‘Devastating’: female founders’ grants stuff-up

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

Hundreds of female entrepreneurs were incorrectly told they had been successful in their application for a federal government grants program after an error saw a congratulatory email sent out to all applicants for the scheme, rather than just those that had been awards grant dollars.

On Monday morning applicants for the second round of the Industry department’s Boosting Female Founders program received an email saying they had been successful and inviting them to submit a further application for the next stage.

But hours later, they then received a follow-up email saying that they had not been successful.

“I am sorry to inform you that you received an incorrect notification this morning regarding your Boosting Female Founders expression of interest. I apologise for any confusion or inconvenience that this has caused,” the email said.

Canberra Parliament
Under a cloud: Boosting Female Founders program

A number of applicants to the program reported receiving these emails and feeling “devastated” about the mix-up, and angered about the generic apology email sent out by the department.

The $52.2 million Boosting Female Founders program offers grants of between $25,000 and $480,000 for female-founded startups to expand into domestic and global markets.

The first round of the program saw 2200 expressions of interest, with 51 companies sharing in $12 million. More than $11.5 million is on offer as part of the second round of the program.

A spokesperson for the Industry department confirmed that all applications for the expression of interest stage of the grants program were incorrectly told they had been successful.

“Unsuccessful EOI applicants of round two of the Boosting Female Founders initiative were incorrectly notified that their application would proceed to stage two of the application process,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

“Applicants impacted were promptly advised they had been incorrectly notified. The department understands that this will have disappointed a large number of applicants and apologises to those affected. The department is reviewing its processes so this mistake is not repeated in the future.”

Debias.AI co-founder Laura Summers was one of the applicants incorrectly told they had been successful in the first stage of the grants process. She said her team had already started preparing their application for the next stage before the correction email was sent out.

She said it’s even more disappointing given the difficulties of running a business during a pandemic.

“We are finding that networking is harder, building visibility is harder, testing ideas is harder. Budgets are very very tightly controlled or non-existent for non-essential spends,” Ms Summers told InnovationAus.

“I’ve had a talk rescheduled three times over the past few months. So in this context this kind of stuff-up feels even more discouraging than it might otherwise.”

Hearsay.io founder Pip Stocks was another founder who was incorrectly told her application had been successful, and says she was left “devastated” by the mix-up.

“All founders work hard to get their startup going, and funding is critical for scaling. But imagine having only a 3 per cent chance of getting that funding. And the rest of the population have a 97 per cent chance,” Ms Stocks told InnovationAus.

“Then once you think there is an opportunity it is swiftly taken from you. It was a devastating feeling.”

WBGS Global founder Yasmin Grigaliunas was also caught up in the stuff-up, and said the “terrible communications” from the government made it worse.

“[The department] missed an opportunity to own the error by using the ‘copy and paste’ template. Plenty of people out there gutted today I bet. We can do better,” Ms Grigaliunas posted on Twitter.

Online publication Women’s Agenda was also told they had been successful for the grants stage only to be later told this was wrong.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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