Q&A with SheStarts Program Director, Filipa Araujo

Written by Filipa C. Araujo on the 3rd of September, 2019

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This post is part of our Women Behind the Program series, where we sit down with key leaders from the SheStarts community to talk about technology, gender equality and the personal journeys of these inspiring leaders and champions of change.

Filipa Araujo is the Program Director for SheStarts. Prior to moving to Sydney, she worked with founders and startups in Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia. She is a strong advocate for entrepreneurship as a development driver and loves to explore the topic.

What inspires you about your role as SheStarts Program Director?

I believe in living passionately, and my professional drive is to do impactful work that I love – as this is how I can do my best work. As the Portuguese poet and writer, Fernando Pessoa, beautifully wrote,

“Be whole in everything. Put all you are into the smallest thing you do.”

Entrepreneurs are tremendous drivers of change, and I believe that supporting them is a great way to have a positive impact on peoples’ lives. I am constantly in awe of our SheStarts founders’ passion and capacity, and I am inspired watching them build businesses that create change and jobs, all the while balancing their lives as individuals, partners, mothers and friends. I encourage you to check out our SheStarts alumni, and follow these amazing women and their journeys. I know you will also be inspired by them.

What can we expect from the program this year?

This year, we once again have an amazing cohort of women-led startups solving problems that have so far been neglected. From addressing children’s anxiety early on, to bringing women back into the workforce, and connecting small farmers in developing countries with large buyers, these 9 startups have already taken a deep dive into testing, validating and building their businesses. In just six months, we aim to help these founders build their first tech product, find their first customer, secure their first investor and hire their first team. And with the invaluable support of our partners and advisors, I have no doubt that you will hear about their achievements in the years to come.

We can’t wait to share with you their stories of how they transformed a bold idea into a globally-scalable tech business.

Less than a quarter of Australia’s startups are led by women.

Why is it so critical for the world to support more women-led startups?

I firmly believe that entrepreneurs are incredible drivers of change, solving society’s problems sooner and faster than governments, planners and large companies. If you follow the news, you are aware that we are not lacking in a diverse range of big, juicy and complex problems that need to be solved. We need creative power to make these changes happen, but the startup ecosystem worldwide is worryingly lacking in diversity.

Without diverse thinking, we will neither solve different problems nor find new, creative solutions – both of which are the basis for innovation.

One of the biggest diversity gaps we face is gender, and this is a major missed opportunity for innovation. Can you imagine how different the world would be if the same number of women as men were building startups that solve important problems that they are passionate about? I want to move past imagination and witness this as the reality. I don’t want to wait 170 years to reach gender equity. That is why the work of SheStarts is so critical. We support women to build businesses that solve real problems – and we showcase their journeys, so that other women can be inspired to take the leap and do the same.

We believe that if you can see it, you can be it.

You have had an incredible career so far, working with startups and founders across Australia, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.

What has been your most memorable experience?

Apart from the work I have done at BlueChilli and with SheStarts, I am extremely proud of a project I have developed over the last three years in Guinea Bissau, West Africa. With the support of the World Bank and the government of Guinea Bissau, we have set up an accelerator and incubator program for 50 young entrepreneurs, half of them women. Their startup survival rate (78%) is not only much higher than most entrepreneurship programs in developing countries, but also in 18 months, the companies have generated more in revenue than they received in funding and created over 100 jobs. We have trained more than 30 local trainers, who are now supporting other entrepreneurs and initiatives in the country, which means that the effects of the program will carry on into the future.

What is your advice to women who have a bold idea for a new business?

Before diving into solutions, focus on the problem you are trying to solve. You need to intimately understand it. Talk with as many potential customers and users you can. Most people are supportive and open for a chat (during our bootcamp, the startup founders usually interview 40+ customers in less than two weeks). Make sure you listen for the problems they have with an open mind and ask open-ended questions. You will often be surprised that the problems they face are slightly different from the ones you thought.

For a step-by-step guide to validating your idea, learning to be a founder, and presenting your idea to the world, I highly recommend our free online course StartupU. Many of the alumni completed this course before applying to SheStarts.

Finally, don’t forget to take some time to think about yourself. Will your startup give your life and work joy and meaning? This is an important question. I will never forget the story of an entrepreneur who built a sushi school and restaurant to realise after it was up and running that they didn’t want to have the hospitality life of long hours and weekend workdays. If the answer is ‘no’, that’s okay! Start over with a new problem to solve – you will already have learnings to do it better the second time around.

Most importantly, though, my biggest piece of advice for women with a bold idea is…..

take the leap. You’ve got this.