Ellie Dudley

Navigating the heavily male-dominated start-up sphere as a female founder can be tough. Does this mean that we should be providing extra support to female entrepreneurs? We think so. New analysis by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that if women and men around the world participated equally as entrepreneurs, global GDP could ultimately rise by approximately 3% to 6%, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion.

This year’s International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on how balance and equity can better our communities, workplaces and personal lives. It’s a time to celebrate the things that we and our female friends, colleagues and the women who inspire us have done and will do on behalf of women. And above all else, it is a time to remember that as women, supporting one another is one of the greatest tools in our arsenal.  

Traditionally, in both the start-up and established business sphere women have been taught to compete with one another and encourage one another to put in the hard yards to fight their way to the top. When creating How Too, however, we benefited from the support of many great women, one of whom is Marisa Warren, the Founder & CEO of ELEVACAO.

Having worked in the tech industry for upwards of 20 years, Marisa has seen its ups and downs and describes it as fast paced, dynamic and ever changing. 

“I never imagined a career in tech, I always thought technology was for the geeky boys and I didn’t identify with that stereotype. But under the mentorship of my then IT manager he opened my eyes to the possibilities and the impact tech has on our world – I became hooked.”

Unwilling to be deterred by what she describes as a “boys club” Marisa has since worked for SAP, Microsoft and Workday across Australia and the US, making sure that assisting and advising other women remains a key part of her work. 

In 2014 Marisa founded ELEVACAO, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to empower female entrepreneurs to build successful, innovative technology businesses, whilst creating collaborative environments where a woman’s ambition to succeed is embraced and actively supported by both women and men. During her time in the tech industry, she has seen the importance of women helping other women, and says that our society needs tangible action to force behavioural change to encourage this.

 “We need to be aware of the unconscious and conscious bias we all have when hiring, promoting and funding companies. We tend to make decisions based on our background. Initially I wasn’t a fan of quotas but I am now. Why? KPI's, incentives and quotas drive behavior. We need to drive significant behavioral change and awareness in how we hire, promote individuals and fund companies, and quotas as a first step will help us do this. This shift towards a diverse talent pool will help us take the next step towards total equality.”

Marisa has been a support for How Too co-founders Lisa Vincent and Jenny Barltrop by helping them build a Go-To Market strategy, and advising them on how to navigate the tech investment space as women. She also acted as an advisor for Lisa at the Be MPowered Pitch competition in 2019, at which Lisa was named a finalist.

“Marisa taught us that when entering male dominated investor world, the language we use as females often doesn’t project the confidence we need to get backing,” said Lisa. “By going through the process with Marisa, we moulded our language and attitude to create the best pitch we could.”

The Be MPowered pitch competition is an annual event presented by Mums & Co, an  empowered business community that exists so that every mum can launch, grow and succeed in business. It was here that Lisa met co-founder and MD Carrie Kwan, another small business entrepreneur passionate about seeing women thrive in the start-up world.

“It’s no secret that we have a long way to go for VC dollars to start flowing into start-ups founded by women,” says Carrie. “That is why it is vital for us to champion other women with generosity in order to see them succeed.”

Carrie acknowledges the importance in investing in the women who are pitching to investors, not just providing them the opportunity to do so. This is why in her pitch competition, she provides coaching on how to deliver a winning pitch, investor access and business exposure.

“Business doesn’t suit business mums. Networking constructs, access to resources, even standard business hours are created for non-parenting workers and this makes it much harder to raise both a family and run a burgeoning start up,” says Carrie. “For some, particularly women who have never pitched to a VC before, it is unrealistic to throw them into the daunting hole of a pitch competition, without providing them with an inclusive training environment first.”

Carrie says that Lisa by her own admission found she has “totally transformed” since receiving the support of other women through the Mums & Co network. “I am super proud of Lisa and to invest in women like her, and give them the emotional support, deep networks and strategic guidance they need, even if it’s just them knowing that someone has their back.”

When asked what advice she would give to a woman starting a business in 2020, Marisa simply replied “Just do it.” She went on to explain that the more an idea is spoken about the more excitement arises and the more likely you are to execute on that idea. “As women we tend to not talk about our ideas until they are perfect, from fear of scrutiny or not having all the answers. Don’t hold back – just open up, and start doing it.”

At Savv-e and How Too, we are proud to work under the leadership of our two female founders, who encompass this message. “Lisa and Jenny are quiet achievers,” says Marisa. “They are incredibly passionate, and have a great vision for where the digital learning industry is heading and the role How Too will have in helping companies be ready for this transformation.”