This became clear to me after having recently made Australia home again, following a couple of nomadic years, bouncing between Canberra and Europe, working in foreign affairs; and then splitting my time between New York and Los Angeles, working in new media.
My favourite thing about both New York and LA is the energy created by the collective hunger of its residents to make a mark and do things differently. You can feel the driving force of American ingenuity on the street. Of course, this is fuelled by the fact that it is a much larger market and a culture that celebrates entrepreneurship and risk-taking.
I had mixed feelings returning to Sydney. The sun shines brighter, the sky is clearer; life feels lighter and more seems possible. But, at the same time, I was reminded that we are a small market that seeks to preserve the status quo; that we are obsessed with house prices; that our strengths are mining, banking and agriculture; and that we often focus on short term gains at the expense of long term interests. We don’t often reward risk-takers and we are skeptical of people who set out to do things differently.
The reason I came home was because I believe in Australia’s potential, and I deeply missed our egalitarianism and commitment to giving everyone a ‘fair go’. It is these traits, that has meant that, in the startup ecosystem, we have been early adopters of and advocates for programs that support diversity and inclusivity.
The SheStarts accelerator program is an example of this. It was launched almost three years ago, giving an opportunity to determined women with a back-of-the-envelope idea to change how things are done, to get access to the funding, technology, product development, networks and management training, to launch their own startup — and make a tangible impact — in six months.
The impetus for the program was the need to address the fact that less than a quarter of Australia’s startups are led by women. The SheStarts curriculum is designed with community and inclusion as its guiding principles, helping develop diverse female leaders in the startup economy and provide another mechanism for corporate Australia to encourage women into senior leadership and technology roles.
It is also a real, currently existing mechanism for how we help people to thrive and develop work in a period of unprecedented technological change.
Through SheStarts, 17 women have been catapulted into the startup space, creating jobs, challenging boundaries and doing things differently based on their unique perspective. They are making an enormous impact in areas as diverse and as challenging as early childhood development, vet science, microbiology, urban planning, workplace stress and gender-based violence. Thirty-five new jobs have been created and over AUD $7 million in capital raised.
SheStarts has been a platform allowing non-technical founders to innovate using technology and execute on unique ideas that will help us all lead better lives.
It is a phenomenal start to Australia growing its startup ecosystem and making technology more accessible to people who are passionate and willing to work hard, but this is just the beginning. The sustainability and continued impact of programs like this, ultimately depends on investors willing to back risk-takers and adventure-makers.
We have the talent, but we need people willing to invest in mechanisms like SheStarts – which are beacons for how complicated cross-industry, white-space problems could be solved in the future, for our country to reimagine itself globally as a progressive and innovative economy, for how to embed inclusivity and women’s empowerment, helping bring unique perspectives to imagining a better future and the way technology is developed and applied.
I am excited and honoured to be the custodian of SheStarts in 2019. Please reach out to me if you’re interested in supporting tomorrow’s game-changers.