BLOG IMAGE SheStarts Nicola Hazell

Female Leader, Nicola Hazell, Director SheStarts

Nicola Hazell Nicola Hazell joined BlueChilli as the Head of Diversity and Impact in 2016, with a background in journalism, politics and public affairs in the community sector. Her first significant challenge was to launch and lead the inaugural SheStarts program. In Australia, and indeed globally, there are few (if any) venture-backed technology accelerators that cater specifically to the needs of early-stage female founders, and are designed to help female entrepreneurs build big tech businesses. SheStarts was deliberately designed to fill this gap.

SheStarts Round 1 ran for 12 months and featured a talented cohort of female-led technology startups. The intent of SheStarts is to champion diversity within the global technology industry. By participating, female founders are exposed to a series of critical startup milestones, including access to their first investors, first product launches and first pilot and/or scaling opportunities.

In Round 1, the SheStarts Founders’ journeys were filmed and shared via a groundbreaking documentary web-series and digital campaign. Viewers were able to absorb the inevitable, fascinating rollercoaster that is the typical entrepreneurial startup founder’s journey. With the success of Round 1, BlueChilli has decided to run the competition to launch Round 2, with entries closing by midday on 6 November 2017. We wanted to hear from Nicola firsthand how the program is helping to create gender equality in the tech industry.

You were instrumental in shaping Round 1 of the Blue Chilli SheStarts program. Share with us some of the highlights of Round 1.

The SheStarts program has been a game-changer for female-led startups in Australia.

More than 800 women registered to apply when we launched the first program last October – proving that the underrepresentation of women in startups was not due to “a pipeline problem” as is commonly claimed. Women just hadn’t seen themselves in this male-dominated field, and common barriers were preventing them from getting started.

By designing a program that understood those barriers and worked to tear them down, we have been able to surface incredible ideas from some of the most inspiring, talented (and un-known!) women in Australia.

The first cohort of founders – most of them completely new to the world of technology – have since taken their ideas from concepts developed in their lounge rooms, and turned them into globally scalable tech startups.

Their businesses are solving major social and economic challenges in financial security and transparency, environmental sustainability, urban design, accessibility and inclusion, animal welfare and social diversity.

Since graduating from the SheStarts accelerator in August this year, these women have been building and growing their companies, kicking off pilots with major corporate partners, undertaking capital raising for growth, winning awards, hitting the press, and stepping into their new roles as emerging leaders in the startup economy.

Their stories are redefining what it means to be a tech entrepreneur, and demonstrating the impact we can have when we intentionally design for diversity.

It’s been amazing to see this unique model for accelerating female-led startups attracting attention around the world. Our SheStarts program was recognised at the OECD in Paris as an exemplar of inclusive entrepreneurship, and next month the model will be presented to the APEC Women in Business forum in Seoul.

We’re also thrilled to see the impact of the SheStarts documentary web-series, which has had more than half a million views on social media alone, and has just been shortlisted for the Mumbrella Awards for best Branded Entertainment (Non-Fiction).

By sharing the real and raw stories of female entrepreneurs building tech startups from the ground up, we are inspiring a new wave of women and girls to get started.

SheStarts is just about to embark on Round 2. How can interested Female Founders find out more about how to get involved?

For all details, head to SheStarts website and join our community on social media to stay up to date with the program.

Applications close next Monday 6th November, so there’s still time to get involved!

We’ve had a number of events throughout Australia over the past month, with another two in Melbourne this week, so it would be great to meet interested founders there!

People can also check out the AMA we did last week, where we answered a tonne of questions about what we’re looking for and what this opportunity could mean for female founders. You can watch the recording on our SheStarts Facebook page.

Tell us what you think is required to advance gender equality faster in Australia within the technology industry.

To improve gender equality in tech and entrepreneurship, we need to design for it. Diversity should be non-negotiable . After all, the evidence shows that diversity in leadership leads to greater innovation, greater creativity and better bottom-lines.

The possibilities of tech and innovation will never be truly realised if we’re missing out on the ideas and creativity of half the population. So driving gender equality in this field must be the number one priority for growth. It’s a no-brainer.

To unlock this potential, we must create spaces for women to learn about the opportunities available. To develop key skills, to identify in themselves the potential for leading globally scalable companies, and to see in others examples of how it can be done.

