25 Top Women-Founded Startups to Watch

Written by Stephanie O'Brien

October 3, 2017

We still have a long way to go. Some suggest women aren’t cut out for the tech world at all. And these women entrepreneurs even created a fake male cofounder to dodge startup sexism.

But more and more women are building multimillion-dollar startups, It’s paying off across Australian and New Zealand.

Here is our round-up of 27 fierce ladies, in 25 startups to keep an eye on taking the ANZ tech space by storm.

Deb MorrisonPetCloud

PetCloud is an online community for pet parents to connect with pet sitters who have been screened and are ready to care for your pet. They are partnered with RSPCA across most States, and now with Greencross & Petbarn, making them one of Australia’s most trusted and convenient pet care service providers. All reservations include insurance, 24/7 customer support, and daily photo updates of your pet enjoying their own vacation, letting you enjoy yours.

On being a female founder, Deb says:
I encourage other women in tech to get out there and pursue their dreams. Get good advice. Be multiskilled. Get connected with a co-workspace hub. Test your product on your target market… I am an example of what women can achieve once they realise their purpose, worth, and value. Stay on course. Good things happen when you don’t give up.”

Sarah Pearce – Travelshoot 

Travelshoot is a service that helps you book a local photographer while travelling. The platform provides a way to connect travellers with local and professional photographers. People that know their city like no one else, whom you can book to get personal, unique travel photos, without breaking the budget. Travelshoot won the “My Shark Tank Australia competition” in 2015 and have been going from strength to strength since.

On women in the industry Sarah wanted to say this:
I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful female advisors and mentoring opportunities during my journey so far. My standout moment was the brilliant Emma Isaacs who kicked my arse and really inspired me to go for my first investment round when I was pregnant – and so many others had warned me perhaps it ‘wasn’t the best time’ to do so. Her advice was so true – work with investors that are family friendly, and by being pregnant and securing investment is a great time to find out who truly is. I try to pay it forward and always make the time to grab a coffee with any female founders who are starting their journey and reach out to learn about my journey, I think it’s really important and always incredible how many tips and tricks you can pick up over a face to face coffee.

Luscheyne Mellon – Veromo

Veromo is a platform to get your business off to the ground by streamlining and automating most of the setup process of starting a business. Their first round of funding circa $935k helped to get their MVP to market. Luscheyne and co-founder Andy started Veromo when Luscheyne had just given birth to her daughter. Before she knew it they had secured funding, proving that there is no need for women to choose between their career and parenthood.

On the changing perception of female founders Luscheyne says:
I think that the tides are changing. With more women joining the ranks in entrepreneurship, no matter how big or small their venture – it can only inspire more to say it’s possible. Creating a new business is a wonderful way of expressing yourself, weaving together years of experience and shaping something new. As I reflect upon the last three years in taking the idea for Veromo to market, the moments that brought me the most joy were when we rallied together a talented group of people and created a great platform. A platform to help inspire more people to take the entrepreneurial leap and do what they love.

Claudia King – Automio

Automio is a clever interview-bot and document builder that people can train to automate the processes used within their business. When Automio is trained to do a new skill or carry out a new process, a “Flow” is created – an automated product that can be used, bought and sold over and over again without any extra effort. To date, they have raised $1.224 million in capital, gained NZ, Australia, the UK, the US and Europe. Claudia recently won an individual award in the Janders Dean and LexisNexis 2017 Legal Innovation Index.

Claudia’s advice to other female entrepreneurs:
Be bold. Get better, not bitter. Enjoy the freedom to be creative. So many people don’t have the mental space to be creative in their jobs, but when working in tech you can be creative and try stuff out. There’s a lot of tough decisions to make as a tech company founder so trust yo’self and don’t get all up in your head and over think things all the time. Also, life as a tech company founder is a whole lot easier if your partner or spouse believes in your vision 100% #justsayin.”

Melanie Perkins – Canva

Canva makes design simple for everyone. Create designs for Web or print including blog graphics, presentations, Facebook covers, flyers, posters, and invitations. The Canva journey began back in 2007 when Melanie Perkins was studying at the University of Western Australia. Melanie taught students how to use programs such as InDesign and Photoshop — programs that people found hard to learn and even harder to use.

Fast forward to 2017, from animations to launching a print house and continuing global expansion, it’s been another big year for Surrey Hills based Canva.

