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7 Reasons You Should Apply For The Startmate Women Fellowship

Tired of corporate life? Craving purpose? If you want to work in Australia’s thriving startup community, this unique program is for you.

By Felicity Robinson

One of the biggest misconceptions about working in a tech startup is that you need to be an expert in, well, tech, says Sophia Witherington, Head of Fellowship at Startmate.

“People still have this idea of tech startups as two dudes in a garage ready to hire their first employee, but like everything else, it’s a spectrum,” she says. “There’s a huge variety of roles in all sorts of different-sized companies.”

The tech sector is one of Australia’s success stories, employing close to 900,000 people. Interestingly, women are most likely to join the tech sector a few years into their career – and when they do, says industry body the Tech Council, “it often accelerates their pay, skills and opportunity”.

Startmate’s Women Fellowship exists to help these ambitious women find their dream job in a startup, using all the skills and experience they’ve already developed. Many women are transitioning from the corporate world, but not all; some are earlier in their careers, or else they’ve taken time out of the workforce for maternity leave.

Over eight weeks, participants in the Women Fellowship:

  • take part in exclusive ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions with world-class founders and entrepreneurs
  • enjoy mentorship with an individually assigned coach
  • tune into a vast range of expertly facilitated workshops
  • learn how to translate their skills into a start-up environment

And the best bit? The Fellowship has an impressive success rate: 70 per cent of participants have landed a new role at a startup within six months of completing the program.

Still unconvinced? Here’s why else you should consider applying.

1. You gain a network for life

Just 18 months since launching, The Women Fellowship has coaches and alumni in 351 companies. “This network is hugely valuable and it’s growing,” says Witherington. 

All fellows in the program are matched with a coach for weekly or fortnightly one-to-one sessions, as well as being grouped into a ‘squad’ with other women who live nearby. All communication is on Slack, in channels that remain open to everyone, forever. And in those channels, you can find answers to almost any career question you have.

It’s the hive mind at work

“The Fellowship gives you access to a broad range of coaches and peers that you can ask for advice,” says Maisy Bennett, chief of Staff at Melbourne-based agtech Bardee, pictured above, who scored her role after being introduced to Bardee’s CEO through the Fellowship. “You can contact an SEO expert at one of the leading sites in Australia and ask, ‘Hey, how would you run an experiment to see if SEO is a great marketing channel for us?’ And they’ll give you three golden experiments. Or you can benchmark salaries, or discuss equity. It’s incredible – it’s the hive mind at work.”

2. It will boost your confidence

“Women often minimise themselves by saying things like, ‘I just want to take 10 minutes of your time,’” says Witherington. “We coach that stuff out.”

Instead, fellows are encouraged to develop skills such as “learning agility”, which gives them the confidence to know they can respond quickly and effectively to any challenge that comes their way – essential in a startup. “So, you might not have encountered a particular problem before, but you’re able to break it down and figure out the process you need to solve it. Learning agility is like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets – and it’s a great transferable skill.”

3. It provides a clear pathway to a job

“Ultimately, we want to be responsible for more job placements in the Australian and New Zealand startup ecosystem than anyone else,” says Witherington.

By the end of the Women Fellowship program, 30 per cent of fellows have landed jobs, and within six months, that figure rises to 70 per cent

“By the end of the Women Fellowship program, 30 per cent of fellows have landed jobs, and within six months, that figure rises to 70 per cent. Women advertise jobs in the Slack channels and hire within the Fellowship.”

When HR specialist Vanessa Iezzi joined the Fellowship, she was looking for a role that aligned with her values. “My coach worked at venture capital fund Blackbird and she put me in touch with Holly Cardew, co-founder of Carted [which last year raised $13 million in seed funding].

“I’d never worked for a female founder before and her vision was compelling,” says Iezzi, who is now Carted’s Head of People and Culture. “I was the first Sydney hire, which proved they genuinely cared about putting all of the right structures in place for employees as they started to scale.”

4. You’ll get great value for money

For the price of a one-day session with a business coach, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a two-month program that’s designed to help transition your skills into a startup environment.

“It’s a bit ‘choose your own adventure’,” says Witherington. “Workshops range from the purely functional – say, what makes a startup different from a corporate, or what a Chief of Staff does – to the aspirational. So, you’ll hear from women like Canva co-founder Mel Perkins, and be able to ask her questions directly. You can engage as much as you want, and everything is recorded so you can re-watch it in your own time.”

One third of the Fellowship places are partially or fully funded by scholarships. 

 5. You’ll think totally differently about your career

There are many reasons women consider transitioning from a corporate role to a startup, but greater autonomy is often one of them. “Most startups have a culture where you ask for forgiveness, not permission,” says Witherington. “You’re empowered to be able to make decisions, because that enables the business to move faster.” 

You’re empowered to be able to make decisions, because that enables the business to move faster

Rather than ticking off the years before you move another rung, the Women Fellowship encourages you to see your career holistically (“not as a ladder, but as a painting,” says Witherington).

That can be scary, particularly if you’ve been working in a hierarchical sector such as law or accounting. “We help to match you with the type of role and level of risk you’re comfortable with,” she adds. “We have one former corporate lawyer who’s now Head of Social Impact at a Series B startup; another is General Counsel at Shopify.”

6. You’ll meet – and learn – from the best of the best 

The team of coaches, speakers and alumni in the Women Fellowship reads like a Who’s Who of startup talent in Australia. There’s Canva’s Perkins; Simon Griffiths, co-founder of Who Gives A Crap; Square Peg and Seek co-founder Paul Basset; and many more. If you want the chance to learn from – and chat to – some of Australia’s most inspirational leaders, this is the place for you. 

7. You can help shape the startup sector

“The tech sector has grown so quickly in Australia that a lot of people are new to it,” says Witherington. “There isn’t a massive talent pool of senior people. So you really have the chance to make a difference, to see your fingerprints not only across a business but also, in some cases, across the entire industry.”

Having completed the program, Vanessa Iezzi has now returned to coach the new intake of women.

“A couple of women have reached out to me, hesitant to apply,” she says. “I tell them there are so many women in the same position as them, who want to work in a startup but don’t know how to go about it. In the Fellowship, you get those next steps, the tools, the resources and the network you need to find your dream role. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

This story is a partnership with Startmate’s Women Fellowship

Applications for the next cohort of 100 women close on March 13. Find out more about the Women Fellowship here


BY Felicity Robinson

Felicity is the co-founder of PRIMER

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