What do a shark-scientist, an accountant, an urban designer, a farmer and a veterinarian have in common?
In this case, they’re all women. And what’s more, they’re all tech startup founders.
Ask someone on the street to describe a typical tech startup founder, and chances are they’ll paint a picture of a dude wearing a baseball cap and sneakers, perhaps sitting in a dark room writing code on their computer, or playing pingpong and eating pizza with their mates.
Basically, Mark Zuckerberg in the Social Network.
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The proliferation of this image stems from years of pattern matching: computer engineering graduates coming out of their dorm rooms into the offices of male investors, pitching big ideas for tech businesses with the potential to achieve rapid growth and rapid returns.
It’s a model that has worked well for many founders and investors alike — and it has in some ways changed the look of the modern executive from a man in a suit to a man in hoodie.
But this image — while liberating for thousands of young men keen to avoid a life in pinstripes — has created a massive barrier for women who have determined “that bro-culture is not for me”.
These are barriers we need to remove.
The possibilities of tech and innovation will never be truly realised if we’re missing out on the ideas and creativity of half the population. So driving gender equality in this field must be the number one priority for growth.
Seeds of change
To unlock this potential, we must create spaces for women to learn about the opportunities available. To develop key skills, to identify in themselves the potential for leading high-impact, scalable companies, and to see in others examples of how it can be done.
Thanks to a massive collective effort across the ecosystem, things are starting to shift.
Last night, in the foyer of the MYOB offices in Cremorne, in Melbourne, 80 people came along to our SheStarts event to hear from three of Australia’s most impressive women in tech and entrepreneurship.
Sitting on the panel were three very different women. They coming from different industries, with different passions but share one common thread — a curiosity for how to make an impact and disrupt the status quo.
Gen George, Jessica Christiansen-Franks and Lauren Capelin shared with the room their experience across multiple startups, in taking crazy ideas and turning them into game-changing tech companies.
— SheStarts (@shestarts) November 2, 2017
None of these women are software engineers. None of them wear hoodies on a daily basis. And all of them are changing the world, both through their tech businesses and through the very inspiration they provide to other women and girls to get started.
These founders are part of a movement for change.
From grass-roots organisations like George’s Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine (now with more than 50,000 members around the world) and Ally Watson’s Code Like a Girl, seeking to inspire and engage women and girls in tech; to the emergence of more women in venture capital, such as Lauren at Reinventure, along with Sam Wong at Blackbird, Elaine Stead at BlueSky and Vicky Lay at Artesian — the effort for equality is building.
In the case of SheStarts — Australia’s only venture-backed accelerator designed specifically for female-led tech startups — we’re harnessing the power of open innovation to support female founders to take their businesses from idea stage to launch and beyond. We’ve drawn together major partners such as MYOB, ANZ, Google, LinkedIn and the Business Council of Australia to collaborate with startups and specifically turbocharge female participation and leadership in the startup economy.
This collective effort, combined with the amazing support of ecosystem leaders in our advisory group, is an indication of the value seen in driving gender equality.
And it’s working.
Hundreds of women registered to apply when we launched the first program last October — proving that the underrepresentation of women in startups was not due to “a pipeline problem” as is commonly claimed. Women just hadn’t seen themselves in this male-dominated field, and common barriers were preventing them from getting started.
By designing a program that understood those barriers and worked to tear them down, we have been able to surface incredible ideas from some of the most inspiring, talented (and unknown!) women in Australia. Women from very diverse backgrounds, including urban design, accounting, marine biology, agriculture, academia, marketing and science.
The first cohort of founders — most of them completely new to the world of technology — have since taken their ideas from concepts developed in their lounge rooms and turned them into globally scalable tech startups
Since graduating from the SheStarts accelerator in August this year, these women have been building and growing their companies, kicking off pilots with major corporate partners and international clients, undertaking capital raising for growth, winning awards, hitting the press, and stepping into their new roles as emerging leaders in the startup economy.
These women are redefining what it means to be a tech entrepreneur, demonstrating the impact we can have when we intentionally design for diversity. Their stories (captured in the SheStarts documentary series) are inspiring the next wave to get started, with hundreds of women already registered for round two of SheStarts.
If we’re serious about walking the talk on diversity and realising the immense value for investing in women, we have to continue to take action. Diversity is not just a nice-to-have. It’s a global economic imperative.
Applications for SheStarts round two are now open. Apply at www.shestarts.com.