a lot more scope for women in that space. Where I see women struggling is the space that SheEO is in, which is simply getting an idea off the ground.

Once it’s off the ground, you still have the male-dominated VC space, but at least you have a product somebody can wrap their head around, and can help you tailor. You also have confidence in your ability to deliver that.

I find the SheEO activator community is breeding a lot more entrepreneurs.

In my mind — and this is just a gut feeling that I have — you will see more women bravely enter that marketplace of ‘traditional’ venture capitalists, because that marketplace won’t change overnight, let’s be honest.

The more women that are supported to get off the ground, and the more education there can be of men in that space, the more successful women we will see coming through.

Utano Consulting founder Christine Mudvanhu-Makumbe. Source: supplied.

Jodie Imam, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Tractor Ventures

Women need to support women. When women help each other, the collective strength is very powerful. As we have seen in the news lately, it only perpetuates the inequality we face when we don’t.

Following on from Grace Tames’ excellent speech last week, we also need to be vocal about our support in our ecosystem. There are already lots of women investing in women-led startups, but we don’t hear enough about it.

At Tractor Ventures we have a strong focus on female founders and half of our team are women leaders.

My personal focus is to invest in businesses that help women achieve financial independence. There are so many great new businesses enabling women to increase their savings, income potential, job opportunities, productivity, superannuation, business protection and revenue, and, last but certainly not least, self love and confidence.

My approach is to invest early in startups, to be hands on advising and mentoring, leveraging my network and being a shoulder to cry on when it gets tough — starting up a business is a rollercoaster ride emotionally and financially — and, of course, to be vocal about it!


Jodie Imam with parter and Depo8 co-founder Erz Imam. Source: supplied.

Jaynaya Winmar, founder of Blakbone Sistahood and SheEO activator

I am a Noongar Balladong women from Western Australia. I founded Blakbone Sistahood two years ago, partly to assist professional Indigenous women in becoming more visible in the corporate world, but also to assist with Indigenous B2B and IB2IB engagement, along with Reconciliation Action Plan development.

I have been a SheEO activator for over a year during this time.

Being passion-rich and financially- and time-poor is a hard time for many entrepreneurs, especially those that don’t look or talk like the past waves of entrepreneurs.

We find ourselves not having the support systems to develop these amazing business ideas from the incubation phase. These failed businesses aren’t failing from the lack of passion; it’s from the lack of support or the lack of knowledge to get the right support.

Since starting my business, I have researched many different accelerator programs and am now more excited, as there are many different programs and investment capital options.

Being an Indigenous woman, there weren’t many entrepreneurs or investors that looked like me, this made me delay starting my own business until last year. Over the past few years, I have gravitated towards startups and have worked for two amazing Indigenous business.

I also saw the struggles of these business owners and thought if I started my own business, I would have more external support.

But, I didn’t feel the support fitted with me or my business ideas. I needed hard honesty, financial support and guidance, marketing and idea nurturing. These led me to programs like Generation One by Minderoo and Murra by Melbourne University, and to explore investment capital sources like Perth Angels, Ignite and SheEO.

With the growth over the past few years of Indigenous businesses I have seen a number of support services emerge, such as Indigenous Businesses Australia, Supply Nation, and state based support like Kinaway and Wirra Hub. We also have been supporting each other through regular catchups and online support.

We have found amazing results for a number of businesses that have been selling products online over this COVID period. Sharing, liking or commenting on various pages have given these businesses positive support and access to our networks as well also our Indigenous Business communities.

I am excited to see the next wave of growth from Indigenous Female Entrepreneurs as I am noticing and supporting a lot of infant businesses that are now stepping into this space.

I have been offering my support and sharing my networks to those that have been reaching out. I advise anyone looking to start a business to reach out to a support service that fits them and their business and before committing to anything.

Do your market research on all of them. But, always remember your passion and why you are doing what you are doing.

Blakbone Sistahood founder Jaynaya Winmar. Source: supplied.


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