While research shows Australian women are among the most entrepreneurial in the world, they continue to be underrepresented in major sectors such as finance and information technology.
Other challenges – such as access to funding and the public standing of female business leaders – also continue to impact women.
This International Women’s Day, the question remains – how does Australia encourage more women to start businesses, particularly in these sectors?
StartupSmart spoke to a range of industry experts and players to determine five changes that would potentially boost female-led start-ups.
1. Better access to capital and contracts
“Access to capital is the number one issue,” says Yolanda Vega, chief executive of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
“Women who start up a business are not able to access capital because the majority are in service-based industries, so lenders won’t take the risk.
“Angel investors are not interested in service-based companies, and for VCs it’s too early in the piece.
“Because they don’t have access to capital, they’re starting up with their own money. Our research shows the majority – almost 80% – are starting up their business with less than $5,000.
“If you don’t have access to capital, you don’t have access to market. If you’ve got a great product and the market doesn’t know about it, you can’t grow your business.”
Vega also believes female entrepreneurs have less access to contracts.
“Say you’ve started up a company and maybe you’ve been running for two years. The corporates are too focused on getting women on boards and ignoring the external supply chain, which are these women that used to work for them,” she says.
“Local, state and federal governments are so archaic in the way they engage suppliers that they’re failing to acknowledge the growing number of women business owners.
“Governments won’t deal with sole traders, and more than 40% of women are sole traders, and they won’t deal with small companies.
“We need to ensure we support women because women provide the majority of these services.”
2. A female-friendly approach to fundraising
“I’m thinking it’s things like this new women-only venture fund [Springboard Australia] where women are supported in whatever stage they’re at,” says Polly McGee, founder of the Mumpreneur IDEAS program.
“Is there a need to be flying all around the world, doing deals and working at ridiculous hours? … Maybe [we need] more women who steadfastly refuse to play the game in that way.
“There have been so many reports commissioned of why women aren’t participating and trying to get on board, but of lot of women choose not to go through that.
“Most women in their twenties and thirties don’t want to stand in front of a group of venture capitalists and pitch because they’ve never been given the confidence to do that.
“We need a set-up where we can stand up and feel we can speak confidently about what we do and who are.”
Rebekah Campbell, who founded Posse, says there needs to be more female investors.
“I first pitched at Innovation Bay and in the room of 40 or so investors there was only one woman. It was a bit weird,” Campbell says.
“I think that more women investors would encourage the development of women-led companies designed by women.
“We need more women to design products because they’d have a different perspective – imagine how different dating sites would be if a woman designed one!”
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