03 May

Female entrepreneurs create a rival to the boys club

This article was originally published on SMH.com.au
Female entrepreneurs create a rival to the boys club

Group was formed by women in venture capital who wanted to know why no women were asking for their money.

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Problem solver: Hands over Heels chief executive Natasha Rawlings at her inner-west home with daughter Stella.

Female tech entrepreneurs and a celebrity baby bag designer are among the diverse group of women who have boosted their businesses through a Sydney network designed to rival “the boys club”.

That boost has included millions of dollars in funding, and crucial introductions.

Every few months, 70 high-powered executives meet for Heads Over Heels. They listen to business pitches from female entrepreneurs, then break into small, revolving “huddles”, where the women “call out” for customers, money or advice.

Heads over Heels chief executive Natasha Rawlings, 44, admits the meetings are unusual, but rejects comparisons to speed dating.

“This is serious business. Our chief executives are charismatic and doing interesting, disruptive things,” she says.

“Within that room, people know people. They open their Rolodexes, they make those warm personal introductions that a business needs.”

The results are impressive: StorReduce co-founder Vanessa Wilson raised $400,000 in seed funding, and has since struck a deal with web giant Amazon to feature her company’s cloud storage technology on its homepage.

Jessica May raised a similar amount to expand Enabled Employment – her recruitment business finding telework for the disabled. Event software company Ivvy raised $1 million.
Heads Over Heels was formed five years ago by a group of women in venture capital who wanted to know why no women were asking for their money.
Research found entrepreneurs needed connections to grow their businesses, and women didn’t have these business contacts.

“They decided to solve that problem,” says Ms Rawlings, herself a former tech entrepreneur.
Monthly dinners, and training in digital marketing and sales, are part of the program.
She is on the lookout for more women with businesses ready to grow, after the Baird government invested $150,000 in Heads Over Heels, to increase the number of female entrepreneurs being supported by 60 per cent.
Ms Rawlings says she will double the number of networking events.

Among the 15 women chief executives currently in the program is Lucie Trinco​, a former designer with Oroton and Jigsaw, who joined when she was seeking to expand her business to the United States.
Ill Tutto nappy bags for the style-conscious mother are stocked by 250 retailers in 15 countries, and have been seen on the arms of celebrities including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Murdoch, Fifi Box and Dannii Minogue.
Ms Trinco says Heads Over Heels widened her contacts and gave her recommendations on international warehouses, for example, which fast-tracked the growth.
“More than anything, its the networking with other CEOs that I find most valuable. The journey can be quite lonely as a CEO,” she says.

Skills and Small Business Minister John Barilaro​ said: “While women account for a third of the state’s small business owners and a third of business owners overall, there is still more to do in supporting women.”
Ms Rawlings says key advice she gives to new entrepreneurs includes “follow the money – don’t write a line of code until you understand why people will buy the product”.
For entrepreneurs further down the track, she says: “It’s a really hard journey. Women need to talk to other people about their experiences. The best thing we can do is introduce entrepreneurs to other people who can share their journey.”

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