Potentially hundreds of women founders remain confounded following an email error this week that saw business owners told they were successful in moving to the next round of the Boosting Female Founders grant process, and then emailed again to be told they weren’t.
Now, women who received the second email are logging into their application portal, to find a message saying they were, in fact, successful after all.
The initial mistake meant a congratulatory email was sent to all applicants, including those who had not in fact made it to the next round of the program.
Hours later, a second email informed them that the first had been sent in error, and that they had not been successful.
It was a day described by many as an emotional rollercoaster. Women reported sharing the good news with their teams, families and professional networks, and starting their planning for the next stage of the process, only to have their hopes dashed later.
One founder told SmartCompany the news came as “a kick in the guts”.
“Things like this mean more than they might do otherwise, because we do have fewer opportunities,” she added.
Women on networks such as LinkedIn are now sharing their stories of disappointment. Some, however, are reporting that when they click through to their application in the BFF portal, the status suggests they were successful after all.
That has led to yet more confusion and frustration for applicants, who still don’t know where they stand.
Speaking to SmartCompany, Caroline Lepron, co-founder and chief of location scout startup Skoutli, says she has reached out to the Department of Industry two days ago to get some clarity on whether her BFF application was successful or not, but has not heard anything back
She has access to the area of the website to continue with her application, she says. But there is no due date there for completing stage two.
So, she’s feeling 90% sure that she was successful. But the 10% doubt is considerable.
The ongoing uncertainty is frustrating. But also, as this is matched grant funding, Lepron and others like her are trying to close their funding rounds to match the government grants.
She’s trying to raise $400,0000, she says.
“It’s not a small investment,” she says.
“We need to make sure we know when it’s due so we can do it.”
She has contacts who are in the same position and starting to work on the next stage of their application, without having confirmation. Should they believe the information in the portal, or that in the email?
“We don’t know,” she says.
“I wonder how many people are going to do the application and maybe not even be in?”
Janine Owen, expert in grants and funding and founder of Grantd tells SmartCompany she has heard from the department, and has been told applicants should go by the information in the email, not on the portal.
“It’s terrible the portal still says successful,” she says.
“But if they got the second unsuccessful email that is sadly the outcome of their application.”
Equally, she says some entrepreneurs still haven’t heard anything, with the department saying some applications are still being processed.
SmartCompany reached out to the Department of Industry for confirmation, but at the time of publishing has not received a response.
What many of the founders have highlighted throughout this whole debacle is the customer experience. The second email, telling them they had been incorrectly informed of success, was not exactly brimming with empathy.
While everyone SmartCompany has heard from accepts that mistakes happen, it’s the way they’re addressed afterwards that makes all the difference.
If a small business or startup made such a huge error, they would be on the phone to all affected customers, making apologies and clarifying things where they could.
“If I did a terrible job, I would be sure to stay late and respond to my clients,” Lepron says.
And for some grant programs, she can’t help feeling this would be the case.
“But it’s OK,” she laments. “Women can wait.”
For Lepron, and many others, the whole BFF grant process has been filled with frustrations. Last year, she got through the first stage but not the second, receiving feedback that her plans were too ambitious.
On the one hand, she says, they’re looking for projects founders would not be able to complete without the funding. On the other hand, it seems they don’t want to fund those projects.
She feels women are being asked to dream big, “but not that big”.
At the same time, this is one of the most onerous grants Lepron has ever had to apply for. It’s time consuming and drawn-out, and incredibly competitive.
While she’s glad there is grant funding tailored to women-led businesses, “I just don’t think it’s taking women seriously,” she says.