Written by Mary Lieu on the 9th of December, 2016
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A few months ago I sat opposite Nicola Hazell at BlueChilli’s Sydney office, and watched as she used a whiteboard marker on a table to outline a vision for transforming gender diversity in the tech startup scene.
Through a new program called SheStarts, they were going to run a national competition to find 10 female-led startups, approach investors and corporates to raise $1 million, and offer $100,000 in funding to each of the startups selected. And they were going to do it all in a few months, naming the startups selected by the end of the year. Alongside the program, they’d launch a documentary series to showcase just what goes on while building tech businesses.
It seemed wildly ambitious, and I left the meeting feeling a little cynical about how the team would make it happen on such a tight deadline.
One million dollars doesn’t come around easily, nor does getting the infrastructure in place to pull off a national search.
In early October I attended the official launch of the program. Within hours of launching the SheStarts website, women were registering to get involved. It was happening, and happening quickly. Within a few weeks, they had received more than 400 entries.
Then yesterday morning I spoke to Nicola as she was about to spend a day with the judges going through the 20 finalists, based on an intense couple of days of pitching. She was so excited, and told me about some of the extraordinary women she’d had the pleasure to meet and learn from during their recent startup bootcamp. Women from all different stages of their careers, with brilliant and new innovative ways to solve uniques challenges.
Then last night at the SheStarts showcase I found myself in a roomful of enthusiastic and energetic people, there to support the program, and to ultimately support diversity in startups. They were entrepreneurs and investors and supporters and leaders from the business community — most importantly they were male and female and from a diverse range of backgrounds.
The one thing that united all of them was passion.
To be a part of something bigger, that could make the world a little more interesting and a whole lot better.
I realised later that it was also passion that pushed the SheStarts team to make their $1 million ambitious goal happen.
Here are our brilliant #SheStarts founders. This is just the beginning and we can’t wait to go on this journey with you #startupaus pic.twitter.com/xlHjAZNMvD
— SheStarts (@shestarts) December 8, 2016
Passion alone is never enough, but passion with a plan and a great team and a bold vision is seriously powerful.
And we’re going to need a whole lot of passion, and passionate people, if we’re going to seriously try and address the full participation of women in labour markets, particularly when it comes to getting involved in one of the most fascinating, exciting and fast-moving segments — technology and entrepreneurship. Currently, just 14 to 24% of startup founders in Australia are female, with less than 5% of investment going to women.
Passion can help us shift the dial.
These are life changing moments for the #femalefounders in @SheStartsAU. Well done Georgie from Honey on the $100K investment!! #shestarts pic.twitter.com/hMvV8n4fya
— Colette Grgic (@ColetteGrgic) December 8, 2016
Last night prior to announcing the ten winners, passion was also an underlying theme (although not necessarily a deliberate one) of a panel discussion on female startups
Lucy Turnbull noted how passion had helped steer her career. She said her passion for great cities, led her to write a book on Sydney and later join the council and eventually become the city’s first female lord mayor. Google’s Sally-Ann Williams shared a serious passion for transforming our curriculum to help prevent girls being ‘socialised’ out of believing STEM careers are for them, something she says happens as young as kindergarten. And two entrepreneurs each shared the underlying passion that’s seen them thrive in the face of challenges, including Mikaela Jade who bootstrapped her startup Indigital and built it off the back of grant programs, and Sarah Mak from The Storyboxes who noted how she pushed through on building her business despite being a part of two male dominated industries, tech and film.
None of it could have happened without the grit and determination that passion helps cultivate.
Passion alone isn’t enough, and ‘following your passion’ can only get you so far. But it’s the game-changing ingredient that helps everything else fall into place to make change happen.
Supporting women in the #innovation stream supports everyone! Go @SheStartsAU #shestarts https://t.co/BEUC8NfIhS
— UTS_MDSI (@uts_mdsi) December 8, 2016
This article was first published on Women’s Agenda.