Moving the needle on diversity in the startup sector is a work in progress: here’s how Statemate is tackling it

- November 25, 2020 4 MIN READ

Startmate Principal Lauren Capelin kicks off what will become a series of reflections on how her organisaiton can collectively move the needle on diversity.

At midnight last night, we officially closed applications for our Summer21 cohort — the first fully-remote, location-agnostic cohort we are running across Australia and New Zealand, which will kick off in January 2021.

It is also the first application process I have been involved in from start to finish, and apart from the usual goal of looking for the region’s most ambitious founders, I wanted to ensure we could be proud of our efforts to attract the most diverse group of applicants in the history of Startmate, as measured by a range of different indicators (some of which we have never tracked before.)

The results are in. Below are some of the stats we wanted to share with you.

Total number of applications: ~505 (AU:460, NZ: 39, Other: 6)

By comparison, the MEL/NZ20 application round (the first fully virtual program, and first New Zealand cohort) had 485 Australian applications and 124 New Zealand applications. SYD20 had 385 applications in total, and MEL19 250 before that.

Startmate Principal Lauren Capelin

In short, while MEL/NZ20 is still our biggest total application volume yet, and we have a lot more work to do to strengthen our connection to the NZ startup community, the overall direction is trending up and to the right 📈.

Representation of gender:

This is something we have tracked more actively over Startmate’s history, and more proactively worked to improve specifically over the last 5 or so years through initiatives like our Breakfast Club, and more recently the phenomenon that is our Startmate Fellowship.

  • This year, almost 50% of teams include someone who identifies as a woman.

Last cohort (MEL/NZ20), the percentage of applications with a woman cofounder reached 41%, making this current intake for Summer21 our most gender-diverse application process in the history of Startmate 🙌

We hope this sets us up well for an equally diverse cohort, and will be looking to learn more over the next month about how we can successfully set ourselves up in this regard.

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It’s worth acknowledging this is not just the work of the last few months of drumming up applications, but the cumulative efforts of many years, the incredible women-led alumni companies who blazed the trail, our stand-out women mentors who have lifted others up and the work of our startup community to build capacity and confidence in women in the tech sector. Personally, I believe having a woman in the Principal role at Startmate has had an influence on this outcome too, as does having a growing number of incredible women at senior levels across the venture capital industry. We should never underestimate the importance of this visibility, and endeavour to support more intersectional diversity at this level as well.

Representation of Marginalised Groups:

For the first time, we asked applicants to share their identification with specific cultural or known marginalised groups. Some important top-line results here are:

  • 9 First Nations Australians
  • 5 Maori-Pasifika people
  • At least 145 first-generation immigrants/refugees
  • At least 13 people who identify as having a physical or neurological disability

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  • 10% of applicants identify as LGBTQ

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As we haven’t tracked this data before, it’s hard to say if this is successful or not, but moving forward we will be keeping an eye on these indicators and working in partnership with those in the community that specifically support marginalised groups in the tech sector.

I want to make special acknowledgement of groups in the startup ecosystem who work tirelessly to make it accessible and inclusive for these people and their communities, including CatalysrRemarkableGeneration One and the Aotearoa startup community, as well as the coworking spaces and incubators across the region who do their best to create inclusive spaces.

Representation outside of major cities:

While something that hasn’t officially been measured before, anecdotally it’s fair to say that most applicants in the history of Startmate have been based between Sydney or Melbourne, with other major Australian and New Zealand cities being responsible for the rest.

Leveraging one of the few benefits of COVID-19 and the remote delivery of Startmate, this application process has been incredibly geographically diverse, with applicants from every Australian state except NT (clearly work to do in the Territory!), and across both the North and South Islands.

Special shout-outs for people applying from Berry, Bungendore, Byron Bay, Cairns, Central Coast, Cootamundra, Devonport, Dunedin, Invercargill, Fremantle, Gisborne, Gold Coast, Leongatha, Napier, Newcastle, Queenstown, the Sunshine Coast, Tauranga, Wangaratta, Wodonga, Wollongong and Wagga Wagga, to name a few. We see you 🙂 and appreciate the work of the regional innovation hubs that support you!

A final note

And the reality is that a truly diverse cohort is only possible with a diverse group of mentors and investors, and this is where my next focus will be. There are both systemic and unconscious bias reasons that have driven the composition of Startmate’s mentor pool over the years, which have both to do with the lack of diversity of our startup ecosystem in its early days, the referral networks that drive the acquisition of new members, the fact that senior women in our industry find themselves comparatively time-poor when balancing family and work commitments (which should be comparable for many men in the industry but just…isn’t), and the last, most thorny issue — the sophisticated investor test limits of $250k annual income over 2 years, or $2.5m in net assets that investors are required to satisfy to take part. For all the other reasons I mention above (and a few more), women simply qualify in lower numbers.

From a confidence and exposure perspective, we are tackling this issue with the introduction of our First Believers program, which aims to provide exposure to angel investing and help diverse individuals shape their own investment thinking. We are excited to kick off the MVP for Summer21 with 15 awesome individuals who will be learning the investing ropes!

We are also tackling this issue head on at a policy level, but it’s a long game, and we need both creative interim solutions, as well as introductions to women outside our immediate network who fit the criteria of senior startup founder/operator/angel investor and satisfy the sophisticated investor test criteria.

If this is you, or you want to champion someone, we are onboarding mentors for Summer21 right now to take part in the selection process. Please email me at [email protected] with recommendations.

Diversity, inclusion and belonging is a collective effort no matter which way you look at it. Thanks to all of you for playing your part and I look forward to seeing where we can go to from here in 2021.


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