Gemma Lloyd had arranged to meet a multi-millionaire for coffee. She was pitching her business idea – a job platform for women – in the hope he would come on board as an investor.
Instead, the businessman propositioned her.
“I was trying to talk about the idea,” Lloyd said. “He more or less said, ‘Hey, do you want to get a hotel room?’ He was absolutely using his position of power to [suggest] that if I do something for you, you do something for me – that was the impression I got from him.”
Other potential investors were less inappropriate, she said – but no more supportive.
READ MORE: * The NZ Womens Entrepreneur network helps women start their own businesses * More women than ever running their own small businesses * Shocking lack of women in NZ’s Business Hall of Fame
“We found companies weren’t taking us seriously,” Lloyd said. “We often felt patronised. We just kept coming up against challenge after challenge after challenge.”
Lloyd and her business partner Valeria Ignatieva ended up funding their venture themselves, with the help of their families.
Two years on their job platform, Diverse City Careers, is attracting 8000 job applications each month for leading companies including Apple, Deloitte and the Commonwealth Bank. The site, which only advertises jobs with employers committed to supporting women in the workplace, is set to double its revenue next financial year.
Last year Lloyd won the Tech Diversity Leaders in Advertising award and was named the Women in IT Queensland Entrepreneur of the Year. The company is again seeking investors, this time to expand globally.
“It’s quite a different conversation now we’ve demonstrated that we’re a successful business, we’re generating revenue, we’ve got big clients,” she said.
Lloyd said that as young women, she and Ignatieva initially came up against the bias of investors asking, “What do these two know about business?”
Part of the problem was the lack of female investors, she said.
“If you have a female entrepreneur pitching, potentially that idea is something that’s going to address a problem that affects women,” Lloyd said. Male investors did not see the value in their business idea, she said. “Whereas when I tell women about this, they say, ‘This is amazing’.”
Female-led businesses often struggle to attract investment. One Harvard Business School study found that even when men and women pitched the same idea, investors were 60 per cent more likely to invest in the man’s proposal.
Financial expert Shivani Gopal, founder of social enterprise The Remarkable Woman, said less than than five per cent of female-founded tech companies in Australia were funded by investors.
“Given that so many startups are technology based, it paints a really depressing picture of how hard it is for women to get funding,” she said.
“It is simply assumed that a male entrepreneur has the business smarts, has the know-how. With women, unfortunately, it’s very much a fact that has to be proven. Not only does a female entrepreneur have the same risks of failure as any other business, but she’s got these added challenges which accentuate the risk of not even getting off the ground.”
Gopal is working to help female entrepreneurs secure investment, running a start-up mentoring program and giving them the chance to pitch in front of executives, business owners, venture capitalists and angel investors.
She has partnered with Alcatel Australia and its regional managing director, Sam Skontos, to connect female entrepreneurs with serious investors and expand their professional networks.
Gopal said women had to be “absolutely fearless” about pursuing their business ideas and overcome any tendency to downplay their success. “Just own it,” she said.