Curbing the gender pay gap in start-ups

By Dawn Lo  Tuesday, 3 December 2019  @Business School

​With the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) indicating men are still out-earning women by $25,679 a year on average – the global gender pay gap shows no signs of closing.

Lesser known is the gender investment gap which takes place in the start-up landscape whereby companies founded by men stand a greater chance of securing capital when pitching their ideas to venture capitalists. In fact, research has shown that only 17% of venture capital is awarded to businesses with women at the helm.

In a move to address this gender gap in entrepreneurship and achieve gender parity in the start-up community, UNSW has launched the New Wave Founders program to encourage women to execute their start-up idea. UNSW Business School MBA student, Frances Atkins is a trailblazer in the start-up community, having launched not one – but two start-ups.

Together with her sister, Naomi Vowels, Frances co-founded GoodGivs – a start-up that helps people celebrate without waste by combining group gifting with charitable crowdfunding; and givvable – a start-up that provides a platform for businesses to find and purchase from sustainable and social suppliers.

Why did you choose the New Wave Founders program?

After 15 years working in the corporate world as a Finance lawyer at Ashurst and Vice President at J.P Morgan, Frances decided to change her career trajectory and enrolled in the MBA (Executive) program at the UNSW Business School to explore other career opportunities. It was during her time as an MBA student that she discovered the world of start-ups and founded GoodGivs and givvable.

"I was interested to join UNSW's New Wave Founders program as it is specifically designed to help women start, launch and grow their business. I was able to work with like-minded women on an idea which we pitched to industry leaders," Frances said.

New Wave is part of the Founders program – UNSW's platform to embed entrepreneurship on campus.

"The Founders program has reinforced Sydney's start-up ecosystem. To date, the program has the most start-ups across Australia and offers the highest number of support programs and accelerators as well. As a result, we are able to attract better students with an entrepreneurial mind," Brendan Hill, start-up mentor and coach at UNSW Founders said.

Through this program, Frances learned all the essential entrepreneurial skills such as pitching, networking and design thinking, under the guidance of industry-leading mentors. 

"What started as a hobby to solve our own problem of wastage, became our first start-up idea. The New Wave program allowed me to work on a start-up concept. I learned how to build a minimal viable product (MVP), how to test and how to launch a product that is fit for the market. We pitched our idea to industry leaders and won the New Wave showcase," Frances said.

Tell us more about your new start-up

Having caught a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes of a start-up firm, Frances wanted to accelerate her start-up learnings and explore global opportunities – which explains her interest in the Founders' flagship program called 10x. This year, the Founders program worked with 250 UNSW start-ups and included an immersive trip to Silicon Valley, access to industry-leading experts, an in-house pitch coach, $20,000 of funding and office space on campus.

Frances saw this as a unique opportunity to execute a concept that she could scale and grow.

"Naomi and I realised that businesses have the potential to make a significant impact towards sustainability through their purchasing decisions. That's why we decided to build givvable, our second start-up, as a procurement platform," she said.

"What our platform offers is to not only help businesses find sustainable and social suppliers but also help them understand what their impact is so that they can then report on this to their stakeholders and raise awareness on sustainability."

Within the 10-week period of 10x, Frances spoke to more than 100 businesses, suppliers and industry professionals to promote givvable.

"There are entrepreneurs-in-residence that guide you through the process, making sure you step in the right direction."

Givvable is currently in its building phase and due to launch in the next six to nine months.

What did you learn from your experience at UNSW?

Learning about start-ups is a fundamental concept in the MBA course as start-ups have become such a major disruptor to traditional businesses.  

"I'm glad that I was able to apply my learnings with the support that I've received from the Founders program, the alumni and the connections I've made with people in the Centre of Social Impact."

"To be able to go to Silicon Valley and get that exposure was amazing. We had about 10 meetings with big companies during the week and learned how to be investor ready. I was able to better understand the U.S market and observe how they can source sustainable and social suppliers. We eventually want to expand givvable to the U.S in the future, so this was a great opportunity to know what we're going in for and what to expect."

Any advice for future students who aspire to become a major player in the industry?

According to Frances, building a start-up is all about creating something that people need.

"It is really important that you can clearly articulate what your product can do. Sometimes founders can be so into their product, that it's hard for them to take a step back and see it from someone else's perspective," she said.

"You can practise bouncing off ideas with people to see if they can understand your product. In that way, you can find out if you're communicating it in the way that you intend to. Take time to test and get feedback even when it is uncomfortable."

Interested in meeting other aspiring female entrepreneurs within the UNSW community? Join us at the New Wave in Motion event this Wednesday 4 December at the Sydney Startup Hub. Learn more about the Founders program and find out which initiative can best support your start-up idea. 


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