Why it is important to have programs like SheStarts specifically designed for women-led start-ups and what specific challenges women face in business.

 Lana Weal is a feminist, a marketing guru, a tech-lover and a supporter of idea-stage entrepreneurs

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Lana Weal is a big believer in women and their potential to change the world. As the Marketing Manager at BlueChilli Group, Lana works with female entrepreneurs through SheStarts, an accelerator program powered by BlueChilli.

Women receive less than 2% of venture capital funding worldwide, but BlueChilli are positively levelling the playing field through their accelerator programs, like SheStarts. Empowering early-stage female founders with the resources, skills and support they need to build the first version of their tech product, SheStarts is about equality in the boardroom, and the tech industry as a whole. 

Lana is the ‘storyteller’ behind it all, and she’s passionate about celebrating female founders. She brings the SheStarts brand to life, shining a spotlight on female entrepreneurs who have inspiring stories to tell and innovative ideas to share… 

You’re a lover of learning, researching and making the world a better place. Why do you care so much about having a positive impact?

There are three things that stand out to me;

1. Be kind.

My mum always said, ‘Manners don’t cost anything’, and apparently, my mother’s mother always told her,’If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ These age-old adages have stayed with me through life. You never know the full impact that your words, presence and actions have on other people. The way we communicate with each other is often the key to happiness, and it takes just a little time, thought and effort to share positive ideas with others – and try to make their lives a little better. We can try to describe this impact, but some of our thoughts and feelings are bound to be lost in translation. It’s like Maya Angelou’s amazing quote: ‘I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. I try to be really mindful of how my energy impacts others as it can make a difference. I also like to think about how teachers can change the course of children’s lives with one meaningful compliment or one misguided put-down. 

2. Always be learning. 

I think my love for learning also originated from my mother who didn’t have the opportunity to go to university. When my brother and I were young, my mother would read to us often and adopt fun voices to draw us into the story. She really encouraged us to learn as much as we could and to put that knowledge to good use to help others. And as Arthur used to say, “Having fun isn't hard, when you've got a library card.” It still blows my mind that there are so many beautiful public libraries with countless books packed with knowledge, that you can take home and enjoy - for FREE! Now in the digital age with the amount of knowledge sharing we have online, you can learn almost anything! I believe that the more knowledge we share, the better we’ll be at understanding each other, being kind to each other, and solving the problems humanity faces together. 

3. Know you have an impact.

At our small-town school, my brother was told not to bother trying to become a filmmaker as it wasn’t ‘realistic’. And thank goodness he was stubborn enough to ignore those advisors and has gone on to make films. His first feature film encapsulates this feeling really well: Chronesthesia is a story about a man who had isolated himself from others. And as he slowly becomes more involved in the lives of others, he sees the impact that one person can have. In a world where mental health and wellbeing is so important, I think we can’t be reminded enough of our impact, how we’re all unique and how we all have something of value to offer the world. 

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What are some of the challenges women-led start-ups face? 

We know that women make up less than a quarter of start-up founders in Australia, and women receive less than 2% of venture capital funding worldwide. And when women pitch their ideas in investment opportunities, women often get different questions to men

We believe a lot of these lack of opportunities women have come from unconscious bias - from both ourselves and others. We know that women often hold themselves back from taking opportunities and tell themselves stories about what they can and can’t do. We also know that unconscious bias impacts all of us as our minds make mental shortcuts and assumptions about people. 

Everybody has times where they have issues with confidence and imposter syndrome, but we see this confidence gap seems to be more common in women. This was encapsulated well in that study that showed women only apply for jobs where they meet close to 100% of the required skills, while men apply when they meet only 60%. We want more women to put themselves forward for opportunities. 

SheStarts Program Director, Filipa Araujo, pointed out that you can ask people who their favourite women entrepreneurs are (or women tech entrepreneurs), and often people struggle to name one, let alone a handful. We want to create more opportunities for women to thrive in start-ups and in the tech world, so the next generation of women have a clear path to follow, if they choose to.    

From what we know from our work at BlueChilli and in the start-up ecosystem, it’s not just women who are facing challenges. It’s also founders with diverse backgrounds - those who don’t look like the stereotypical start-up founder. 

Why is it so important to have programs like SheStarts specifically designed for women-led start-ups?

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We’re at a time in history where we should have gender equality and equal opportunities. But we know there are systemic problems which have impacted women and their ability to step forward as leaders. Over the past 100 years, women have had wins for our human rights evolving from being able to own land, vote, stay employed after marriage and drink in public bars. Gender expectations have evolved over time and some women have considered what it means to ‘have it all’, we’ve heard from women with thriving careers, families and hobbies often say, ‘you can have it all, but not at the same time’. 

We know that diversity at the leadership level creates more opportunities for innovation and drives better results for businesses. And if we don’t call out the need for more diversity, things won’t change. We want to see more women at the leadership level - on the ASX 200, the Fortune 500, in parliament, and as CEOs of tech start-ups. When women are empowered in positions of leadership and influence, then we acknowledge the value of diversity of thought and can create more opportunities for wider communities. 

