Startup accelerator Startmate has vowed to ramp up its efforts to improve gender diversity in its program cohorts, after revealing its next Melbourne intake of 12 startups includes just two with female co-founders.
Startmate is an Australian accelerator program run by Blackbird Ventures, which accepts applications from startups across the country. Successful applicants are given $75,000 in initial funding, and work between Sydney or Melbourne for the first three months of the program, before completing the final two months of the program in San Francisco. Among the program’s alumni are UpGuard and Bugcrowd, both of which raised $17 million last year in Series B raises.
The accelerator has recently made offers to the startups that will join this year’s Melbourne program, however, Startmate lead and Blackbird Ventures partner Nick Crocker has revealed in a candid Medium post that more needs to be done to promote gender diversity in future programs.
While one third of Startmate Sydney’s 2017 cohort intake were gender diverse startups, Crocker admits that because of time constraints, the Startmate team “didn’t put as much effort into diversity” when selecting the Melbourne cohort, adding that there was no “conscious effort to pull back”.
“In simple terms, we took our foot off the pedal,” he says in the post.
While Startmate Sydney ran in-person meetups with female entrepreneur groups and targeted specific companies led by female-founders, Crocker says for the Startmate Melbourne cohort, “we weren’t anywhere near focused enough on these two efforts.”
“Put simply, that’s not good enough,” he says.
Crocker spoke to StartupSmart about Startmate’s efforts to improve the gender diversity of its startup cohorts, and the lessons startups can learn from his experience.
Don’t take your foot off the pedal
“We made a really big effort in the most recent batch — we felt like the momentum of that effort would carry over,” Crocker says of the team’s push for female founders during the Startmate Sydney recruiting process.
Crocker says the low diversity numbers in the Melbourne intake is a “stark lesson” that these diversity-driven efforts “can’t be a one off” but instead have to be “a constant push”.
“If you take your foot of the pedal it will show up,” he says, adding that in this case what was needed was to be “accelerating and doing more than last time”.
Set diversity targets
Crocker contends that Startmate “should have set really clear targets” about the number of female-founded teams it wanted in the Melbourne cohort, instead of just going off “gut feel”.
“Clearly, we were off track and didn’t realise it,” Crocker says.
“We should have said we wanted to target 40-50 [applications from] female-founded teams.”
Out of the 169 startups that applied for Startmate Melbourne, only 34 were gender-diverse — a statistic Crocker believes is also indicative of a lack of gender diversity in the broader startup sector.
“This issue of gender diversity is at every level … from the founder starting the company in their garage to the investors who will see it through Series A, B, and C funding, to the bankers that will take it to IPO,” Crocker says.
He notes that “the potential for women to build great companies is no different to the potential for men to build great companies”, but at each stage of the startup growth process, the lack of diversity “compounds” and more and more female founders are lost along the way.
By publicly addressing this lack of gender diversity, Crocker and the Startmate team as a whole intend to improve diversity in the startup community and hold themselves accountable to their diversity goals.
“We know this is the right thing to do,” Crocker says.
As part of Startmate’s five-point plan for gender diversity, everyone in the Startmate community will undergo unconscious bias training; more female mentors will be recruited; and 50% of Startmate’s future recruiting meetings will be with female founders. Startmate will also be conducting a “listening tour” of Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney Canberra and Brisbane to meet “as many female founders as [they] can.”
All Australian female founders will also be given access to the Startmate mentor program, even if they are not in the Startmate program, Crocker says in his Medium post.
“That means that you can book office hours with them, you can attend any of the talks they host with our Startmate teams and you can leverage their networks just as our teams do.”
This article was updated at 10am on Wednesday, October 11, 2017.