UNSW partners with US Embassy to help women-led startups expand into the States

UNSW, New Wave

UNSW New Wave program manager Kristen Phillips at an alumni picnic. Source: supplied.

The University of New South Wales’ New Wave program for women-led startups has partnered with the US Embassy to launch a new boot camp designed to help women founders take their businesses overseas.

The New Wave US Ready Bootcamp will offer mentoring and support to help business owners evaluate their readiness for expansion to the US and create a realistic market-entry plan. The program will also include one-on-one sessions with other Aussie founders who have made the leap successfully.

The four-week program is free for participants, and is funded by the US Embassy’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Mentorship Program.

The launch of the new program follows a boost in participation for the New Wave program, program manager Kristen Phillips tells SmartCompany.

Having moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was able to accept more startups, she explains.

With women losing jobs at a disproportionate rate, there was also more demand than ever.

UNSW New Wave program manager Kristen Phillips. Source: supplied.

Pre-COVID, New Wave was accepting about 60 women per year. That has now increased by more than 200%, Phillips says.

New Wave is particularly focused on very early-stage businesses, helping women find co-founders, learn entrepreneurial skills and build their confidence in business.

But Phillips says she was starting to see demand for support for startups that were a little further along in their journey.

Founders were showing interest in overseas markets, but didn’t know where to start.

The new program is intended to make use of the networks and connections of both UNSW and the US Embassy, helping entrepreneurs lay the “frameworks and the foundations” for a successful market entry in the US.

Meet Club Melon

Holly Richards, founder of plus-size sportswear business Club Melon, completed the New Wave program last year, and is now setting her sights overseas, having secured a spot in the first US Ready Bootcamp.

A former journalist, Richards was two thirds of the way through an MBA at UNSW when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and she lost the bulk of her freelance work.

When she came across the New Wave program, she saw it as a chance to “explore my big scary idea”.

That scary idea was to create a range of sports bras tailored to plus-size women — something she has never been able to find on the market herself.

The business was the overall winner at the pitch night at the end of the cohort, and Richards is now working in the R&D and prototyping stage, while building up a waiting list. She plans to launch in mid-2022.

“My dream is to create a space where everyone is equipped with what they need to move their body in the way they want,” she tells SmartCompany.

Club Melon founder Holly Richards. Source: supplied.

It may seem especially audacious of Richards to start thinking about launching in the US when she doesn’t have a product out in the Aussie market yet.

But her vision is huge — she wants Club Melon to “take over the world”.

“There are 1 billion plus-size women on the planet,” she says.

Most of those women struggle to find sportswear, particularly sports bras, in their size.

The US is going to be an important market for the business. So in order to reach her lofty goals, and fast, Richards has to launch in the US quickly — ideally within 12 months of the Aussie launch, she explains.

“I need to be looking at growth now,” she says.

Applications open

Applications for the New Wave US Ready program are open now, until October 3. While there are spots for ten startups available in total, one of which is already taken by Club Melon, Phillips hopes this will be the first of many cohorts.

There’s no specific sector, tech or type of business Phillips is looking for. The key criteria is that the business is solving real-world problems, she says, and looking to launch in the US within the next 12 to 36 months.

Businesses should have a proof-of-concepts or prototype product, and be generating some traction, whether that’s through sales or customer engagement.

Applicants don’t have to have founding teams made up of all women, or be majority-owned by women.

Schemes like the Boosting Female Founders’ grant initiative have been criticised for actually excluding women, Phillips notes. That’s something she and the team wanted to steer clear of.

Even without pushing the new program, Phillips is already fielding the odd application.

“We’ve had lots of diverse ideas,” she says.

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