BlueChilli’s start-up accelerator program for female-led businesses kicks off this month


Anne Belcher, GSK general manager, Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceutical giant GSK has thrown its support behind BlueChilli’s SheStarts, a national accelerator program that seeks to address the under-representation of female entrepreneurs in Australia’s start-up ecosystem.

Dynamic Business spoke to Anne Belcher, general manager, pharmaceuticals with GSK Australia, about the initiative, which has seen BlueChilli select ten female-led start-ups, from hundreds of applicants, to receive $100,000 each in pre-seed capital plus a spot in an accelerator program that runs until June.

What does the accelerator program involve?

A documentary web-series kicks off later this month and captures the participants’ journeys, as part of a multi-media campaign to inspire women and girls across the country to consider a future in tech and entrepreneurship. It will follow the start-up founders from selection and initial boot-camp, last year, through to the high stakes pitch event and into the SheStarts accelerator as they build and grow their businesses. At the end of the accelerator program, the women will travel to Silicon Valley to learn about the US investment market and build new relationships, before returning to Australia to share their stories in communities across the country.

What support does GSK offer participants?

We are providing financial support for the entrepreneurs and we will also provide mentors and lead workshops to help build the participants’ skills and knowledge. But I expect that we will also learn a lot from the women in the program. GSK is a large organisation and the pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated. Some of the entrepreneurs have achieved a lot with limited resources and are incredibly innovative. I expect we will learn just as much from the entrepreneurs as they learn from us.

Are there any standout start-ups so far?

Digital technology is changing the face of healthcare rapidly. The SheStarts top ten include tech innovations and ideas that have the potential to transform healthcare and help patients and healthcare professionals alike. Among these, are a range of innovative health-focus start-ups. Habot is a wearable technology to help children with autism. Meanwhile, AudiBle hopes to support the visually impaired by changing the way public spaces can be navigated.

How important are initiatives like SheStarts?

Reports suggest that, in Australia, between 14% and 24% of start-up founders are women. In terms of those attracting investment, the statistics drop to as low as 4%. It’s clear that there is a gender gap and we need to back the ideas of female entrepreneurs to ensure woman are not missing out and society benefits from their ideas.

Initiatives like BlueChilli’s SheStarts are crucial to driving greater diversity in business.  I believe that men and women should contribute to innovation and change equally, which in turn will generate the greatest benefits for society and the economy.  SheStarts will support female leadership in the start-up space and raise awareness about the challenges and major issues female entrepreneurs face. These challenges include gendered expectations for caring responsibilities, unconscious bias, conscious bias and the gender gap in financial security and investment.