The team has grown massively in 2017, with 120 in Sydney and 250 globally. That’s an increase of 50 percent this year alone.

Ilana Feain – Nano-X

Nano-X is an innovative cancer treatment system being designed and developed in Australia. Nano-X will change the delivery of radiation therapy from large reference centres to small-town hospitals. An advanced on-board imaging/planning system captures 3D images in real-time, controls the radiation beam, and automatically delivers the right amount of energy to the right tissue, requires fewer dedicated staff. To date, Ilana and co-founder Paul have received a $2.5 million grant to continue their work.

On being a female founder Ilana says:
Equity is not the same as Equality. Ego is not the same as Ability. Decision is not the same as Choice. EQ has a place alongside IQ in successful leadership. I have learned the hard way when and how to stand my ground, even with the good-old imposter syndrome elephant in the corner. I remind myself every day that I am here not just because of a fluke of events or some random good luck but because I actually have what it takes to leave the world a better place than I found it.”

Angela Dunn – Grassrootz

Grassrootz helps ‘for purpose’ organisations raise more funds and reduce their cost of fundraising. The fundraising platform is optimised for mobile, with low transaction fees, helping charities to maximise fundraising in the modern world. Grassrootz has been adopted by charities such as St Vincent de Paul, Starlight, Cure Brain Cancer, and the Cancer Council. Within their first six months, Angela and co-founder Ben were awarded the contract to be the exclusive online fundraising solution for the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival which smashed their online fundraising record with a 40% increase YTD for online fundraising for the event.

On being a woman in Tech, Angela says:
“I don’t have any jaw-dropping war stories as a woman in technology. I’ve been lucky to work with great people and, in myself, I feel un-binary when working. It’s outside of my work where I tend to get gender-typed. The Australian start-up community has an open-door to diversity! It doesn’t matter what gender you are, or where you’re from, if you bring guru-like talent, you have team spirit, and you can solve real problems, your’e welcome! We have a super diverse team at Grassrootz, and we all have great respect for the talent that each other brings. I encourage any woman thinking of becoming a Founder to take a deep breath and jump in! Partnerships are key. Find investors who can help you – to find other investors, with early sales, advice – and find partners who can help you scale, and fast!”

Ros Harvey – The Yield 

The Yield is an AgTech solutions company which develops IoT-based solutions for agriculture and aquaculture. They’re on a mission to transform food and farming practices by building safe, scalable digital technology. The Yield’s end-to-end technology Sensing+ combines farm sensors, data, predictions and apps for growers. Ros and her team have already won numerous awards for their technology and are counting down to the Australian launch of Sensing+, after 2 years of testing and collaborating with local growers. Sensing+ will be available from 9 October 2017. The Yield is 65% female, coming from 15 countries and speak 9 languages.

Ros on the importance of diversity:
Diversity is key to the success of any business, but particularly in technology where you need to design really great customer experiences. Innovation needs diverse minds and ideas. There’s a growing understanding and movement to see more women and diversity in technology, and we’re really proud to be a part of it. The Yield is a values-based organisation and diversity is central to our philosophy.

Charlotte Petris – Timelio

Timelio is a high growth FinTech company with an online marketplace for invoice finance and supply chain finance. Timelio brings together growing businesses directly with a network of investors who fund their invoices. Charlotte, together with husband and co-founder Andrew, have achieved a capital raise for Timelio of $5.5 million and have funded $100 million of invoices on their platform since their launch in 2014.

Encouraging others to get involved Charlotte has this to say:
It’s such an exciting time to be a female in tech. Whether you are a founder or are joining a startup to contribute and play a part in the journey! I’ve experienced such amazing support from so many people and there are some great initiatives now to support and engage the community. There is so much opportunity to make a difference in what you are passionate about. Women bring a unique and compelling viewpoint that can really be their competitive advantage.

Olga Oleinikova – Persollo

Persollo is the world’s first platform for targeted social selling powered by data and AI. Olga and co-founder Kyrylo designed the platform for social media and mobile. Its single-page checkout allows click-through payments straight from any social network and through the key influencers. The platform has helped 700+ businesses across 16 countries to increase their conversion to a brag-worthy 300% from social media. Those clients include the likes of New Balance, Australian UGGs Original, HotelsCombined and Marie Claire.

