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5 key tips women in startups should keep in mind when seeking grants and funding

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Statistics show female entrepreneurs get awarded funding at a disproportionately smaller rate than their male peers, even though women who receive venture funding bring in 12% more revenue than male-owned tech companies and are likely to have greater success overall.

Why the imbalance? The abysmal presence of female VCs, low numbers of females pitching, and the prevalent gender bias we have, are just some examples. I truly believe that until we have more women in leadership positions making decisions about who receives funding and how much, we’re not going see much of a shift. In the meantime here are my five tips to ensure you’re on track:

1. Do your homework on potential funding sources

Grants are more often than not developed to provide funding for a particular purpose—sometimes they can be broad, and other times very specific. Whether it be arts, social welfare, environment, health, Indigenous, you name it, there is usually a grant-specific opportunity for your industry. Check lists of previous grant recipients to get an indication of what kind of activities have been supported and how much money they received. Does your application fit in with previous patterns or funding? If not, why?

There are also funding programs specifically targeted towards women so don’t forget to seek these out as well, such as the NSW government’s Investing in Women Funding Program. With a total of $400k up on offer, this program focuses on developments and projects that support leadership and advancement of women in New South Wales. One of their focuses is ‘Women in Small Business’, especially if they are related to giving back to the community.

2. Identify the problem and focus on the solution

This is something I see both men and women do, regularly.  So many times, I’ve heard pitches where the founder focuses too much on the problem and doesn’t spend enough time talking about what the solution is and why they are the best people to solve it. I’ve seen my fair share of images of floating plastic in oceans, or busy cities covered in smog – if it’s a pitch addressing an environmental issue – almost everyone puts up practically the same slide deck and then recites a lengthy explanation of why pollution is an issue.

We all understand you are passionate about the problem you’re trying to solve and explaining the issue is important. However developing a well-balanced pitch involves touching on these elements while focusing more closely on the solution in your idea. My advice is to highlight the problem clearly. Don’t try and solve multiple problems. And finally outline simply why current solutions are inadequate. This way you will ensure people don’t switch off. Understandably, investors get more excited about the strategy of your solution than the problem you’re tackling.

3. Avoid industry jargon and buzz words

Remember that not everyone will understand your industry as well as you do, especially if your idea is esoteric, age or gender-targeted. So when making an impression in such a short amount of time its important to focus on getting your key points and messages across instead of using industry terms that people may not understand, or spending time having to define what these terms mean, in hopes that you will appear educated on the topic.

I once heard a pitch from a woman who was working in the health industry. Her solution and product was truly ground breaking, however, when she was trying to explain what it was, no one could understand what she was talking about and in the end, tuned out. My number 1 tip in this instance is to have someone from outside your industry, interest or target market, listen to your pitch – if they can’t understand your idea, chances are, neither with a board of potential investors.

4. Don’t try and write it alone

It sounds simple, but often it’s a step many over look. It’s important to contact the grant facilitators prior to writing your application – most often than not they are more than happy to provide insights into what they are looking for and what they are expecting, as well as talk you through the application process and what you need to provide. Many times, I’ve come away discovering something about the application process that I didn’t think was important, or didn’t see all together.

Also, make sure you have at least one other person you trust, from outside your industry, interest or target market, read your application – if they can’t understand your idea, chances are, neither will the person reading your application.

5. Don’t forget to actually ask for the money

I see this mistake the most.

Often people, in particular women, forget to include or are apprehensive to ask for the amount of the grant they are seeking in the proposal. Remember, the whole point of a grant (for the most part) is to receive support, monetarily or otherwise.  Be explicit, usually in the first sentence or two, about how much money you would like them to give you.

Christie Whitehill is the CEO and Founder of Tech Ready Women, an award winning company equipping women with the skills, mentoring and community they need to empower them on their start-up journey. Entries are now open for the inaugural Tech Ready Women “From idea to tech startup” event sponsored by the City of Sydney as part of a $25,000 cash grant to help more women start viable tech businesses.

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