SheStarts founder program at risk

James Riley
Editorial Director

Australia’s tech accelerator focused entirely on women entrepreneurs SheStarts will almost certainly be wound-up once its third cohort complete their pitches to program’s Showcase event on schedule on November 27.

The SheStarts program is a casualty of a restructure at Sydney-based BlueChilli, which announced on Monday that it was pulling back from early-stage startups, focusing instead on established tech startups and scale-ups and opportunities presented through better engagement markets in Asia.

The restructure – which included significant layoffs of technical and program management staff – means BlueChilli will no longer build technology alongside its founder-clients, switching more to an advisory and innovation role.

BlueChilli was founded eight years ago by Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin and has helped build more than 140 startups and raise $160 million with its founders. The company would continue to have a team dedicated to helping our existing portfolio companies to scale and mature.

With the ancillary BlueChilli Venture Fund, which invested in the portfolio companies over the past five years, having now allocated all of its capital, Mr Eckersley-Maslin said it was an opportune time to evaluate the market and the company’s strategy for the future.

The SheStarts program had attracted tier one corporate support from its inception, including the ongoing participation of ANZ and MYOB from its earliest days.

The program received a $500,000 support grant through the Incubator Support Initiative, a program of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. Other corporate supporters had included LinkedIn, Microsoft and Google for Startups.

BlueChilli Group chief innovation officer Colette Grgic said the company pivot away from early stage startups meant SheStarts was unlikely to continue in its current form and that the company was examining options.

“The mission is as relevant today as it was three years ago when we ran the first program. It is still very important,” Ms Grgic said.

“Under this [new] mandate where we have a later-stage focus, we’d have to go back to the drawing board to see if its possible to redesign the program – which has been specifically focused on early stage female tech founders – and reframe it to later stage support,” she said. “Or it may make more sense to have it housed or partnered through another organisation.”

“I think that SheStarts specifically has enormous goodwill and recognition and love in the ecosystem. It has achieved a lot and we are proud of it. So its not something we want to park, but it is something we just have to assess between those two options.”

Ms Grgic said BlueChilli would ramp up its focus on Asia, after establishing a HealthTech accelerator for the region in Singapore earlier this year, and a corporate accelerator in Indonesia.

“We are seeing a lot of opportunities for Australian startups to grow into the region. What we are looking at now is ‘how do we help them to grow and scale into the region’.”

Ms Grgic said that where BlueChill had previously focused on the very earliest stage of the startup process – literally where people came to the company saying ‘hey I have an idea’ – the restructure means “what we’re looking at now is [startups that have] products in-market with customers and early traction, and then helping them to grow and scale through our new programs with corporate partners in Australia and Southeast Asia.”

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