On the diversity change in Tech, Olga says:
“Very often I am the only female CEO and founder on fintech panels, advisory boards and in general business meetings. But the situation is changing, more females are driving big and successful businesses nowadays, breaking the glass ceiling and ruining the stereotypes that existed for ages. I am very proud to be a women in tech and contributing to the powerful network of females backing each other every day!”

Sarah Mak – Folktale

Folktale  is a mobile app that puts the power of a film director in the palm of your hand. The platform provides a marketplace that connects brands with a community of contributors by providing a fun and engaging platform for the curation and co-creation of video content. Marketers post call-outs to the community of creators, who in-turn follow guided story structures to create awesome user-generated stories. Sarah and co-founder David have received pre-seed funding through the Blue Chilli & CCIQ’s Collaborate program as well as a grant from the University of Waterloo in Canada. Their MVP creation tool is available for download in the app store.

Katy Barfield – Yume Food

Yume Food is a brand new marketplace that helps connect businesses that have premium surplus or excess produce with other businesses that can use it. It’s estimated that between 400,000 and 600,000 tonnes of that food is accessible, edible, quality food and could not just be rescued, but used, eaten and enjoyed. For Buyers, the platform acts as an opportunity to purchase quality surplus food at heavily discounted rates. For Suppliers, the platform gives access to a large network of Buyers outside of their normal sales networks. To date, Yume has raised $2.6 million investment to continue their mission to create a world without waste.

On the importance of diversity, Katy says:

As a female CEO I have had to smash through many glass ceilings. I believe that diversity is absolutely critical to any business; particularly when it comes to male-dominated spaces such as tech. Earlier this year I was a panellist at a Women in Leadership Breakfast for International Women’s Day. It was encouraging to see women in high positions of power giving younger women advice on how to succeed in places where diversity and inclusion may not be so customary, and I think it’s important that we continue to do this.

Holly Cardew – Pixc

Pixc helps online stores increase their sales with better product content. Professional photos help to highlight products and make e-commerce businesses stand out from competitors, resulting in more ‘add to cart’ actions. Pixc professionally edits your product photos for any eCommerce platform or marketplace you are selling on. They provide a quick, efficient and easy way for their clients to have retail-ready photos within 24 hours. They’ve helped thousands of e-commerce store owners to sell more products and have users in over 30 countries.

Fiona Boyd – ParentPaperwork

ParentPaperwork is an easy to use online forms system for schools, students and parents, replacing paper forms in schools. ParentPaperwork digitises form processing between school and parents, school and staff and school and students. After winning the 2014 Startup Victoria Pitch competition, ParentPaperwork officially launched and have gone from strength to strength signing over 400 schools across Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, UK, US, Czech Republic and Portugal. They are partnering with GroupCall in the UK, have secured a couple rounds of seed funding and are also exploring integration with other Edtech products.

On the importance of diversity and being a female founder Fiona says:
Being a woman running a technology company is an interesting and mind-expanding experience. The people involved in our business, including the investors, are all creative and forward-thinking but also really keen to take the sort of technology to the world that improves things for others. Some days I feel like I’ve run a marathon and being a woman in technology is definitely a marathon, not a sprint experience. It would be lovely to have more people of all various types of background in technology so that what we develop will have universal application. My view is that women often bring a head, heart and gut balance to key decisions and to dealing with the team. And that stops us running too fast down rabbit holes that may not be good for our long-term success and sustainability.

Carolyn Mee – Sound Scouts

Sound Scouts is a game designed to test the hearing of children. They have taken the science of a hearing test, embedded it into a mobile game that allows them to collect data and continually improve their offering. It can pick up undiagnosed hearing issues that may affect a child’s social or academic development. They are now working with teams at the University of Southampton and the University of South Florida on a localised version for the UK and US. They have won numerous awards and are now finalising a Mandarin version which they are looking to begin trialling in Australia in August.

Carolyn shares her thoughts on female entrepreneurship:
Women often discount their experience and abilities in relation to how they can be applied within a tech setting. I have drawn on a diverse range of skills – from my media background to running a small business, to being a mother – to oversee the development of Sound Scouts. Something as simple as knowing how to communicate with 5yr olds when testing hundreds of children was a huge advantage. Tech businesses while underpinned by code are not only about coding. To run a successful business you need a range of skills and women are as likely as the next person to have those skills….women just need to believe in themselves and go for it!”

