Only 22.3 per cent of Australia’s founders are women. This under-representation in the start-up arena is no secret – and one scale the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) is trying to balance out.
The increasing popularity of CBRIN’s Female Founders events demonstrates the value of support networks for women, according to chief operating officer Sharyn Smith.
“Our latest Female Founders event for International Women’s Day booked out solid,” she says.
“We had 100 women in the room connecting and taking away information they could actually use in their businesses.
“It’s the relationships you form that can open doors, create networks and get you through.”
Canberra entrepreneur and past Female Founders presenter Claire Chesterton says gender aside, networking events are essential for all founders.
“Connecting with people who have done it before and are doing it now can help you foresee bumps in the road you might come up against or help you collaborate with other people who have complementary services and businesses,” she says.
“A common thread at these events is that you leave with more fire in your belly and less anxiety about what you’re doing because others are doing it too.
“Networking events are not about receiving one silver bullet that’ll help your business succeed, but motivation and feeling it’s possible to achieve what you’ve set out to do.”
Claire says an unexpected obstacle for women when starting a business can be the need to feel 100 per cent ready before pursuing opportunities. She advocates progress over perfection.
“A lot of females want to wait until they have perfectly formed ideas and requests before seeking help or investment,” she says.
“It’s hard for a creator who started their own business to take that ‘fail fast’ attitude you sometimes see in big, established businesses because I hazard a guess one of the reasons they started was to create something good that does good things, solves problems and interests people.
“Nobody thinks ‘I’m going to create something that’s crap for the first few rounds and eventually will be good’ – that’s never the goal.”
Claire discovered CBRIN through its Icon grant when she co-founded her own business, Miiroko. This early investment led her to other pathways in the innovation ecosystem – at CBRIN and beyond.
“The thing that surprised me about CBRIN is they opened doors I didn’t realise were there. When I reached out about one thing, they said ‘have you heard of this other thing?’,” she says.
“The Female Founders events I’ve attended have both a networking component and a business education side. I find the two complement each other.”
Sharyn says the Female Founders sessions have been designed to directly address some of the issues widely associated with the gender gap, such as unfriendly networking hours.
“Female Founders is held every second month over lunchtime – that timing is by design,” she says.
“People who are working can leave their office job, come for an hour, gain some insights and knowledge and head back to work.
“The 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm lunchtime slot is less likely to infringe on other commitments such as school drop-offs and pick-ups.”
Sharyn says Female Founders sessions are “less a talkfest, more a fireside-type chat” focused on giving women practical information from experienced and budding entrepreneurs.
The sessions address another factor contributing to the gap – a shortage of in-kind support such as female-focused incubators, accelerator programs and co-working spaces. Some Female Founders events have been co-working open days at CBRIN.
“A lot of founders are working in very isolated environments,” Sharyn says.
“If they’re working from home they don’t have those crucial collision conversations they would get in an environment where lots of people are doing lots of things.”
She says Female Founders contributes to CBRIN’s purpose of encouraging “that entrepreneurial spirit that’s so prevalent in Canberra” and welcomes anyone who wants to learn and become part of the Canberra Innovation Network’s inclusive community.
“Our purpose is to connect the whole innovation ecosystem.”
The next Female Founders event, Marvellous Media: The Secret Life of PR and Media, runs from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm on Thursday, 19 May at the Canberra Innovation Network. Visit the website for more information.