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Improving Startmate’s Gender Diversity

Two weeks ago, we sent offers to 12 extraordinary teams to join us for Startmate Melbourne.

We are so excited by the quality of the people who applied, and the diversity of problems the best Australian founders are pursuing.

When the ink is dry on all the offers, we’ll announce publicly which teams made it in.

Unfortunately, for this Melbourne cohort, we failed to maintain our previous improvements in our gender diversity efforts.

It’s bad. Of the 12 teams in the incoming cohort, just 2 will have a female co-founder.

We have spent the last fortnight as a team diving into what went wrong, and coming up with a plan for how we address things for the next Startmate cohort.

What’s In The Data?

At the end of recruiting the last Sydney Startmate cohort, we shared some data on how we’d managed to improve the gender diversity in our applicant pool. You can reread that post here.

Here is how the raw data looks for our past three application intakes.

As we dive into the numbers, a few things jump out:

  • Despite a 2x larger batch size for Startmate Melbourne, just two teams have a female founder.
  • Despite +5% more teams overall applying to Startmate Melbourne, less of them were female-founded (-15%).
  • Just 17% of teams who were interviewed for Startmate Melbourne had a female founder vs. 33% for Startmate Sydney.

Why Did We Regress?

In simple terms, we took our foot off the pedal.

The most stark difference is that for the Startmate Sydney batch we ran:

  • in-person meetups and events with female entrepreneur groups; and
  • an outbound sales process to target specific companies led by female-founders.

For the Startmate Melbourne batch we weren’t anywhere near focussed enough on these two efforts.

This wasn’t a conscious effort to pull back.

We’d come off a crazy month of preparations for the Sydney cohort Demo Day, and were in the maelstrom of helping four of our Startmate Sydney teams fundraise.

We had under a month to pull together Startmate Melbourne, to coordinate a national roadshow and to meet with 75+ founders in the lead-up to Startmate Interview Day.

In all of that, the truth is, we didn’t put as much effort into diversity.

Put simply, that’s not good enough.

What We’re Doing About It

#1 — We’re going on a listening tour.

Through August and September 2017, we’re going to be hosting events in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, and Brisbane to meet as many female founders as we can.

In each city, we’ll have the best female founders in Australia sharing their stories of success. It’ll be a chance for you to meet us (Startmate’s partners, mentors and alumni) and for us to meet you.

We’ll also be using the tour to meet 1:1 with 25+ of the female founders in our network to hear more about what we can be doing better.

If you’d like an invite to any of the events we hold, please add your details to the list here.

#2 — We want to be held to account.

Here are the numbers you can hold us to as an organisation for our next cohort.

1. We are aiming to double the % of gender diverse companies applying to Startmate from 20% — 40%.

2. To achieve that, during the outreach phase of recruiting the next batch, 50% of our meetings will be with female founders.

If we can’t deliver on this for the next Startmate batch, then we deserve your scrutiny and negative criticism.

Sam Wong has documented in detail why we won’t implement quotas in team selection. However, we do believe that we need to set clear goals for fixing the top of the funnel for each cohort selection process.

We will report back on October 31, 2017 with our results.

#3: If you’re a female founder, the Startmate network is now yours.

Even if you’re not currently in the Startmate program, we are opening up our mentor network to all Australian female founders.

That means that you can book office hours with them, you can attend any of the talks they host with our Startmate teams and you can leverage their networks just as our teams do.

You can find our current mentor list here:

If you’d like to connect with any of our mentors, email me — — and I will facilitate the introduction.

And if you’d like to attend any of the Startmate events we’re holding for our founders in the next batch, please add your details to the list here.

#4 — We’re consciously recruiting more female mentors.

Right now, just 12% of Startmate mentors are female.

To be clear, being a Startmate mentor isn’t for everyone:

  • You have to be willing and able to invest $10,000 of your own money.
  • You have to be willing and able to share your networks and knowledge with our teams.
  • You have to have demonstrated that helping founders is what you already do (founders recommending us their most valuable advisors is how we add new mentors to the mentor pool).
  • When we reference-check you, we want people to describe you as someone who is deeply committed to founders and startups, high integrity and honest, generous, humble, comfortable with the chaos, uncertainty and risk of early stage startups and completely trustworthy.

We need your help. If this is you or you know someone who fits that description, email me —

#5 — We’re putting our whole community through Unconscious Bias training.

For the last Startmate cohort, we had all the Startmate teams go through Unconscious Bias training. For this cohort, it won’t just be the teams. It will be our mentors and alumni too.

If you’d like to join us for the training sessions, please add your details to the list here.


We failed on gender diversity for this batch. We’re admitting that publicly, and sharing our plan for how we’re fixing things because we think doing so will ultimately make us a better organisation.

In the past year of trying to make improvements, we’ve learnt so much that we didn’t know. We’re still learning every day.

We know this is the right thing to do.

But we also believe we’ll generate better returns for our community by improving its diversity.

In helping grow Startmate there are two things that matter.

1. We fund companies that go on to be great.

2. Founders recommend us unreservedly to other founders.

If we don’t have diversity in our founder pool, we’ll limit our ability to do both of these things.

We want you to keep us accountable.

We’re here to help.

Update: February, 2018

Our new Startmate cohort is now well and truly underway.

As we stated above, our goals for the cohort were:

1. Doubling the % of gender diverse companies applying to Startmate from 20% — 40%.

2. Meeting with 50% female founders during the outreach process for the new batch.

On both goals we succeeded. As well as the targeted outreach, the listening tour and national cocktail hour also contributed, resulting in 40% of the latest Startmate batch being female-founded.

We are committed to continuing our efforts in this area. This is just the beginning.




Startmate is the epicentre of startup ambition across Australia and New Zealand.

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Nick Crocker

General Partner @BlackbirdVC. Sequencing the journey to build strength along the way.