Springboard and the new future
Topaz Conway: Progress has been made, but there is still a challenge
Progress is being made towards better gender diversity in the Australian tech and startup sector, but much more work needs to be done to approach equality, Springboard Enterprise Australia chief executive and StartupAus chair Topaz Conway said.
When Ms Conway launched Springboard Enterprise Australia (SBE) – a startup accelerator program for women founders – in 2012, the local industry was only starting to emerge and it was dominated by men.
“When we started this six years ago, there wasn’t anything happening for women entrepreneurs. We were the only game in town then, and now there are all kinds of things and groups that are trying to focus on some of the same things that we founded Springboard on,” Ms Conway told InnovationAus.com.
“We’re seeing more women starting more companies and building bigger companies. The momentum keeps growing.”
But the industry runs the risk of losing that momentum if it did not continue to strive for change, Ms Conway said.
“It’s something that has been around for centuries, and it’s not going to go away just because people say they believe in equality. It’s so embedded, and it takes effort and a continual awareness of our own biases,” she said.
“Diversity is something that affects every business, every community, every board, every government, every program and every job. When we reach a point where it isn’t a thing then we’ll know we’ve reached equality.”
A significant issue that still exists in Australia preventing the gender gap from closing further is experience, she said.
“We were late to the party when it comes to innovation, startups and entrepreneurs. We didn’t get our act together until about five or six years ago. Having a deep experience level of people within the ecosystem is what it takes to really mature as an entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem,” Ms Conway said.
“We’re not quite there yet. There are lots of people jumping on the bandwagon who believe they can contribute,” she said.
“There are lots of very inexperienced people giving advice that isn’t necessarily the right advice.
“We have to be really mindful of that and remember that the people we’re dealing with, the entrepreneurs and founders that come to us for help have put a lot on the line. We can’t mess with that.”
The SBE accelerator program has been running for six years now, and has seen the likes of Flamingo, PlanDo and Mentorloop. The 45 companies that have gone through the program have since raised a collective total of $180 million.
Applications are now open for the 2018 version of the program, which will see up to 10 women-led companies undertake a three-day bootcamp in Sydney, followed by an eight-week coaching program and final pitch night.
The accelerator program is built for companies that are established and have traction.
“We want women who have a good, solid technology company already. They’ve already done their proof of concept, they have customers, they have done trials, and have traction.
“The ideal spot for somebody to apply for Springboard is they have a global company, they want to scale it, they have an eye to other global markets and they just need some of the knowledge and networks that Springboard offers,” Ms Conway said.
Applications to the SBE acceleration program close on 23 February.