Top Ten Badass Moments for Australian Women in Tech in 2015
badassery: engaging in seemingly impossible activities and achieving success in a manner that renders all onlookers completely awestruck (urbandictionary.com)
Last week, StartupAUS CEO Peter Bradd published a brilliant wrap up of the year in Startup Australia and challenged the startup community to name its own top ten moments in Australian tech.*
Challenge Accepted: in the spirit of badassery, I’ve hacked Pete’s idea and compiled a completely biased, unscientific top ten list of badass moments (really themes) for Australian women in tech crowdsourced from twitter. These women (and a few badass guys) are role models and super achievers, the badass rockstars of today, inspiring the next generation of young women to be scientists, entrepreneurs and tech community leaders.
1. Government and Industry back Professor Michelle Simmons and Quantum Computing
Disruption is the most overused word in the tech world but quantum computing is the real deal. After 15 years working out of the spotlight, University of NSW physicist Professor Michelle Simmons, head of the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology picked up $46 million in the Australian Government’s Innovation Statement and simultaneously from the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra. The funds will be used to build a quantum computer prototype with the potential to be a million times faster than today’s computers.
Like Dr Larry Marshall from CSIRO, Simmons does the showbiz razzle dazzle brilliantly with the ability to translate complex information for mainstream Industry and Government audiences, inspiring confidence that Australia may be two to three years ahead of international competitors in creating the first truly quantum computer. Without a doubt this is my personal favorite moment in the science and tech world because Australia is finally backing a true moon shot.
2. Code Club Australia wins $1 million dollars funding and the Digital Technologies curriculum is approved
In 2015, the Australian Government fully embraced the concept that children need to learn to code early in primary school. This development means all girls and boys will learn computational thinking and computer science and has huge potential to inspire more girls into STEM. Funding of $1million dollars in December from the Federal Government and Telstra also sealed a brilliant year for the not-for-profit community group, Code Club Australia.
Behind the scenes many people have been chipping away at this issue for years but special tribute must be paid to Code Club Chair Annie Parker and CEO Kelly Taglan as well as Google’s Sally-Ann Williams and Disruptor’s Handbook Joanne Jacobs who have set up 350 codes clubs and crisscrossed the country lobbying politicians and enlisting them to the cause by teaching basic coding skills.
3. High profile Female Founders are kicking goals in Australia and in global markets
The latest Australian Startup Muster released in December by CEO Mon Wolff shows female founders increasing from 19% to 24%. There’s still a long way to go but big wins from high profile female founders provide badass role models for women starting tech businesses.
There are so many high points this year for female founders, this could be a blog post on its own. Both Melanie Perkins from Canva and Jodie Fox from Shoes of Prey closed big funding rounds and continue global expansion of their businesses. Founder of The Fetch, Kate Kendall launched Cloudpeeps in San Francisco backed by Renata Cooper of Forming Circles — technically 2014 but close enough.
Jo Burston has a badass goal of 1,000,000 more female entrepreneurs by 2020. She continues to inspire, launching a second Rare Birds book and a new online funding platform designed to connect female tech entrepreneurs with investors from four Australian venture capital funds.
Accelerators like muru-D are working hard to attract a significant percentage of female founders and some of the highest potential global startups from Batch 1 and 2 are led by women including Holly Cardew from Pixc now based in the US, Cate Hull from Freight Exchange and Jemma Xu from Tripalocal.
It is also super exciting that one of the young female founders I’ve been following closely has kicked a huge goal that you’ll hear about when Shark Tank is televised next year.
4. Liza Noonan is appointed to lead CSIRO’s new ON accelerator
New CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall is determined to make CSIRO Australia’s “innovation catalyst” and a key plank of that strategy is ensuring that the organisation’s inventions are successfully commercialised. In October, Liza Noonan was appointed as Head of CSIRO’s ON accelerator program which is designed to develop the startup mentality internally and build connections to the Australian entrepreneurial community. Noonan was previously General Manager of Springboard Enterprises Australia, an accelerator program for female entrepreneurs. If Noonan and Marshall are successful, the ON accelerator could go a long way to reinvigorating CSIRO, liberating the ideas deep from within the organisation and making it a major hub for innovation in Australia rather than a constant target for Government cost-cutting.
5. Dr Elaine Stead and the rise of Female Tech Investors
According to data provided by Laura McKenzie CEO of Scale Investors at October’s #PolicyHack, 96% of tech investors are male and 4% of funded tech businesses are led by women. The reasons behind this are complex and likely include early attitudes developed to risk and competition. It’s good to see a number of female angel investor groups emerging to #changetheratio including Head over Heals, Scale and Springboard.
Dr Elaine Stead from Blue Sky Venture Capital hates “Women Only Lists” and looks forward to the day when there’s no discussion around the issue any more. But even Stead acknowledges the need for Heroes, so she’s here on this list as one of the few highly visible female Venture Capitalists in Australia. Closing out a very successful year of expansion, Brisbane-based Stead has spear-headed the launch of a new $200 million fund tapping institutional investors and super funds. The VC2016 fund will target later stage startups with funding rounds ranging from $10 to $30 million.
