How NOT to boost female founders

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BFF epic fail
Boosting Female Founders' epic email fail. Image - website/Canva.

Last week, both Startup WA and Perth Angels held separate summits on how to better support female founders in WA. Both events are well attended, and came up with some interesting ideas. We await their respective reports, and more importantly, action to be taken.

One alarming stat from the Startup WA session was that 92% of funding deals in WA last year went to male-only founded startups (that stat, courtesy of Techboard).

So in the same week where we also published this article about improving diversity in research and IT, an email blunder from a federal government department only added insult to injury about the support (or lack of it) for female founders.

How not to email

A great start to the week ended badly for many female founders seeking grant funding this week thanks to the federal government’s Boosting Female Founders Initiative [BFFI].

AusIndustry’s $52.2M initiative seeks to help female entrepreneurs overcome the disadvantages faced in gaining access to finance and the support needed to grow their startups.

But Monday’s bungled announcement did little to boost female founders. Far from it.

This year’s BFFI applicants started receiving emails alerting them to the outcomes of the Expression of Interest early in the morning. The emails seemed to suggest they had won access to round 2 of the grant funding, a big hurdle in the process:

Boosting Female Founders Initiative Round 2 Expression of Interest – Successful stage 1 application.

Your Boosting Female Founders Initiative Round 2 Expression of Interest stage 1 application was successful and you are invited to submit a next stage grant application.

The email sent to all those who did NOT get through, telling them they had got through

After a dismal showing for WA female founders last year, where no grant funding was awarded to local startups, you can imagine the delight from the many female founders at receiving the positive news. In 2020, more than 2,200 EOI applications were submitted, 158 from WA. 124 of the EOI applicants (around 5.6%) were then invited to submit a full application, including 5 from WA.

However, when it came to awarding the funds, of the 51 grants awarded, none were from Western Australia. This prompted Startup WA to write to the Minister responsible (Karen Andrews) demanding to know why.

Back to this Monday….

With emails flying forth stating so many WA female founders had won access to Round 2, you can imagine the excitement.

However, things took an unfortunate turn when a second round of emails started filtering through, stating:

“I am sorry to inform you that you received an incorrect notification this morning regarding your Boosting Female Founders Expression of Interest. I apologise for any confusion or inconvenience that this has caused”.

An AusIndustry representative said that only 150 of the 1,800 ‘successful’ EOI emails were supposed to be sent, leaving the vast majority of applicants disappointed and surprised. The very program designed to boost female founders had achieved exactly the opposite.

What had happened was that everyone who had NOT got through received an email saying they HAD. Major ooops.

Dr Josephine Muir, CEO and co-founder of Noisy Guts, was one of many West Australian female founders scratching her head after the day’s events, telling Startup News that “it is utterly inconceivable that a grant program can be so poorly mismanaged.”

The level of sheer incompetence in notifying grant applicants of their success followed by a non-apologetic retraction is staggering. It’s debatable whether this tops 2020’s non-inclusion of even a single WA female founder as a grant recipient when it comes to the Boosting Female Founders Initiative.

Claire Orange, Digii Social

Amanda Walker, Director of WA HomeStay, was also frustrated by the bungled announcement saying:

“The follow-up email casually apologises for any inconvenience and confusion, and asserts that my EOI application wasn’t meritorious enough. It’s not merely confusing, it’s devastating. Today’s bungle was not just unprofessional but cruel”.

Not a very impressive effort, one has to say. While Startup News has heard of (at least) a couple of local female founders who have actually made it through to Round 2, and we wish them all the very best with their applications, one wonders about the program if this is the experience for the customer (and, tax-paying applicants).

We will wait with baited breath to see how many local female founders are backed in 2021.

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Disclosure: The author used to work (2017-2020) on another grant program from the same federal department, but had nothing to do with the BFF grant initiative!