After six months of development, BlueChilli has officially launched SheStarts, its accelerator program for female founders. Ten women will be selected to take part in the six month program, set to run from January next year, with each to receive $100,000 in pre-seed funding in exchange for 15 percent equity.
In addition to funding, the women will be mentored by the likes of Elaine Stead of Blue Sky Ventures, AngelHack founder and CEO Sabeen Ali, and Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, and will be given discounted access to in-house product managers, developers, and designers to take them from idea to launch.
The participants will also travel to Silicon Valley at the end of the program to learn about the investment landscape in the US, with their every move throughout the program to be chronicled for an online documentary series.
Nicola Hazell, director of SheStarts and head of diversity of BlueChilli, said the program is looking to change the face of the startup economy and take advantage of the fact that supporting women in business makes good financial sense: companies with a woman on their founding team have been shown to drive three times the returns of those led by men.
“Our startup ecosystem is undergoing major growth as both government and the corporate sector have recognised the potential to build an innovation-led economy. But we are missing a big part of this economic opportunity, and risk increasing gender inequality if we don’t act now,” Hazell said.
“In order to drive the economic results Australia wants and harness the value of diverse startup teams, we need to boost female leadership and back the ideas of women entrepreneurs with the funding and tech support to get them off the ground.”
To do this, the accelerator has received a wealth of corporate support, signing on MYOB, Sunsuper, ANZ, and the University of Technology Sydney as partners.
Mark Hand, managing director of corporate and commercial banking at ANZ and chair of ANZ Australia’s Diversity Council, said the organisation is keen to help Australians with innovative ideas turn them into successful businesses.
“The statistics speak for themselves, female entrepreneurs are well underrepresented in the startup space, particularly when it comes to fintech and technology, which means there is an exciting pool of talent we’re yet to tap into,” he said. Initiatives like this will also help foster diverse thinking which we know is required for a healthy Australian startup economy.”
MYOB General Manager of Marketing, Natalie Feehan added, “We believe that the startup space needs to be proactive in empowering women and their businesses, as well as create a think tank of women leaders, which will ultimately help drive and promote economic vitality and security.”
The accelerator was launched at BlueChilli’s Sydney campus this morning with a panel discussion on the state of women in tech, featuring Samantha Wong of Blackbird Ventures and ecommerce entrepreneur and consultant Nicole Kersh, both also mentors for SheStarts, and Folktale cofounder Sarah Mak.
For Kersh, who started her first venture in 2001 at just 17 years old before founding the $10 million 4Cabling in 2004, the situation for her was “leaps and bounds backwards” from the state of the startup space today.
“I think the most surprising thing was the tyranny of low expectations that came with being a woman in that space. Still, whenever you read articles about women in manufacturing, or women in areas that are less traditional, it’s always that, ‘wow, I can’t believe she’s done it’, and I think that when that changes, and it’s no longer the amazement that someone has done that and it’s the story for the story’s value, that’s when we’ll have something more to celebrate,” Kersh said.
For Blackbird Ventures too, changing the narrative is key to getting more women into their pipeline. Once women-led startups are in the firm’s system, whether as a Startmate participant or a straight Blackbird investment, Wong said, they perform well, but getting them in in the first place can be difficult.
However, Wong said the firm is putting into place several measures to address the problem, from adjusting its website collateral to ensure the language and images are inclusive, adding more female mentors and advisors to its Startmate accelerator program, and taking the speaker diversity pledge to make sure none of its team appear on panels dominated by men.
While these small things all make a difference, Wong said the firm was recently confronted with a true test of its commitment to diversity: going through applications for its next Startmate program, it had to consider whether a team with a pregnant cofounder could be accepted, shifting the program’s strict rule that entire teams must be based in Sydney together for three months of the program.
The applications are still being sorted, but Wong said all decisions are made with business in mind, and decisions around diversity simply make sense.
“We’re not doing this altruistically, we’re doing it because we genuinely believe it will build a stronger portfolio for our fund,” she said.
For SheStarts too, the aim is to find women with ideas that have the potential to grow into globally scalable businesses.
Hazell said, “We’ve been inspired by the enthusiasm of all the key players across the corporate and startup sectors, coming together to make this huge collective impact. By working together, we can move the needle and light a path for women and girls to join the startup economy.”
Image: Nicola Hazell, Samantha Wong, Nicole Kersh, Sarah Mak. Source: Startup Daily.