6. The Year of the Hackathon
If 2015 was the year that startups went mainstream, it’s also the year Hackathons were everywhere. Many criticise hackathons for producing incomplete projects or as branding exercises that provide free labour for companies and governments. That might be true but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen non-tech people look around starry eyed and say “I never knew this world existed.” Hackathons are clearly the entry-level drug for many to the startup world and never forget that the founder of Instagram started by civic hacking San Francisco crime data.
Women continue to be the heart and soul of “for purpose” hackathons. Pia Waugh, Government Geek Girl extraordinaire is the long-time convenor of “GovHack” Australia’s largest community Hackathon which now attracts significant attention from the Australian Government. Thanks to deliberate planning by Alan Jones from Blue Chilli and Minister Wyatt Roy, October’s inaugural #PolicyHack included 50% female policy “Champions”. At #PolicyHack,Team Rockstar developed a great policy package around increasing the number of female founded, fundable high growth technology businesses. The AWShine Diversity Hackathon run by Amazon Women in Sydney and Melbourne was open to all genders, but special priority was given to female entrepreneurs and hackers and organisers say they achieved 50:50 participation rates. Many strong relationships were formed at those hacks and I’ll never forget Claudia Barriga-Larriviere and Julia Clavien (who also won the Shine Hack) two badass young startup women saying “Don’t Ask for Permission” as we prepared to break a few rules at #PolicyHack.
And finally, after a single tweet from muru-D co-founder Annie Parker, Parker, Anne-Marie Elias and I ran Techfugees an absolutely awe-inspiring weekend with the Sydney tech community and NGOs building tech solutions for newly arrived refugees. Finding out Angel Investor Shelli Trung who mentored at Techfugees was a refugee as a child was a moment of true synchronicity and badassery.
7. Like Minded Bitches
There are tons of women’s business networking groups because connecting and building community is something many women enjoy and do really well. Gen George, founder of oneshift and Jane Lu, founder of ShowPo have built 2015’s most badass group of women entrepreneurs: Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine. In less than a year, the group has grown to 800 members in Sydney and has just launched in Brisbane and Melbourne. In a similar but less cheeky vein, meetups which showcase up and coming female founders in Sydney and Melbourne have “grown insanely” according to organiser Sally-Ann Williams.
8. Australia’s first female co-working space
Proximity is power which is one of the reasons startup co-working has exploded around the world. Kudos to Murray Hurps for increasing the percentage of females founders at Fishburners in Sydney to more than 30% by making this a critical target and hosting many female focused events.
In March, serial entrepreneur Dr Catriona Wallace launched Australia’s first co-working space catering specifically to women-led technology businesses. This morphed into One Roof when Wallace joined forces with LA-based Gianna Wurzl and Melbourne-based corporate lawyer Sheree Rubinstein. The trans-pacific partnership now has locations in Melbourne, Sydney and Los Angeles and will provide a platform for Australian women to expand, in a supported way, to the US.
9. Taking risks and coming back from epic failures and fuck ups
In 2014, Nikki Durkin wrote a brutally honest blog that went viral globally about the failure of her startup. Failure has become an overused startup cliché but Durkin’s post talked about the excruciating pain and loneliness of watching the business she founded as a teenager and taken to the US finally tank. The truth is, “failure fucking sucks”. Since that very high profile failure, Durkin has come back to Australia, taken time out, learned to code and is back working on her next startup. She’s a key role model in the #Ideasboom media campaign because she represents the kind of early appetite for risk that Australia needs to encourage in young women to develop a more entrepreneurial culture.
And if you’re going to think big, spectacular failures are going to happen. In December, Dr Catriona Wallace ran a truly badass event, the inaugural “F*ck up Night” to celebrate the greatest, most humiliating, utterly epic f*ck ups of the startup communities, to avoid as she said, “sugar coating the entrepreneurial journey”.
It’s not hard to find brilliant guys out there supporting, funding and cheering on women in tech and there are plans to do a “Male Champions of Change” for STEM in 2016. While it’s great to see to see a lot of hard work going into making systemic changes, sometimes simple, spur of the moment actions can have major impact too. My award for the most badass action by a guy in support of women in tech goes to Andrew Grill, a globe-trotting Aussie based in London for IBM. In May, Grill found himself on an All Middle-Aged Corporate Guy Conference Panel in Cardiff. When challenged by a young woman in the audience, he offered his place on the panel to her. Miranda Bishop wasn’t the most experienced or highest profile woman in the room and taking up Andrew’s offer took real courage but she brought the fresh perspective of a young female startup to the panel. So guys if you find yourself on an All-Male Panel please consider hacking the format. Don’t think too hard, just do it.
Denise Shrivell, Director of Media Scope has also started “Peggy’s List” a new solution for media and tech industry events — there really is no excuse anymore for all male panels or conference programs.
So that’s the list.
Here’s hoping that 2016 will be an even bigger and better year of badassery for women in tech in Australia
*Pete’s List of 10 Memorable Moments in Tech