Balancing the Numbers of Women in Startups

Last Tuesday evening, as the light faded to Autumn dusk, a group of women met in Melbourne.

They had come to learn about Australia’s only accelerator program specifically run by women, for women called SheStarts.

After drinks and informal introductions, four women who had previously completed the program were interviewed by Tash Hooper,  the SheStarts program director.

Natasha Hooper

Those present discussed their passions, the problems they encountered along the way and how they benefited from the SheStarts program.

Four key questions were asked –

  • What was your project?
  • Why did you design it?
  • What was your biggest challenge?
  • What is the most important thing you have learnt?
  • What is the most important thing you have learnt?

Here are their responses –

Madeline the Shark Scientist

Madeline Green‘s job involves analysing data to help manage the sustainability of shark populations.

Project – She and Lauren Meyer created a global platform called Otlet to allow scientists around the world to share marine biology samples.

Why? –  Madeline spent a lot of time researching sharks and analysing the results. But because the data not shared globally, some samples were left unused or discarded, while other research was unable to be completed due to lack of samples.

Biggest challenge – Madeline decided the best way to rectify the problem was to share data about biology samples globally, but, because she did not come from a technical background, she was unable to realise a solution.

As a result, she hired developers to create a platform but it was initially unsuccessful. However, it was a useful experience as she realised that in a lot of cases the most important skills a person can have is determination.

Biggest lesson – Not coming from a technical background, Madeline found it difficult to know what sort of platform she needed, or how to assess risks and do proper bug testing. As a result, the first launch of her platform was a technical disaster. The most important skills to have are grit and determination. Don’t give up!

Madeline Green

Jessica Plans for Better Neighbourhoods

Jessica Christiansen-Franks is passionate about creating neighbourhoods people love and feel connected to.

Project – Jessica and Lucinda Hartley created a platform called NeighbourLytics that gives builders real-time insights into the unique social life of the neighbourhoods they plan, create and manage.

Jessica disliked being labelled as a ‘female entrepreneur’ when started SheStarts, as she was already a successful business woman. However she has came to see how marginalised women in technology are.

Why? – When Jessica started working as a town planner, there were no accurate tools to assess the demographics of the areas where buildings were being planned. She joked about wasting time just ‘looking at people passing by’ and using outdated census data. The process was not just ineffective but also expensive. Her company was spending up to one third of their budgets trying to estimate the needs of local populations.

Then she discovered that supermarkets were using big data gathered from social media to pull together far more accurate population data, and were using it to base their pricing strategies one. For example, the price of bananas in supermarkets is linked to data drawn from social media analytics.

Jessica decided that town planners need this type of data.

Biggest challenge – Jessica does not come from a technical background, and had problems designing and outsourcing the platform. Due to a lack of knowledge she wasted a lot of time and money on technology that just didn’t do the job she required.

Biggest lesson – It’s essential to be able to make fast decisions. Perfection does not exist. Just jump in, get started and learn along the way.

Jessica Christiansen Franks

Emma Movers from Coding into Social Work

Emma Koster was the only one in the group, who comes from a technology background. She was the only woman in a team of ninety seven doing back end server work, so she knows what it’s like to be a minority group working in the technology sector.

Project Hello Cass was set up to help support people going through domestic violence and struggling to find support services. It is an SMS chatbot providing instant, anonymous and accessible information for those experiencing or affected by family or sexual violence.

Hello Cass a project developed through Good Hood, a group technology consultants, creating sustainable solutions for a fairer future.

Emma has always been politically aware and felt drawn to using her tech skills to assist others in need.

Why? – Emma was in Berlin in 2016 working on an e-commerce site, when Syrian refugees began flooding across Europe. She knew people involved with the refugees and heard that family violence was a big issue for some of the women.

Few refugees spoken German and women had no idea about resources or how to access them. She researched the subject matter, so she felt confident understanding her audience.

Biggest challenge – Finding financial backers to sustain the project was difficult and Hello Cass was self funded initially. Emma points out that you can’t create a business model for ‘trauma’. There is no ‘Return On Investment’ for sexual abuse or family violence. You just have to do what you believe in.

Biggest lesson –  Fail fast, work out problems and solve them ASAP. Don’t obsess with technology, just focus on the need.

Emma Koster

Jennifer makes Discovering the World Easier

Jennifer Fein grew up in the United States. Like Emma her initial work experience is the technology sector. Jennifer recalls that back in the early 2000’s, tech was a more fun and relaxed place. She says things got nasty as women started to complain about sexism, and there was a kickback from some male developers.
After getting engaged to a Jordanian man, Jennifer needed to coordinate relatives from both the USA and Australia for their wedding in Jordan.

She ended up using spreadsheets to try and coordinated people, flight details and accomodation. It was a messy, time consuming and paper bound process.

Project – She created a group travel platform called You Live to Travel to make group travel a much more efficient process.

Why? –  Her site draws on her digital and marketing background, and allowed her to build a business around something she loves, travel.

Biggest challenge – learning how to do a sales pitch and growing an audience on social media.

Biggest lesson – Get yourself out there. Attend multiple startup events, get a mentor to give support and list to your bad days. Then find business partners.

SheStarts was Founded in 2016

SheStarts was launched in March 2016 by BlueChilli, after they faced criticism for only 10% of their program’s finalists being women.

It has gone on to produce a string of highly successful women founders.

Nicola Hazell is the director and founder of this program. She has been involved in a number of women’s support enterprises aiming to address imbalances in technology, leadership and business.

Nicola Hazell

Applications are for SheStarts are open now, so apply quickly! They close on the 23rd April.

© Wikihospitals April 2019