From grass-roots organisations like Code Like a Girl, seeking to inspire and engage women and girls in tech; to hackathons like SheHacks providing a launch pad for women entrepreneurs; to programs helping later-stage founders pitch for major investments and partnerships such as SBE and Heads Over Heels ,  the effort for equality is building.

In the case of SheStarts, we’re harnessing the power of open innovation to support female founders to take their businesses from idea stage to launch and beyond. We’ve drawn together major partners such as MYOB, ANZ, Google, LinkedIn and the BCA to collaborate with startups and specifically turbocharge female participation and leadership in the startup economy. This collective effort, combined with the amazing support of ecosystem leaders in our advisory group, is an indication of the value seen in driving gender equality.

What life events have shaped your advocacy for gender equality?

I’m often asked “what is your why?”. People wondering if there was a lightbulb moment that made me decide to become an advocate for gender equality.

But in truth, it was not a single life event that shaped my passion and determination for gender equality. It was an upbringing that instilled in me a sense of community and responsibility to make a positive impact in the world. Coupled with a life and career where I have seen inequality consistently and persistently leave women behind.

I grew up in a family where I was always encouraged to be ambitious. There was never anyone telling me I couldn’t be or do what I sought out to achieve. However, I also grew up in a world where the men went to work and the women took care of the children; where men mowed lawns and women washed dishes. It was a very “pink & blue” kind of world.

My father was in the military and as our family moved from one Air Force base to another, my mother was always there to help us navigate those changes. She had stepped out of a career in nursing to support and care for our family as we travelled all over the country and overseas. But while my mother’s role was seen by society as “a stay-at-home-mum”, what I saw was a community builder. She was always finding a way to bring women from the community together, women who were often isolated by military-life. My mother would build support networks, create opportunities for others and celebrate the contributions of women in our neighbourhoods.

So as I grew older, I had a strong sense of the importance of community, of supporting others and being part of something creating a positive impact in the world.

Throughout my career, spanning journalism, politics, the community sector and now tech, I have been inspired and supported by incredible female leaders. And have also watched them face incredible battles to be heard, respected and treated equally throughout their leadership journeys. I have faced my own battles against unconscious (and conscious) bias, in industries where women often make up the bulk of employees, but men fill the majority of roles at the helm.

And most of all, I have seen the impacts of inequality at the pointy end, where women and girls are disproportionately living in poverty, victims of domestic violence and abuse, struggling against economic inequality.

So why focus on gender equality in tech and entrepreneurship? Because we can’t build a brilliant future led by tech and innovation if half the population is missing in action.

Because tech companies are now the most influential companies in the world. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are not only dominating the financial markets, they are influencing the way we live our lives, the way we connect, communicate and engage with the world around us. The men who run those companies are even more influential than the men who run our countries.

Imagine what the world would be like if, in ten years time, more of the companies that shape our lives are led by women, working in collaboration with diverse leadership teams.

This is a dream worth pursuing.

What has been your greatest challenge?

The greatest challenges are often small. Making a decision to do something risky, to put yourself out there and do something you haven’t done before – when there is no guarantee it will work.

In the past, I’d often agonise over such decisions, waiting for the perfect opportunity to come along. Changing my own mindset was the greatest challenge. To realise life is too short to wait for ‘perfect’, to wait until you’re sure you’re making the right call. It’s not about being flippant. You can still be considered and deliberate and thoughtful. But you’ve also got to take a leap of faith and trust your intuition when there is ‘nothing but gut’ to go on.

What are you most proud of?

It’s the moments, not the milestones.

Moments like…when a four month old baby cried out from the audience at the start of our first SheStarts bootcamp. Because we had created an environment where women didn’t have to hide the fact they have a family while launching a business.

And…when one of our founders was having a particularly shitty day and broke down in pitch practice, and the entire room wrapped around her to build her back up, ready to deliver an absolutely show-stopping pitch the following week.

And… when I see women walk up to our alumni and say “I feel like I know you! I’ve watched your story on the SheStarts documentary and want to thank you for inspiring me to get started.”

Those are the moments that are changing the startup ecosystem, and making it possible for women to build great companies. Those are the moments that I’m most proud of.

What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?

Don’t worry about climbing ladders that have been put in place by someone else.

Focus on the impact you want to make in the world, then lay your own path in front of you to get there. And…take others with you when you do.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Founder

Mother, wife, daughter, determined dreamer. Lover of books. Background in Human Resources leadership in global organisations.