The 100 women chosen to take part in the fellowship from the more than 600 applicants come from diverse backgrounds and careers. But those interviewed by The Australian Financial Review were united by a feeling that they wanted to make a difference to society and do more than their current or previous roles allowed.
Ewelina Rudnicka worked in human rights and international development after university before completing a public policy masters at Harvard, which led her to joining Boston Consulting Group.
She says she thinks working in a start-up will give her the opportunity to have more ownership over what’s being created, and expects the fellowship to give her the chance to learn more about the industry — including the difference between a product manager and product owner — and lead to a new job.
“I’m quite interested in fintech. I’ve worked a little bit in financial services and that’s a natural draw to me … but I think the most important criteria for picking an organisation is how much ownership I will have — will I be able to drive the work, will my actions have tangible impact on the company?
“I’m attracted to start-ups that have a mission and I’m drawn to ones that talk about themselves in terms of consumer transparency.
“I really like that Startmate brings a lot of successful, inspiring women together. That’s something that’s important to me to promote — not just in start-ups, but in any organisation.”
Since Startmate launched the fellowship in 2019, 60 per cent of participants have gone on to work in start-ups, including Canva, Dovetail and Eucalyptus.
According to the head of the fellowship, Sophia Witherington, the program aims to help place 300 women in roles within the sector by the end of 2021.
It’s a whole new world and that’s partially the draw of start-ups.
— Rae Addison, head of communications at legal technology start-up Josef
“What we’re trying to do here is challenge the ecosystem to think a little differently. You see so many job descriptions across the industry asking for 10 years experience in fast-growth start-ups doing product management … so you end up searching in the same pool of talent,” she says.
“This is flipping and challenging the way we think about talent in the industry.”
Former doctor Jackie Rabec began her career in the South African public health system, but says she became interested in doing something to change the system after seeing how under-resourced the hospitals were.
She decided to “pivot” her career and got an MBA and now wants to move into the digital health sector and help transform how healthcare is delivered.
“I always knew I was interested in more than medicine. While I was studying I ran my own thrift and vintage e-commerce store and that gave me a taste of having ownership of something and doing creative problem solving,” Rabec says.
“Medicine is all protocols and guidelines as it should be. I won’t leave healthcare because I believe health and wellbeing is important, but I want to engage both hemispheres of my brain, as well as have a greater scale of impact.
“As a clinician you are a tiny cog in a broken wheel.”
Rabec says she hopes to find a product or strategy role within a digital health start-up and believes going through the fellowship will “supercharge” this process.
The feeling of being a cog in a much bigger machine is familiar to Rae Addison, who formerly worked in communications at Commonwealth Bank.
Addison, who was part of the March Startmate Fellowship cohort, was just 10 years into her career, but says she felt like her future options were already narrowing. She found herself contemplating what her next 30 to 40 years looked like and wasn’t happy about it.
“I found this website that encouraged me to map out my life and I saw that there was a lot of time in the world and I could do a lot, but I needed to do something different,” she said.
“I became quite concerned about the world in general. It felt broken. In my comfortable, safe, stable corporate job I thought I should be doing something else, so I started looking for purpose and spending time upskilling in areas where I felt like I could play a role in saving the world.”
After taking some time out in February, Addison, who has a masters in finance, says she felt uncomfortable and didn’t know how she fitted into the start-up world she was hoping to enter.
Having gone through the Startmate fellowship earlier this year, Addison now has a job as head of communications for legal technology start-up Josef, having discovered that communications is a much broader field when it is applied within a growing technology company, compared with a big four bank.
“I thought I wanted to get out of comms, but what I’ve discovered is I have always been, and I think I will always be, interested in mass communications and how to solve problems and influence positive change at scale using language and symbols,” she says.
“When [communications] intersects with technology, it includes the world of deep fakes, content algorithms, natural language processing, the spread of misinformation and how it can nudge people toward better decisions.
“It’s a whole new world and that’s partially the draw of start-ups.”