Often women don’t see themselves as potential CEOs or founders of a tech company. SheStarts is powered by BlueChilli and through all BlueChilli’s accelerator programs, our team empowers early-stage founders to build the first version of their tech product (their MVP). So SheStarts is just one program that empowers women with opportunities to create scalable start-ups and in partnership with the BlueChilli team, we empower these women to bring their new tech ideas to life. 

The Founding Director of the SheStarts program and gender equality advocate, Nicola Hazell, co-created SheStarts with the vision to create more opportunities for women - both in the program and with a focus on storytelling through documentaries and blogs, as, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. The main thing we try to do to overcome these challenges is to increase visibility of women in startups, educate founders about mindfulness so they’re aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and provide access to mentoring. We want women to have better access to mentorship and opportunities to share their ideas on a global scale, and to do that, we need more women in startups both seeking and offering those opportunities. 

Every founder has a community supporting them, and SheStarts has key partners and advisors that support us to empower our founders. Our SheStarts advisors provide masterclasses, mentoring and connections so that they have a community around them to thrive. 

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There are so many incredible programs, groups and initiatives that support women to take action on their dreams. One initiative that we particularly love is the recently launched platform STEM Women, which profiles amazing women in STEM from around Australia and creates more opportunities for these women.

You’re passionate about the power of female storytelling. Why are open and honest conversations so important within the female start-up community? 

This comes back to our guiding theme of: “If you can see it, you can be it.” One of our SheStarts alumni founders, Zoë Condliffe says, “When I share my story, I give others the strength and the courage to do the same”. I believe something magical happens when a group of women come together and share experiences. It provides opportunities for other women to learn about what’s possible for them.

We find that women see different problems from their unique experiences - so it’s essential that we share their stories and experiences so other women can step forward and do the same for the next generation. 

What’s a week in your shoes look like?

At BlueChilli, our mission is to help idea-stage entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs solve society’s greatest challenges with technology – so as you can imagine, every week at BlueChilli is pretty unique! What I’m working on depends on what stage we’re at for our programs - either planning new programs, campaigning for applications or supporting current and alumni founders. 

When it comes to SheStarts, I bring the brand to life through storytelling and highlighting the amazing progress women in the start-up and tech industries have made. One of my favourite parts of my role is working directly with the founders to share their stories to inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs and to share my experience of marketing so they can share their mission with their audience. 

I also love attending and supporting the many Melbourne start-up events. I particularly enjoy the monthly pitch night by Start-up Vic - and there’s always free and educational events available to founders, many of which our founders are involved with as speakers. 

Who inspires you?

So many people! At the moment, I’m in love again with Marie Forleo’s work. She’s hilarious, humble, and has been hustling in her business for 20 years, sharing weekly advice on Marie TV, educating women in B-School and just realised the epic book, Everything Is Figureoutable.

I’m constantly inspired by the hustle, heart and vision of our SheStarts founders. I knew they all had big ambitions, but it wasn’t until I got to spend two weeks with SheStarts 2 founders in Silicon Valley and New York learning what global scale really looks like that I got to experience first-hand their commitment and passion for their world.

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Name some of the most interesting women-led businesses you’ve worked with? 

I love all of our SheStarts founders, but a few of the startups that really resonated with me on a personal level are:  

She’s A Crowd - Zoë Condliffe:  This start-up has built a safe place for women to share their stories of gender-based violence and sexual assault. More than 80% of gender based violence cases go unreported, and I find the way Zoë talks about this difficult topic is inspiring and I’m humbled by her work (check out her inspiring TEDxTalk!)

TalkiPlay - Dr Annie McAuley: This start-up was created to help solve a real personal problem - Annie’s child had a delay in learning language. Annie’s story is full of miracles - she was motivated by empowering her child to learn language, and she had to overcome obstacles in her own life. Annie is a true leader, has shared her story to empower others and has done everything in this start-up from tech creation to raising investment. I love that this tech is like a Disney movie with a ‘talking house’, and I hope one day it expands so that everyone can use it to learn a second language. 

Theratrak - Laura Simmons: Laura is an occupational therapist and has digitised the way therapist can track, monitor and prescribe home therapy programs. I’m humbled by the work OTs do, and am so inspired by Laura - an OT turned tech start-up founder. As someone who needs physiotherapy for a lasting injury, I hope this expands one day to all aspects of therapy. 

Neighbourlytics - Jessica Christainsen-Franks & Lucinda Hartley: Neighbourlytics is a social analytics platform designed to measure the quality and wellbeing in cities and neighbourhoods, based on their digital footprint. A considerable amount of systems in the world have been developed by men, and these powerhouse female co-founders are experts on urban design and city planning, and every time they speak, I learn something new. 

The Neighbourhood Effect - Lily Dempster: This start-up is tackling a massive problem and empowering people to realise their individual impact. Using behavioural science, The Neighbourhood Effect allows users to engage with local, sustainable business and recommends ways we can adjust our everyday choices to be more environmentally friendly. Lily also shared more of her story on the One Roof blog.  

This blog was written by the incredible and talented Claire Goldsworthy, Founder of The Fashion Advocate.

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