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Electrify Aotearoa

Women in deeptech research represent huge untapped potential for the country’s startup economy. A session at Electrify Aotearoa will investigate what’s needed to unleash it.

Journalist

Mary Hurley

May Low, COO of Kiwi Innovation Network

Boosting the number of women making the leap from researcher to founder requires an equal leap in the amount of support available to those women, according to one ecosystem insider.

May Low, COO of Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet), says an “amazing pipeline” of women have entered deeptech research in recent years, which has led to many female-led research projects, resulting, in turn, in spinout companies.

However, only a small number of those female researchers go on to actually found or lead a company themselves, Low says. Instead many pass the intellectual property on to others who may have greater business capability, or in some cases, the researchers may take other roles within a company like that of a CTO, rather than CEO. 

While, in 2019, New Zealand was lauded as having one of the highest percentages of women graduates founding startups globally at 13.4 percent, that number is still modest compared to men. 

“What everyone needs to know is that there are amazing women within the ecosystem who are doing these things, but they might not be at the forefront of what you see,” Low says. 

“It’s a massive jump to go from academia or a paid research role within a CRI, where you know what your day-to-day is and when the paycheck is going to come, into a startup.”

Changing that requires a support system that empowers people to understand the commercialisation journey, particularly when it comes to capital raising and equity, Low says. 

Tackling the discrepancy between female-led research and female-led startups is made difficult by the fact there’s no one strict route to take, she says. “We can’t stand up here and give you a one-size-fits-all roadmap, because the input and output correlation varies widely.”

Low will host a masterclass on navigating the deeptech ecosystem at the Ministry of Awesome’s Electrify Conference on June 19 in Wellington. It will include insights from women founders who have gone from research to commercialisation themselves, including RespirAq’s Dr. Sandra Grau-Bartual, Bspkl’s Christina Houlihan and TasmanIon’s Dr. Shalini Divya.

Highlighting the different journeys of female founders is crucial because, while there are commonalities, each leader's experience varies based on their background and circumstances, Low says. 

This article is brought to you by Ministry of Awesome. Find the agenda for the Electrify Conference here. 

Journalist

Mary Hurley

Mary Hurley brings three years experience in the online media industry to the Caffeine team. Having previously specialised in environmental and science communications, she looks forward to connecting with founders and exploring the startup scene in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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