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Starting Up: The Future of Women in Tech

From Ada Lovelace in the 1800s, widely known as the world’s first computer programmer, to successful entrepreneurial ladies today such as Kath Purkis of “Her Fashion Box” and Jodie Fox of “Shoes of Prey”, women working in tech is hardly a new concept. Yet there exists a crude stereotype that the key players in the tech world are limited to geeky men in their garages playing with gadgets. And what this always brings home to me is the fact that the successes of female entrepreneurs often remain unsung.

Women are doing some incredible things in business in Australia. From fashion, through to tech, more and more women are embracing fear and taking the risk to start their own companies. In fact, as recent as June this year, the Gender Global Entrepreneur and Development Index ranked Australia as the second best place in the world to be a female entrepreneur, after the US.

With the decline of the manufacturing industry and rise in the use of technology, the landscape of Australia’s workforce is constantly changing and young people are increasingly spotting opportunities and finding gaps in the market to launch their own startups.

In order to accommodate this trend, many universities around Australia have established accelerator programs to fund student startups, such as the University of Sydney’s own program, Incubate. However, despite the rising number of women applying to Incubate, male students still largely dominate the program.

James Alexander, founder of Incubate, speculates that this problem stems from the fact that fewer women are enrolled in technical degrees such as engineering and computer science in Australia, which teach skills that lend themselves well to developing the platform of a tech startup idea, such as coding a website or app.

According to Universities Australia, women account for 60% of university graduates nationally. However, there is still a severe lack of women on corporate boards and in executive ranks, pointing to a problem in workplace retention amongst other factors. These positions are often taken by people who began their own businesses and have seen growth and success overtime.

When starting a company, certainly one of the most common and significant pieces of advice from entrepreneurs is to find a mentor who you connect with and who can guide you in the running of your business.

“From our data, it’s the single most valuable thing that the startups get out of the program,” says James Alexander on Incubate. “It’s not the grant money, it’s not the free office space, it’s not the workshops – it’s the mentors that they’re given.”

There are a number of platforms currently available to women in order to network and collaborate, such as Business Chicks, Women in Focus and SHE Business. However more recently, tech startup PropellHer has entered the space with the aim to connect female mentees with mentors through an entirely online community. Danielle Fletcher, co-founder of PropellHer with business partner Naomi Kimberlin, describes the influence of a mentor as instrumental to her own business journey. While originally launching a personal branding business, Danielle and Naomi pivoted the idea by taking the concept of career mentoring online following the advice of their mentor Lars Rasmussen, creator of Google Maps and Director of Engineering at Facebook.

From her own experiences working with people to develop their personal brand, Danielle has found that women are often lacking in self-belief in their abilities, something that mentors can help change. “I think mentors are perfect for that. They’re not only there to share their advice and their experiences, but for that support around confidence, and just someone who can be a cheerleader as well – tell you that you’re doing a great job and to keep going.”

Interestingly, a common theme emerging in the success of startups is the idea that entrepreneurs should never have to go it alone. There is a wealth of knowledge available to anyone interested in starting their own business through the experiences and support of others, and an extraordinary number of ways out there to connect with these people.

Although financial risk and the fear of failure can pose challenging obstacles to those wanting to enter the startup space, the passion and hope in the voices of entrepreneurs is evident of the phenomenal change and disruption they are making to these industries, and in a wider sense, the world. And if all this has taught me anything, it’s what Danielle has put quite eloquently in her own words: “The scariest step when you’re starting your own business is taking the first one.”

WORDS BY ERIN ROONEY. For questions, queries or more articles, contact Erin at eroo2505@uni.sydney.edu.au

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