International Women’s Day has come and gone, but I’m always left wanting.
While IWD has become a particularly powerful platform for women in philanthropic roles in Australia, I can’t help but feel the accolades for women entrepreneurs don’t flow at the same rate. While there’s no doubt our philanthropic endeavours should be celebrated, women need to be recognised as more than just the caregivers of society.
Because by doing so, we’re casting aside many pioneering women in business who continue to overcome significant barriers to success.
In the past decade, women have proven to be a pillar of innovation and successful startup pioneers.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
Take Melanie Perkins, Janine Allis and Kate Morris for example. These women, among many others, have shown investors just how brilliant women are as key financial decision-makers and business leaders.
In fact the entrepreneurial path is paved with gutsy, risk taking and clever women, and we’re seeing this determination shine through in Australia’s startup ecosystem more than ever before.
Boys’ club beginnings for Australia’s startup sector
When I look back just over a decade ago to 2010, Australia’s innovation and technology industries were boys’ clubs, full of generational bias and blokey cultures.
VCs simply weren’t interested in female-founded businesses and the cut-throat culture of the private equity and investment banking worlds thought the same.
While there were promising signs on the horizon — such as the establishment of the Melbourne Angels investor network by Jordan Green in 2007 — many older men steeped in biases around female participation were still ultimately responsible for whether female businesses were on the path to success.
Amid the incredibly tough environment, I, along with Carol Schwartz, Annette Kimmitt and Laura McKenzie, launched Scale Investors — a female-focused Angel Investor network dedicated to investing in exceptional female founders. We were determined to avoid being seen as a philanthropic organisation — which seemed to be expected. We wanted investors and founders to be successful commercially and therefore to build an economic ecosystem that supported investors and founders on their financial journeys.
Our key challenges were educating our investors about why they should have confidence investing in a female-led portfolio, and creating a safe and supportive place for investors and founders alike to learn and succeed.
We received support from the Victorian government and LaunchVic and slowly and then quickly momentum built. Female founders and their investors were socially legitimised and now we celebrate them.
Celebrating structural and social change
Today, the change we are seeing is structural — the way we work is evolving, decades of bias is breaking and we have unlocked Australia’s potential for innovation from women.
In the traditionally male dominated investor landscape, VCs are now investing without gender bias in startups, recognising the qualities in women founders that set them apart from male counterparts. While family offices are including startups in their investment portfolios.
There are also accelerators, incubators, angel groups and specific for-purpose investor groups for women along with a plethora of education and training opportunities, such as VC Catalyst and Scale Investors’ Startup ed.
Concurrently to this are investments being made by government. Here in Victoria, LaunchVic, the state’s startup agency, is seeding ventures through the $120 million Victoria’s Startup Capital Fund, The Breakthrough Victoria Fund and of course the Alice Anderson Fund, which I proudly chair.
Why I’m advocating in Alice Anderson’s name
Named after the founder of Australia’s first all-woman motor garage in the 1920s, the Alice Anderson Fund is a $10 million angel sidecar fund supporting women-led startups. The fund co-invests between $50,000 and $300,000 in early-stage deals put forward by investors to increase the funding pool available to Victorian women. Our investment is structured so that only 85 cents in the dollar is taken as equity; the rest is provided as a non-dilutive grant giving our women-led startups an extra upside.
With every dollar matched by three dollars of private investment, the Alice Fund is set to unlock close to $40 million for women founders by 2024. Interestingly in my time at Scale and now with Alice, we had to consider what would happen if we didn’t have a strong pipeline of women founders or if the quality was not there … however it has proven to be quite the opposite.
In just eight months of operating the Alice Fund, I am thrilled to say we have invested in six amazing women-founded startups (Hex, Steppen, Team Timbuktu, Milkdrop, Talkiplay and mtime) investing more than $1 million of funding, and unlocking more than $3.2 million in capital from private investors. This has come from a variety of investors including VCs like Giant Leap, private investors and Angel groups like Scale and Angel Partners.
As IWD fades away for another year, it is my hope the gutsy, risk-taking and clever women that make a significant part of Australia’s rapidly growing tech and innovation sector are celebrated more frequently and with more fanfare.
It’s time they too receive the accolades they so readily deserve.