Barriers Facing Female Founders

in the Victorian Innovation Eco-system (2019)

Research Objectives and questions:

Research Objectives

DifferenThinking conducted a research during March-April 2019. The research objectives were to identify the barriers female founders of start-ups face when engaging in the Victorian ecosystem and recommend potential initiatives to put in place in order to encourage more female founders and better support the current ones.

Research questions

 This exploratory research was focused on the following research questions:

  • To be a successful female founder of startups in Victoria- what impacts success?
  • What are the barriers for female entrepreneurs in the ecosystem?
  • What is enabling female entrepreneurs in the ecosystem?
  • What interventions are needed to support female entrepreneurs in Victoria?

Research Methodology

Research Population

The defined research population is Female Founders in the Victorian startups’ ecosystem. To ensure clarity, start-ups have been defined as companies

  • With a new product that is scalable
  • Potential for taking investment

Founders of companies that are service-based (e.g. consulting, marketing etc.) and solopreneurs with no scalable product and/or investable companies have been excluded from the research population (are considered as small businesses, rather than start-ups and scale-ups).

A thorough search on LinkedIn highlights that many of the females that refer to themselves as female founders and/or entrepreneurs are actually small business owners (coaches, teachers, dieticians, consultants, social media service providers etc.). While some consider themselves as founders of start-ups, they still do not fall within the research population and were not called for interviews nor approached to participate in the research survey.

Research approach

The research methodology that was chosen for this report follows the exploratory approach. While there are sufficient literature and research about the barriers female entrepreneurs face globally to allow the development of a survey, we believe that this literature is based on two limitations:

  • The research population includes a wider definition of entrepreneurs (small business owners and sole traders), which are not defined as founders of start-ups and scale-ups for the purpose of this research;
  • Most research that is based on start-ups and scale-ups, has been conducted in mature eco-systems.

Hence, to ensure the research method is valid, we chose to take the exploratory research approach. Although this approach is longer, it could provide insights that a survey that has been designed based solely on the literature review might not reveal.

Research Procedures and Measures

To uncover the answers to the research questions, the following research methodologies were used:

Exploratory Qualitative Interviews
  • Design of a qualitative research interview questionnaire
  • Qualifying pre-interview demographic surveys were sent to each of the interviewees (in order to qualify they are eligible to participate and to collect demographic data to support thorough analysis)
  • Deep qualitative Interviews- 30 female founders of start-ups have been interviewed using online video conferencing. Interviews took an hour each.
  • Qualitative data analysis was conducted prior to developing the questionnaire for the next research stage.
Quantitative research surveys
  • A thorough search of the LinkedIn profiles of all the female founders and entrepreneurs in Victoria has been conducted and only women with scalable products have been approached to participate in the survey.
  • In addition, the survey was posted online (through LinkedIn and Facebook groups) calling female founders of start-ups in Victoria to take part in the research
  • Coworking places, Venture capitals, accelerators and organisations that work with female founders have been approached to help in distributing the survey link
  • 46 women founders have completed the online surveys (coupled with the interviews, the research populations covered 74 female founders of Victorian start-ups).
Literature review
  • A literature review about female entrepreneurs in Australia and globally was conducted, to allow a comparison with the research results

Social science research methodologies require the number of participants in any research to be equal to or above 30. The design of this research was based on two different methodologies (qualitative and quantitative), each attracted 30 or more participants to ensure strong validity to the findings.

Data analysis

The analysis of the interviews was based on encoding the collected data according to three categories. This allowed us to analyse the qualitative data both in quantitative and qualitative manners, which provided the ability to:

  • Design the survey according to the common themes raised in the interviews
  • Analyse the data from the interviews together with that from the surveys
  • Use the qualitative information to demonstrate and explain the research results

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We would like to thank the following people, for their time and advice with regards to the research methods and recommendations:

  • Dr Andrea North Samardzic, Lecturer, Deakin University
  • Dr Heather Round, Director Entrepreneurship and Innovation Deakin University
  • Dr Yosi Lahad, Founder, Investor, Chairman of different tech and science companies (Israel, USA & China)  and an Advisory Board member of DifferenThinking
  • Dr Galia BarHava-Monteith, Director of a women network in New Zeeland
  • Tess Andrews, Principal Psychologist, New Pathways Psychological Services Melbourne
  • Dr Tal Shavit, Independent Director, Checkpoint Software and Tech investor