Paradigm shift: Aussie startup scene embraces new SheEO investment platform for female founders

SheEO Australia

SheEO Australia country lead Julie Trell. Source: supplied.

Part-crowdfunding, part-community support platform SheEO has launched in Australia, to much celebration from members of the local startup scene — males and females alike.

Launched in Toronto three years ago by founder Vicki Saunders, SheEO is designed to create a whole new playing field for female entrepreneurs, rather than merely levelling the one we already have.

In each cohort, 500 female backers, or activators, contribute $1100 each — $1000 to the fund, plus a $100 program fee. The $500,000 is pooled and loaned out with 0% interest to five female-led ventures focused on solving a social issue.

Ventures repay the loan over five years, while additional annual fundraising rounds allow for more investment into new businesses. Eventually, the idea is to create a ‘perpetual fund’ supporting female-led ventures.

To date, the global program has signed up 3000 activators, funded 32 ventures and loaned out around $US3 million ($4.04 million).

The launch of the program in Australia was announced in May, with Julie Trell, head of Telstra’s startup accelerator muru-D leading the charge as SheEO Australia country lead. It opened to activators on Thursday and announced its first backers at the weekend.

Already, SheEO Australia has drawn high-profile support, with its first-ever investors including the likes of Microsoft head of global startups Annie Parker, startup commentator Anne-Marie Elias, and founder and Indigital founder Mikaela Jade.

Jade even tweeted that she was investing her $1100 instead of buying tickets to a Shawn Mendez concert for her daughter.

“I’m investing in her future – hope she forgives me!” she said in the tweet.

Trell helped launch SheEO in the US and tells StartupSmart Australia is “the perfect place to do it”.

Nothing like this has been done in Australia before, she says, adding that SheEO represents a “paradigm shift”.

She calls it a “gateway drug for investing”, allowing women to invest a “smallish amount, to see what’s possible”.

The five selected ventures, chosen through a voting system by the activators, will be announced at a gala event in April next year in whichever state has the most activators, Trell says.

Then, the five selected ventures will have to decide between themselves how the money is divided — the only rules are that it can’t be an even split and it can’t all go to one.

“They have to negotiate on behalf of what capital they need,” Trell adds.

Network effect

Aside from the monetary value, SheEO is also designed to open up a network for female founders. With Australia the fourth country the program has launched in — following Canada, the US and New Zealand — “the connections will be stronger, globally”, Trell says.

All activators will have the opportunity to read all the venture applications, meaning that even those that don’t get selected for funding will have the opportunity for exposure.

Those that do get selected will be able to ask questions, ask for advice, and receive coaching from the activators.

In one case, Trell says, a venture backed by SheEO in the US asked the network for recommendation for an ethical manufacturer. Within 24 hours, they had three suggestions, and ultimately the business lowered its operating costs by 30%.

“That is the power of the network,” she says.

Trell calls women like Parker, Elias and Jade “super activators”, who are not only donating, “but also activating their network”.

“The momentum has been really quite amazing,” Trell says. “[There are] a lot of women with a lot of followers and clout and voice who are on board.”

And this is all through social media, “without even doing any events,” she adds.

A new economic model

It’s not only the women in Australia’s startup scene getting involved. Advocates like BlueChilli entrepreneur-in-residence and angel investor Alan Jones have also shared the launch announcement with messages of support.

Currently, only women can contribute to the fund, in order to create “a different conversation”, Trell says.

“But, it can’t be done without men,” she adds.

“Their network and their support is more valuable than their capital.”

Trell hasn’t disclosed how many Australian activators have already signed up, but she says all activators will be made visible on the SheEO website, along with their reasons for investing.

Trell’s motivation is in “helping making connections”, and in creating an opportunity for social impact, both in supporting new businesses themselves, and in the social good those businesses can do.

“I want to be at the pioneer of this new economic model,” she says.

In Australia, where Trell is new and the SheEO model is new, “I’m finding that people are picking up their heads, rather than looking for their own crumbs,” she says.

“[Australia is] a relatively small country, but people are relatively open and willing to try this,” she adds.

NOW READ: Women in STEM has been given a $4.5 million boost, and the promise of an ambassador, but is it enough?

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