Women in tech

SBE launches advisory services for female founders as they scale up

- May 15, 2023 3 MIN READ
SBE Australia's CEO Nicole Cook; director of community/services Carmen Pascoe, and programs director Sarah Curtis-Fawley, with BDO’s global leader, fintech, Tim Amam.
SBE Australia's CEO Nicole Cook; director of community/services Carmen Pascoe, and programs director Sarah Curtis-Fawley, with BDO’s global leader, fintech, Tim Amam.
SBE Australia has launched a new advisory model to connect high potential female-founded businesses with the services they need for high growth in a partnership with professional services firm BDO.

SBE CEO Nicole Cook said the SBE Advisory Collective was developed in response to reports the organisation commissioned last year, which found that between 2017 and 2021, just 3.7% of private sector funding secured by startups went to solely women-founded companies. That figure plummeted to 0.7% in FY22.  

The report highlighted important insights on social, financial and cultural barriers that still exist and prevent women from  reaching equal participation in entrepreneurship.  

“What that research did was illuminate a gaping hole in support for funding women-led businesses in general,” Cook said.

“It was jarring. When we started the research project, we thought the percentage of funding going into the channel would be far greater.” 

Cook said they paused to ponder why so many promising women-led businesses are not getting funded and concluded that the gap emerges later in a startup’s growth cycle.

“A major finding was that while support for early-stage businesses through accelerator programs and grants is fairly strong, there is a cohort in the middle that just don’t have the critical support they need to get funded for commercialisation,” she said.

“They are the group that sit between early and mature businesses, what we would call ‘scale-up’.” 

The SBE Advisory Collective is just the next step in solving the parity issue, Cook said.

“The issue of parity is an area we’re looking at very closely to get a sense of what that means in entrepreneurship and the deployment of capital,” she said.

“It would see us working with others to put some real goals down on paper to work towards. It’s a bit early to say too much more at this stage, but expect to hear more from us on this soon.” 

Having mentored and backed hundreds of women-led startups through its accelerator programs over the past 11 years, SBE now has alumnae from more than 110 scale-up companies and more than 250 early-stage startups.

Support for funding

Cook said the SBE Advisory Collective’s focus is on providing high growth scale-ups with the strategic support they need to qualify for funding through the organisation’s existing programs, backed up with the advisory services of its partners.

“We’ve learnt that the current ecosystem of support for women founders is disjointed and is not going to stimulate parity in entrepreneurship fast enough. By wrapping advice around the scale-up founders and CEOs, they can be better placed to achieve their business  growth metrics and qualify for investment,” she said.

“We hope that by doubling down on building a pipeline of investment-ready scale-up  businesses, the quantum of funding allocations going to women-led businesses will get closer to parity.” 

Cook is also hoping other businesses at similar stages will step forward for the support they need to reach their commercialisation milestones. 

“The natural candidates to access the advisory services will have completed one of our accelerators, but there are many other businesses out there not yet known to us that need this kind of support,” she said.

“We also encourage those teams to get in touch, to become SBE members and get access to a group of services that can otherwise be very hard to access independently.” 

100 advisors

Around 100 service providers are available through the Advisory Collective, but she’s also on the hunt for more if they’re keen to be involved.

BDO joins as an anchor partner to SBE’s new Elevate program and platinum partner in the Advisory Collective. It will offer business mentoring, support and resources for accounting, tax and consulting.  

BDO’s global Fintech leader Tim Aman, said the partnership is about having an active voice on the importance of gender diversity and inclusivity in business.

“Commercially though, if we do a good job of supporting women-led scale-ups, we know we can have a positive, long-ranging and historic  impact on how the Australian business ecosystem operates,” he said.

Others involved include legal firms Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Hamilton and Locke, investor and PR firm IR Department and recruiters Real Time Australia plus startups accounting firm Standard Ledger.

Dr Sheridan Gho, CEO and cofounder of Cenofex Innovations, was part of the SBE Life Sciences program in 2020 with her medical device for lymphoedema management.

Since then she’s “fairly consistently leaned in on the SBE business expertise” and signed on for the Advisory Collective, which charges a small monthly or annual membership “it was a worthwhile investment” as a first-time founder. 

“Even just knowing that other people have been there, build that, and were also challenged – knowing you’re not alone is comforting,” she said.

“It’s good to hear those war stories and  know that others have found a way through and seen success. Having that sense of a guiding light is important.”