Startmate’s Focus On More Women-founded Startups Is Working

By Pamela Connellan
on 24 June 2020

Over 40 per cent of applications for Startmate’s Melbourne 2020 and New Zealand’s 2020 cohorts come from companies co-founded by women, showing the sustained efforts Startmate has been using to foster gender equality are working.

According to Startmate, the startup accelerator confirmed this week that five out of 11 companies in the upcoming MEL20 cohort, and four out of five in the upcoming NZ20 cohort, are co-founded by women.  

These figures are a significant increase in the number of female-founded companies applying to Startmate’s coveted accelerator program, with the most recent SYD20 cohort receiving 29 percent of applications from startups co-founded by women.

According to Startmate’s community lead, Sophia Witherington, these increases in applications from women-founded startups have come in following Startmate’s implementation of a stronger focus on including more women-founded startups.

As she says: “The surge in interest from female founders and women seeking to advance their careers in tech-enabled startups is heartening and highlights how focused support and prioritisation can accelerate diversity and inclusion.”

Startmate focuses on including women founders
Startmate’s Yan Zhai (bottom left), Sophia Witherington (top right), CEO Michael Batko
(bottom right) and Sascha Kerbert (top left).

While the growth is promising, Startmate won’t slow down

Startmate’s chief executive, Michael Batko, says that while this growth is promising, the organisation won’t slow its efforts to emphasise gender parity in its programming and mentor network.

“By continually looking at the entire system, from mentors to programming,” says Batko, “we hope to enable more women to not only see more viable pathways in tech and startups, but to also have access to a world-class network comprised of Australia and New Zealand’s leading female founders and business leaders.”

Bi-annual Fellowship program popular with women

Earlier this year, Startmate announced its first women-only Fellowship program and after the announcement, they received 300 applications from women seeking access to the organisation’s vast network of founders, mentors and VCs.

This year, the Fellowship program is focused on creating pathways for women to gain employment in tech startups through a journey of guided introspection, mentorship and network building. There are 24 women in the current Fellowship cohort.

“The demand for places in our first women-only Fellowship shows the immense appetite out there from women wanting to advance their careers, and gives us great confidence in the program as we open up applications for our second women-only Fellowship later this year,” adds Witherington.

Four female-founded companies accepted into SYD20

A total of four female-founded companies were accepted into the recently concluded SYD20 cohort of 11 startups and they are:

  • Arula, a health startup 3D-printing seamless breast prosthesis for women who’ve had mastectomies.
  • Chatterize, an edtech company creating conversational chatbots that build confidence in spoken English.
  • Giraffe, a software system for urban designers.
  • Beyond Ag which turns food waste into insect protein and organic fertiliser.

Startmate’s recent quarterly Women’s Breakfast the largest yet

Startmate’s last quarterly Women’s Breakfast was the largest yet with over 80 female founders, mentors and investors virtually attending.

According to research released in September of last year by the Boston Consulting Group, in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation, the economic opportunity for Australia derived from boosting the number of female entrepreneurs to be more on par with men would be worth between $71 billion and $135 billion.

The research found the gap in new business creation between men and women in Australia is 4.9 per cent, worse than the global average of 4.4 per cent. Anna Green, managing partner at the Boston Consulting Group, said that funding and networks are the two areas which could boost the participation of women entrepreneurs.

Here’s some information about one of Startmate’s female-led companies from its recent Sydney cohort:

Talktown's female founders
Beleza Chan (left) and Lane Litz (right0, female founders of the
New Zealand-based startup, Chatterize.

Tech start-up, Chatterize launches TalkTown, an English conversation learning app which uses game-like interaction to encourage speaking confidence in Chinese students.

The New Zealand-based company, founded by Lane Litz and Beleza Chan, aims to accelerate spoken fluency, using an AI-based solution to recreate an immersive, pressure-free learning environment that prioritises everyday English.

Designed to replicate a small American town, TalkTown lives on the user’s mobile device and promotes learning through daily conversation practice with chatbots. Since launching at the end of February, TalkTown already has 10,000+ users.

As Litz explains, the app – currently available as a mini program within WeChat – addresses the obstacles faced by Chinese students learning English including large class sizes, test-oriented learning and infrequent access to English speakers.

“After living and working in China for ten years, I wanted to create a tool that would help close the gap between knowledge and practice,” says Litz. “There are kids who spend 20 years learning English and they have very strong theoretical knowledge, but upon graduating from university, they’re absolutely terrified to speak it.”

“Designing TalkTown like a game was a very deliberate move to encourage greater interaction from the children while also teaching them practical, conversational English which is not always taught in schools,” she continues.

Both founders have backgrounds in education

Litz and Chan both come from education backgrounds, having been instrumental in developing curriculum and managing teacher recruitment for ESL learners through their work for online teaching and educational platform giant VIPKID.

As Head of Education, US-born Litz helped to grow VIPKID to 68.5 per cent of the Chinese online learning market share in five years. The curriculum she designed has been used by over 700,000 Chinese children.

As Head ofTeacher Acquisition, Brazilian-born Chan was responsible for VIPKID’s marketing and recruitment of all new teachers. The company is currently valued at approximately $4 billion (USD).

“Our combined experience has provided us with the insight and knowledge to know what was missing from the market. We knew of the local desire for more free-talking platforms from Chinese parents. TalkTown is an inexpensive and easily accessed online tool, which right now, is extremely helpful in supporting ongoing learning through digital channels,” says Chan.

“China treats education as a necessity, so we’re thrilled to be able to provide access to education even when people are stuck at home,” she continues.

While TalkTown is currently only accessible through WeChat, Litz and Chan plan to use future funding to build a formal app and convert the WeChat mini program into a lead generator, where prospective students can trial the curriculum and familiarise themselves with the product.

How they built TalkTown

To build TalkTown into a mini program, Litz and Chan applied to Startmate’s accelerator program, which accepted Chatterize into the first of its bi-annual Sydney cohorts for 2020.

Startmate’s 3-month accelerator program invests $75,000 in up to 15 start-ups at their latest valuation. The program sees founders gain access to an exclusive network of mentors and investors who assist with fast-tracking each company to the next stage of development. At the conclusion of the program, each founder presents their company to a global network of investors.

The experience and networking opportunities, Chan explains, provide a launchpad for Chatterize to acquire the funding and resourcing needed to develop TalkTown further.

“When you only have 12 weeks to prove yourself, you just get on with it. There’s no other option,” she explains. “Before Startmate, we had a working prototype, but once we were in the program we started building the MVP, launched within one month and then set about marketing it. The system of accountability is very motivating, and the monthly check-in with investors drives you to deliver key results and learnings each time,” she continues.

To build the technology, Chatterize scouted Miles Thompson as CTO. A machine learning engineer, Thompson previously worked as CTO of CreditSights in New York, before moving to Wellington where he’s worked on speech recognition for the Maori language and as the technical lead on a Maori speech-to-text engine.

About startup accelerator Startmate

Startmate invests in extraordinary founders who are changing the way we work, live and play. The company is powered by some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists making up a world-class community of mentors and alumni who are scaling businesses from the first dollar to the next billion.

Startmate shares this knowledge through its 12-week accelerator program, 1:1 bespoke coaching and in-person events. As well, Startmate encourages ambitious founders to hit their next milestone, and offers resources, advice and support along the way.

Since 2010, Startmate has been welcoming business founders into a community where they can create their ground-breaking businesses. For more information, visit


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