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The future of female start-up founders

In the heart of Auckland, over 150 women gathered at the SkyCity theatre at the Electrify Aotearoa conference in early August, the country’s dedicated conference for women start-up founders.

The conference was jam-packed with well-known women in entrepreneurship talking about their stories, while featuring knowledge-filled masterclasses and an inside look into the other side of business, venture capital.

Electrify Aotearoa’s crowd was like no other. Empowered by the theme of making the industry a level playing field for the next generation, the crowd was energetic, supportive and loud  by conference standards.

Bustling with ambitious and passionate women (and men), these start-up founders, or soon-to-be founders, were motivated by the idea of breaking the glass ceiling and celebrating their wins together.

Minister of Science, Research and Innovation, Ayesha Verrall says that in the past few years, New Zealand has invested around $200 million in 130 start-ups.

“We’re growing a vibrant start-up ecosystem,” she says.

But, only a quarter of those start-ups are women-founded or led. Though in the grand scale of things, New Zealand is ahead of the world in this aspect, the number does not reflect our society.

A common theme throughout the conference was the acknowledgement that being a woman in the industry is hard, but it is not about being a victim, but rather seeking this as an opportunity of igniting the passion to push forward.

Read more: International Women’s Day: Celebrating the female entrepreneurs of NZ

From founders such as Janine Grainger of EasyCrypto, Laura Bell Main of Safestack to Sarah Balle of Supie, their key message was that though being a woman is hard, “it can be powerful”.

Though it is not easy being a woman, it is even harder being an indigenous, migrant or neurodiverse woman.

Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall.

“It is not easy and it is challenging, but what can keep you motivated is the ‘why’ and the ‘mission’,” says Balle, who is neurodiverse.

Wellbeing Ambassador, Tuihana Ohia says that for indigenous women they have a lot to offer in terms of innovation in the corporate world, but struggle as it is heavily westernised.

Game developer Maru Nihoniho of Metia Interactive says the struggle of being a woman and Māori in a male-dominated industry is what fuels her motivation to get herself represented.

A panel including some of the country’s largest venture capital houses such as Blackbird, MOVAC and more was a stand-out for giving the start-up founders a perspective on the other side.

In between keynote speakers and panels, Electrify Aotearoa provided attendees with masterclasses run by successful ladies such as Ashley Bass from Lawvu on how to take your start-up to market.

Callaghan Innovation also attended the conference, announcing its new initiative in supporting start-ups with free guidance and counselling for founders in the industry.

One day after marinating the learnings from the Electrify Aotearoa conference, it can be said that women in the industry are “hustling like nobody’s business” to get recognised and represented in a male-dominated industry.

With such a successful event, it can be said that New Zealand, though still needing a lot of work, is definitely on the right path.

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles. To get in touch with her, email [email protected]

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