International Women’s Day is this Sunday – a perfect opportunity to recognise the contributions women make to the Australian startup ecosystem.
However, like other industries, gender representation is far from perfect. In 2012, only 4.3% of Australian startup founders were women. There is also evidence to suggest men are more likely to receive venture capital than women – even when the content of their pitches are the same.
Rebekah Campbell, the founder and chief executive of online shopping network Posse, told StartupSmart she thinks there needs to be more female investors because you can’t “fix one side of the ecosystem without fixing the other”.
“The biggest roadblock [for female founders] is the lack of female investors,” she says.
“We have 102 shareholders and there is not one female investor in the group. Women also aren’t investing in companies – in my last capital round we did probably 50 meetings and out of every meeting we did, there was only one woman and she was a junior note-taker.”
Campbell launched Posse in 2012 and last year snapped up $1.5 million in funding in order to accelerate growth as well as the platform’s marketing efforts.
“Obviously I’ve done pretty well with raising money, so it’s not like I can complain,” Campbell says.
“But I definitely think [being a woman] has made it more lonely. Encouraging women to get interested in early stage companies will make a big difference. Scale – the angel investor group – is a great initiative.”
The federal government’s decision to wind back the gender reporting laws for companies of more than 100 employees isn’t a step in the right direction either, according to Campbell.
“I think it’s important we report those numbers to get a sense of what’s going on and so companies take it as a serious issue,” she says.
“And education… it’s a lot to do with education and how girls are taught to think of themselves as they grow up.”
Dr Elaine Stead, investment director for Blue Sky Venture Capital, told StartupSmart female founders face similar issues to men – access to the right skills, guidance and access to growth capital.
“I think the biggest challenges that female founders face are the same ones that male founders face, they just get asked the question a lot more,” she says.
“I think some sectors just attract a different gender profile. And what we need to make sure we’re doing in this industry is making sure we remove all the barriers to equal opportunity while at the same time not creating artificial protections or advantages.”
Stead says it’s important to also highlight the women in the industry – both founders and investors – who are doing well.
“There’s definitely women in that ecosystem who are absolutely doing all the right things and not necessarily letting a perceived disadvantage impact their ability to be successful.”
Here are StartupSmart’s top five female-led Australian startups to watch in 2015: