Leading the way for women-led startups


15th March, 2022

Aotearoa lights the way for women-led startups

Women-led startups are still in the minority, but Aotearoa/New Zealand is making inroads when it comes to balancing the scales. Here’s how.

With technology making it ever more affordable for people to launch their own ventures and the global pandemic making many of us think twice about what we do for a living, there’s never been a better time, in many ways, to become an entrepreneur.

When it comes to addressing gender inequality, startups can also represent a way forward. After all, what better way for women to secure their own financial futures than by starting and leading their own businesses?

Around the globe, the number of women-led and owned startups is growing, but there is still much work to be done.

READ: 10 inspiring women in business to celebrate this IWD

Here’s what we know about the startup space in Aotearoa and how it’s become so female-friendly.

Women-led unicorns on the rise

For a broader context, it helps to learn how women are faring in the startup space internationally.

The number of females worldwide helming “unicorns” – a privately held startup company valued at over one billion US dollars – is on the rise, according to details published by the Statista Research Department in January 2022.

Based on the stats, the number of new women-led unicorns globally reached 21 in 2019.

While this doesn’t seem like such a significant number, it’s good to know that this was six more than the previous year.

Plus, in 2013, there were only four new unicorn businesses reported led by ladies.

We can see there’s significant growth in this area, although still plenty of room for more to come.

READ: The women entrepreneurs at the forefront of innovation

The investment outlook for women-led startups

Investment is a crucial part of getting many businesses to this unicorn level, so finding the right investors is key.

Marian Johnson, Chief Awesome Officer at the Ministry of Awesome in New Zealand, which supports startups and innovators locally, has noticed that venture capital assistance is building for women.

“We’re seeing more VC investment globally in female-led startups,” Johnson said.

There is still room for improvement, though, with many New Zealand lady entrepreneurs struggling to get equal treatment when seeking investment.

According to a report on raising capital published by Dr Janine Swail at The University of Auckland’s Business School, there was ‘evidence to suggest that women founders are less likely to ask for external funding over the lifespan of their business’.

This may have something to do with ‘negative perceptions and unfamiliarity with the investment process’ that may ‘dissuade women founders with investable businesses from exploring this avenue for growth’.

Also, Dr Swail’s report noted multiple quotes from female entrepreneurs in NZ who encountered gender bias that hindered their investment-seeking processes.

Factors that make NZ best for women-led business

Aotearoa is nevertheless a great place to be a woman in business in 2022 and beyond.

Johnson refers to the country’s connectivity and size, in particular.

She notes that in New Zealand, “it is not particularly difficult to connect into networks that can enable startup success”.

In larger markets, such as those found overseas, the sheer scale of the market and the competition can make life tougher.

“It is far more difficult to get started, get traction, and get connected,” said Johnson.

The smaller size of NZ also enables entrepreneurs to use the local market as a testing ground.

“We have a perfect low-cost test market for the rest of the world.

“Once entrepreneurs have achieved product or market fit here, that experience is invaluable for efforts to scale globally.”

Another factor helping women in business in New Zealand to get ahead is the breadth of knowledge in the nation these days.

“Our population is constantly enriched by Kiwis who’ve gone overseas, learned the ropes at large, future-focused companies internationally, and then returned home,” she said.

“They’ve come back to NZ just in time to hit their career prime, which is also an excellent time to found a startup.”

Plus, Johnson believes that New Zealand boasts many excellent female innovation models to take notes from, such as Kate Sheppard, Jacinda Ardern, and Helen Clark, thus helping to foster an entrepreneurial market.

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Startup accelerator for women arrives

The news gets better with the launch of a female-focused accelerator programme this year, too.

Electrify Accelerator aims to help ambitious startups fast-track their move from prototype to early-stage investment readiness.

It’s backed by leading investors, startup enablers, and government in New Zealand and is specifically designed to assist those businesses with at least one woman on the founding team.

Electrify Accelerator is led by the Ministry of Awesome and has been developed to answer some of the long-standing gender inequality issues existing in the startup space.

Applications are open for the accelerator until 3 April 2022.

Being a startup entrepreneur is a hard road to take, no matter your gender.

As women, though, it’s vital to put our hands up and seek out support wherever possible.

Keep an eye out for opportunities and assistance and be open to testing new waters as need be.