Australia's startup gender crisis

Can a startup ecosystem be viable if only one gender is represented?
Written by Mahesh Sharma, Correspondent

News that women are being outnumbered by 95 percent would be a huge cause for alarm in most parts of our society, but for the Australian startup industry, this is just business as usual.

The apparent indifference to this news from local entrepreneurs reveals the sexist prejudices at the heart of local tech entrepreneurship.

There were less than 50 female-founded companies in a recent study of 1,000 Australian tech startups, "Silicon Beach: A study of the Australian startup ecosystem."

Rather than raising the alarm, the news was buried at the bottom of the 29-page report that was authored by four men from incubator Pollenizer, advisory Deloitte Digital, and consultancy From Little Things.

They preferred to focus on topics popular with "serial entrepreneurs": investments and scaling.

Fixing this problem should be the industry's number one priority for the very simple reason that it will significantly multiply the number of startups almost overnight.

Women have the ability to create unique technology-driven businesses that compete on the world stage and win the associated financial accolades. Posse's Rebekah Campbell raised $3m, 99dresses's Nikki Durkin was accepted into the exclusive Y Combinator incubator, and FlightFox's Lauren McLeod was also accepted in Y Combinator and raised $800,000.

Further, young women such as Jenna Tregarthen, Avis Mulhall, and Collette Grgic work passionately to use technology to improve the lives of people and communities around the world — and that success comes when you're driven by more than money.

These examples are a good start, but this report demonstrates that this is the exception, not the rule.

There is a distinct lack of women and role models at the helm of accelerators, incubators, venture capital funds, and co-working spaces — the infrastructure of the startup ecosystem.

The University of Wollongong Director of Innovation and Commercial Research Elizabeth Eastland has developed an entrepreneurship program that aims to address the systemic issues in the industry. She started an entrepreneur childcare to allow working mothers to participate in entrepreneur networking events: the lifeblood of the industry. She tirelessly mentors young women, including Jenna Tregarthen, to launch tech businesses.

The industry needs more leaders like Elizabeth Eastland.

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