Natalie Nguyen – Hyper Anna

Hyper Anna is your personal AI-powered data analyst.  Hyper Anna helps organisations get closer to their data by serving sculpted insights to their employees. She will write the code, analyse the data, produce the charts, and present you with actionable insights. Natalie and co-founder Sam liken her to Siri or Cortana over the top of any company’s database that enables you to ask plain English questions about the key drivers of your business. The deployment takes 3-5 business days, compared to other alternatives which take 6 months to 1 year for a number rigid dashboards.

Mel Gollan – RIP Global

RIP Global looks after all of your paperwork, reconciliation, and on-charging automatically at the point of purchase.  Mel is on a mission to kill expense reports, bookkeeping and data entry. They have built a no scan, no upload, touch-free end-to-end expensing and bookkeeping solution. RIP is agnostic to payment methods and accounting systems; understanding that every business is unique and require the freedom to change and grow. You hear a lot of industry talk around customer-centric, user experience focused technology; this is what Mel wanted to build. A solution that customers don’t have to even think about when it comes to receipt and invoice processing.

On females creating solutions:
“It is absolutely no surprise to me this solution was designed by a Woman given the majority of purchasing, bookkeeping, data entry and administration positions in most companies are held by women. It feels somewhat poetic that the ultimate solution, rendering these tasks pain free should come from a business with a 75% swing toward women team members.”

Shahirah Gardner – Finch

Finch is a FinTech startup with a vision to reimagine the consumer finance experience.  In December 2016, Finch beat over 100 FinTech startups from around the world for one of eight spots in Silicon Valley’s top FinTech incubator – Envestnet | Yodlee. Created by Shahirah and co-founder Toby, the app allows millennials to pay friends, stay friends, and achieve financial wellness together. In February 2017, Finch won “Best Product Demo” at Yodlee Bootcamp #2. Shahirah is on the committee of Girls in Tech Australia, passionate about getting more women involved in STEM, technology and startups. In a few weeks, they are launching insights, which will show you where all your ‘fun money’ is going.

On being a female founder Shahirah says:
Being a founder of an early stage startup is challenging at the best of times, even when you’re surrounded by a great team, friends, and family. Being a female founder in tech (or in fintech in my case) is even more challenging with fewer role models to identify with. In a startup, amazing things result from diverse teams, especially under female leadership so it’s not just about doing the right thing, it’s about doing the smart thing for your business. You only have to catch a glimpse of recent headlines in Silicon Valley to see what happens when gender diversity is ignored.”

Lucy Yueting Liu – Airwallex

Airwallex helps businesses make better international payments at scale. Lucy, along with co-founders Jacob and Jack wanted to develop a technology that uses machine learning to determine the most cost-effective way of settling every payment that comes through the platform. Airwallex is backed by a phenomenal team of high-profile investors including Tencent, Sequoia Capital China, MasterCard and Gobi Partners, who share their drive for a more accessible currency market. As of May 2017, Airwallex has raised $16 million USD.

Sabrina Bethunin – MadeComfy

MadeComfy is the most trusted short-term rental management company.  Seeking to pursue her creative pulse, Sabrina and co-founder Quirin launched the site to enable home and investment property owners to participate in the sharing economy boom by renting out their properties on the short-term rental market. They generate over 40% higher returns than any other form of rental through their value-adding end to end management service which includes furnishing & styling, pricing & marketing, booking & 24/7 guest management, check-in’s/out’s, housekeeping and maintenance. Today the platform has raised $1.48 million in investment, employs more than 35 people and manages over $400M in assets.

On being a female founder Sabrina says:
I had a very encouraging Corporate career where I found no boundaries for being a woman. Start-ups are a tough place for women, building a start-up can be like going through the desert, and I think there is a lot of questioning around been a woman and if you are going to have the endurance to achieve your start up’s BHAG. I think as women we need to be ready to face rejection and be strong to keep trying without losing the focus on our goal. Despite any challenges, building MadeComfy has been fascinating and extremely rewarding, I have grown as a professional, as a woman and as a human – so everything has been worth it.

Dr Jemma Green – Power Ledger

Power Ledger is bringing P2P solar energy trading blockchain technology to the world. The technology allows renewable energy asset owners to decide who they want to sell their surplus energy to and at what price. Using blockchain technology they provide a transparent, auditable and automated market trading and clearing mechanism for the benefit of producers and consumers. Jemma launched Power Ledger with her co-founders in 2016 and is now a go-to person on matters of cities, energy and transport in Western Australia. She also finds time to be an independent councillor at the City of Perth, a board member of the Water Corp, Heritage Perth and Carbon Tracker, wife and a mother of one.

