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Equal slice of the pie: Pomegranate Kitchen's Rebecca Stewart discusses SheEO, social enterprise, women and venture capital funding, and more

Wellington-based social enterprise Pomegranate Kitchen has been named as one of five top female-led Kiwi businesses by SheEO. So what comes next, and how do we help close the massive inequality gap when it comes to women-led businesses and venture capital funding?

Only about 2.2 percent of venture capital (VC) funding went to businesses led by women last year – despite the fact women are starting businesses about twice as fast as men. Scarier still, the fact that about 4.4 percent of the total number of VC funding deals went to businesses led by women represents growth of fewer than three percent since 2006.

Is your blood boiling yet?

The people behind SheEO agree it’s a serious problem – and are doing all they can to fix things by bringing together women investors (known as activators) to support new ventures led by female entrepreneurs. Originating in Canada, New Zealand is the first country outside North America to adopt the funding model. And Wellington-based social enterprise Pomegranate Kitchen was named as one of five top female-led Kiwi businesses at the SheEO New Zealand Summit in Auckland on April 9.

Pomegranate Kitchen, a catering company that employs former refugees and can cater events for as few as 10 people or as many as hundreds, will receive an interest-free loan, business mentoring and access to a network of generous businesswomen around Aotearoa. Co-founder and general manager Rebecca Stewart says the support from SheEO means her company will be able to implement a growth plan that will more than double the number of cooks getting work experience, training and employment. It will also expand the products and services it offers. “Being one of the first groups to receive the loan is an honour and a vote of confidence for our business,” she says. “We have exciting plans for growth that are going to make a real difference for more former refugees and their families, and we will bring some amazing food to lucky Wellingtonians. It will really help us grow.”

Stewart says the support is “incredible,” especially since Pomegranate Kitchen launched only 18 months ago and doesn’t have a physical storefront. “We just had no idea there’d be so much support.”

As Stewart told Idealog last year, in light of the debate going on around immigration, refugees arriving in new countries aren’t always considered for their talents.  “It's so easy to put a label of ‘refugee’ on someone and forget the complexities that make up a group of people.

“Our cooks have various levels of English, varied educational levels before they arrived here, and various skills that they can bring. One is quite entrepreneurial and can lend her hand to anything - another has a steel trap mind for prices and bargains.

“There’s not just one type of person, but they are united by the fact that they have been put in more difficult and horrific circumstances than we can imagine. With that in mind I think the diversity of culture and different skills that they can bring can only make the ‘Kiwi’ way of life stronger.”

In terms of fixing some of the issues around inequality when it comes to VC funding – or to at least help ensure women-led businesses get a larger slice of the very lucrative pie – Stewart suggests reshaping and examining unconscious bias. She has other advice, too. “Amplifying voices is a good place to start.”

And specific advice for her younger self, and/or other entrepreneurs or people who simply want to make a positive difference in the world? “Always think bigger, and leverage the networks and relationships you have.”

The other women-led businesses SheEO named as among the top five include Amanda and Emily Oakley from DermNet, Dot Kettle and Georgia Richards of Dove River Peonies, Gillian Eadie and Allison Lamont of Memory Foundation Ltd, and Lyn and Monique Neeson of ShearWarmth.

Stewart started Pomegranate Kitchen with fellow co-founder Ange Wither.

SheEO's  model brings together 500 women (called Activators) in each cohort, who contribute $1,100 each as an Act of Radical Generosity. The money is pooled together and loaned out at low interest to five women-led ventures selected by the Activators. All ventures are revenue-generating with export potential and creating a better world through their business model or their product and service.

Loans are paid back into the fund over five years and then loaned out again. Activators are corporate executives, successful entrepreneurs, emerging women leaders, students, mothers, grandmothers, daughters ranging in age from 14 to 92, and more. Over 150 regions, from the Asia-Pacific to Latin America to Europe and North America, have applied to replicate the model in two short years since it was launched. This is New Zealand's first cohort.

Among SheEO's goals are to reach one million Activators, 10,000 women-led ventures, and a US$1 billion perpetual fund to support women for generations to come.

Check out this roundtable discussion with OMGTech! co-founder and general manager Zoe TimbrellAUT lecturer and She# founder Dr Mahsa Mohaghegh and MYOB general manager Carolyn Luey on what can be done to increase gender diversity and inclusivity in New Zealand’s tech sector, what individuals and organisations can do, where things can go from here, and more:

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