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‘We need change’: Female founders launch educational network to increase support

Five WA businesswomen have launched a new educational network in response to the ongoing lack of support for female founders in the State’s startup sector.

Announced at West Tech Women at Woodside Energy on Tuesday, VentureX HQ was founded by directors Pia Turcinov, Tracie Clark, Justine Teggelove, Stephanie Rowland and Sheryl Frame.

Ms Turcinov — who sits on a number of boards in the technology, property, health and energy industries — said there was a simple reason why VentureX was established: “We need change”.

“We can’t keep expecting things to change, we need to create our own opportunities,” she said.

Female founders face a myriad of challenges including receiving disproportionately lower amounts of funding and lack of representation, Ms Turcinov told The West.

“There’s such little funding available in Perth, so you’re grateful when an investor just wants to speak to you,” she said.

Pia Turcinov at West Tech Women.
Camera IconPia Turcinov at West Tech Women. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

Female founded companies in Australia secured $5.8 billion in funding from 2018-2021, representing only 23.7 per cent of all funding, according to a report by TechBoard.

Solely female founded businesses raised significantly less per round when compared to all male founding teams.

WA saw some of the lowest amounts of funding being funnelled to female-founded startups, ranking only in front of the ACT, the report found.

Attitudes towards female-led businesses from male investors was a significant barrier for women in the industry, Ms Turcinov said, describing some of the behaviour as “really quite frightening”.

Both Ms Turcinov and Ms Frame — an independent commercialisation adviser — said they knew one female founder who was questioned on her ability to remain chief executive of her company with a toddler at home in the past month.

Ms Turcinov said she had also heard instances of women being advised to “get a male co-founder in there” to make their business appear more viable.

VentureX would help female founders become “investor savvy” by helping women understand the investment process and connect with pre-vetted investors, Ms Turcinov said.

Ms Frame said female founders were often hesitant to approach male investors for advice, and that VentureX would create a safe, go-to place for women in the industry.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be that safety net for females who don’t know how to go about getting funding, and who need a support network behind them to provide that nurturing as they scale,” she said.

Sheryl Frame at West Tech Women.
Camera IconSheryl Frame at West Tech Women. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

Ms Turcinov said it was crucial for male investors to see more examples of successful female-led businesses, and that unconscious bias in the sector was still a prominent issue.

“Is she going to be emotional? What’s going to happen when her kids are sick? I don’t expect that men think this consciously, but it’s behaviour that excludes women from getting a seat at the table,” she said.

While Ms Turcinov believes it’s “the right time” for VentureX to launch, she said her main goal was ultimately to make the group redundant.

“I’d love to get to a place where we don’t need VentureX; we don’t need anything that starts with ‘female founders’,” she said.

Membership to the group will cost $100 a month, providing access to 10 monthly roundtables, one-on-one mentoring sessions and networking events.

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