SBE Australia has launched a new advisory model to connect promising women-founded businesses with the services they need for rapid growth in a partnership with professional services firm BDO.
So said SBE CEO Nicole Cook SBE Advies Collectief was developed in response to reports the organization commissioned last year, which showed that between 2017 and 2021, only 3.7% of private sector funding obtained by startups went exclusively to women-founded companies. That figure plummeted to 0.7% in FY22.
The report brought out important insights about social, financial and cultural barriers that still exist and prevent women from participating in entrepreneurship on an equal footing.
“What that research did was reveal a gaping hole in funding support for women-led businesses in general,” Cook said.
“It was shocking. When we started the research project, we thought the percentage of the funding that would go to the channel would be much higher.”
Cook said he paused to reflect on why so many promising female-led companies fail to get funding and concluded that the gap only arises later in a startup’s growth cycle.
“A key finding was that while support for early stage companies through accelerator programs and grants is quite strong, there is a cohort in the middle that just doesn’t have the critical support they need to get funding for commercialization,” she said.
“They are the group that sits between early and mature companies, what we would call ‘scale-up’.”
The SBE Advisory Collective is just the next step in solving the parity problem, Cook said.
“The issue of parity is an area we’re looking at very closely to get a sense of what that means in entrepreneurship and the deployment of capital,” she said.
“It would mean working with others to put some real goals on paper to work towards. It’s a bit early to say too much at this stage, but expect to hear more from us soon.”
Having mentored and supported hundreds of women-led startups through its accelerator programs over the past 11 years, SBE now has alumni from over 110 scale-up companies and over 250 early stage startups.
Cook said the SBE Advisory Collective’s focus is on providing high-growth scale-ups with the strategic support they need to qualify for funding through the organization’s existing programs, supported by the advisory services of its partners.
“We have learned that the current ecosystem of support for female founders is disjointed and will not encourage parity in entrepreneurship fast enough. Wrapping advice around the scale-up’s founders and CEOs can help them achieve their business growth metrics and qualify for investments,” she said.
“We hope that by doubling down on building a pipeline of investment-ready scale-ups, the number of funding allocations going to women-led companies will move closer to parity.”
Cook also hopes that other companies at similar stages will step forward for the support they need to reach their commercialization milestones.
“The natural candidates to access the consulting services will have completed one of our accelerators, but there are many other companies not yet known to us that need this type of support,” she said.
“We also encourage those teams to get in touch, to become an SBE member and gain access to a group of services that would otherwise be very difficult to access independently.”
There are about 100 service providers available through the Advisory Collective, but she is also looking for more if they want to join.
BDO joins as an anchor partner in SBE’s new Elevate program and as a platinum partner in the Advisory Collective. It offers business mentoring, support, and resources for accounting, tax, and consulting.
Tim Aman, BDO’s global fintech leader, said the partnership is about having an active voice on the importance of gender diversity and inclusion in business.
“However, if we do a good job supporting women-led scale-ups, we know we can have a positive, long-lasting and historic impact on the functioning of the Australian business ecosystem,” he said.
Others involved include law firms Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Hamilton and Locke, investor and PR firm IR Department and recruiters Real Time Australia plus startups accounting firm Standard Ledger.
Dr. Sheridan Gho, CEO and co-founder of Cenofex Innovations, joined the SBE Life Sciences program in 2020 with its medical device for the treatment of lymphedema.
She has since leaned “reasonably consistently on SBE’s business expertise” and signed up for the advisory collective, which charges a small monthly or annual membership fee “it was a worthwhile investment” as the first founder.
“Even knowing that other people have been there, built that, and were challenged as well — knowing you’re not alone is reassuring,” she said.
“It’s good to hear those war stories and know that others have found a way and seen success. It is important to have that feeling of a guiding light.”