By any number of metrics, Springboard Australia is among the most successful accelerator program in this country. The fact that it is focused exclusively on the support and promotion of female founders is incidental.
Springboard Australia has opened for applications for its 2017 Boot Camp, the organisations fifth accelerator boot camp held here. Applications close on November 9.
So here’s the thing about the Springboard program. Since its first boot camp in this country in 2013, it has built a powerful alumni network of women who have built or are building successful Australian companies.
And networks are a powerful asset. Just ask any bloke who attended an elite private school, or even who played rugby to a reasonable level into adult hood. Networks are powerful.
There have been 36 founders of female-led businesses through the program in Australia. Canva’s Melanie Perkins, Switch Automation’s Deb Noller, or 365cups’ Simone Eyles, or Catriona Wallace from Flamingo are the calibre of alumni from the program.
More than 80 per cent of companies have raised capital, more than $120 million in all. These are good numbers, and you can see how this network becomes more powerful as it grow. The Spring Board program in the US has been going for 17 years and has an alumni of more than 600 female founders who have collectively raised more than $7.2 billion.
For Springboard Australia chair Topaz Conway, this access to supporting alumni – the creation of this powerful network of goodwill and support from women who want to see you succeed – is the genuine, unpolished asset.
The bootcamp itself is very ‘high-touch’, Ms Conway says, with lots of direct involvement of the alumni network as mentors and coaches and advisers. That includes from a contingent of the US founders who are tapped for the Australian program.
And that is the difference, and why the female focus of the program is important. In Australia, the ‘natural’ alumni networks of school and sport that men use to build careers are not as pronounced or available for women. Ms Topaz says this is something Springboard Australia can help female founders in a way that generic accelerators cannot.
“You create this strong community of support of strong women who have built successful companies themselves,” Ms Conway said. “That’s a powerful thing.”
“We get to tap into that extended network of powerful successful women. And that US interface is really one of our key assets,” she said.
Springboard Australia is interesting also because of the very specific companies it targets. It seeks to fill a gap at the “top-end of the startup pyramid.” It is looking for companies that already have a product, that already have strong revenue growth, and looking for possible investments or strategic partnerships to help fuel a global growth phase.
Statistics show the funding gap that many companies find at this stage hit female-led founders harder, “leading to greater risk and higher failure rates.” And that’s a problem, because while 40 per cent of companies are founded by women, the numbers start to drop-off quite radically as their revenues become substantial.
Women are more likely to bootstrap and less likely to seek funding early.
And there has been change at the top for Springboard Australia. Former business journalist Narelle Hooper has taken the role of interim Executive Director.