Jemma shares her excitement on women in Blockchain:

“I love being a woman in tech. At Sir Richard Branson’s island in July, I attended a Blockchain summit and there were 50% women! And they were all the A team! If it can be done in tech it can be done everywhere. Blockchain seems to be attracting women in tech and I am really inspired by this.”

Lucy Lloyd & Heidi Holmes – Mentorloop

Mentorloop is a software platform enabling you to match your people into effective mentorships at any scale; improving mentoring outcomes & saving you time. While working in her first startup, Adage, Heidi worked with mature workers and witnesses this large talent pool of knowledge sitting on the sidelines. They were eager to connect and give back but there was no forum to facilitate this. Lucy and Heidi ideated Mentorloop over a glass of wine as they discussed how they were both at crossroads in their career and mused over their own challenges finding mentors. Knowing that this knowledge pool existed they knew there was an opportunity to democratise mentoring by facilitating meaningful connections via an online platform. They saw they could have the greatest impact through a B2B model; make mentoring scalable at an organisational level.

On being women in tech, the pair had this to say:
Regardless of gender or whether you are starting an online or bricks & mortar business, it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it! Entrepreneurship and small business is the engine room of our economy and we are well aware of the privilege and responsibility that comes with running a business and the duty we have to our investors and our employees. We are committed to making mentoring mainstream and building a profitable, sustainable business and being a girl only makes us more determined!

Noga Edelstein & Elke Keeley – UrbanYou

UrbanYou is Australia’s leading platform for household services on-demand. In 60 seconds, customers can book a pre-approved cleaner or gardener for a time suitable to them. Experiencing first-hand the challenges of trying to find reliable household help, Noga and Elke decided to create their own solution. While working at Yahoo!, they experienced the frustration of having to take a day off work to let a tradesman in. They were both on teams responsible for building and launching global technology products and knew there had to be a better way. They left Yahoo! and invested $15K of their own capital to launch the business in 2014. Today they have raised a total of $2 million in capital, are live in Sydney and Melbourne, and have provided over 20,000 services to their customers’ homes. They are also both mothers to school-aged kids. 

What the duo have to say about being women in tech:
The Australian tech community is hugely supportive of female founders, and in fact, we’ve found there have been some great opportunities we’ve been able to leverage simply by being women! Such as the incredible Heads over Heels and Springboard networks which are specifically targeted at supporting high-growth women-led businesses. Having said that, there are definitely aspects of running a tech company that are more challenging as a female, such as raising capital from an investor community that is dominated by males. Women-led businesses historically receive a very small percentage of angel investor capital and venture capital funds in Australia, which is crazy when you consider that reports demonstrate female CEOs deliver equity returns 226% better than the S&P 500.”

Hina Ahsan – Abyss Solutions

Abyss Solutions is a robotics company that combines the latest innovations in Remotely Operated underwater Vehicles (ROVs) with state of the art data analytics to provide a safer, easier and more comprehensive inspection, allowing for correct asset management decisions. Hina, along with husband and co-founder Nasir, created the business based on interesting finding from Nasir’s PhD thesis on Underwater Robotics and Machine learning. To date, the team have received $1.06 million to continue their work.

Encouraging words from Hina:
Being a woman and running a tech company is very interesting. Technology careers are interesting and women are great at it. It’s not necessary that you have a tech background to run a successful tech company. It’s the idea, the product, the delivery and persistence. Ups and downs are a part of life, don’t let them put you off.”

Georgia McGillivray – The Social Club

The Social Club is an online platform, connecting New Zealand’s largest community of social media influencers directly with brands and agencies. After working in advertising and digital agencies in the US, UK, Australia & New Zealand, Georgia witnessed the rise of influencer marketing and the incredible results that were being generated, however, saw it was a time-consuming and painful process. Georgia and co-founder Justin designed the platform which removed the pain points, lowered the barriers to entry & cut down the time it takes to roll out a campaign manually. Currently, they have 3,500 influencers and 350 brands connected to their platform and are growing 15% month on month.

On women supporting women, Georgia says:
“I have received so much support from female mentors and female founders & entrepreneurs, there is such a great network in the community of girls wanting to help each other out.”

Written by Stephanie O'Brien

October 3, 2017