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Taking women owned tech start-ups to the next level

12 October 2016

Marisa Warren ELEVACAO

Marisa Warren (above) needed a change. She had been working in technology for more than 15 years with corporates such as Microsoft and SAP, as well as beginning her own ventures, and she wanted to see more women, especially entrepreneurial women, succeed in technology based businesses.

Marisa sold her house, left her friends, family and job, and went to New York, arriving with five suitcases and dual nationality. That was 2011.

Then, as so often happens when you’re in a new country and open to new opportunities and relieved of your normal career baggage, a chance coincidence brought the change for which Marisa was looking.

“I met the Australian voice of Siri in your iPhone and GPS devices, Karen Jacobsen, in a lift,” she explains.

“In that ride between floors I discovered that Karen wanted to do the same thing as me, help women to come together, collaborate, and help each other to succeed in business and life.”

Marisa began the Inspiring Women in Technology Initiative, showcasing women who have achieved personal and professional success in the tech world, and she asked Karen to speak. The uptake on the idea then led to a panel event at the Harvard Club New York.

“We needed more than talk, though. We needed action, and so ELEVACAO Foundation, which means ‘uplift’ in Portuguese, was born in New York.

“In 2016, we opened the Sydney chapter of the not-for-profit,” says Marisa, whose foundation has now coached and mentored 20 Sydney-based and 9 New York-based women through to the final stage of pitching their ideas to investors.

“Three percent of tech companies are founded by women, yet when funded they deliver 35 percent higher ROI [return on investment] than male-led firms,” says Marisa, going on to explain that in her experience around 95 percent of the women who wish to start tech businesses have no background in technology at all.

“ELEVACAO is designed to empower and promote first time women tech entrepreneurs in the early stage of their business growth. We have our Pitch Ready Workshops and Women Tech Founders Pitch Events. At these events women pitch in front of a live audience to a panel of seasoned entrepreneurs, VCs and angels, seeking advice, guidance or funding, to help elevate their business to the next level.

“There are also our Tech Ready Workshops, which help women tech founders who don’t have a tech background get tech ready.”

Sera Awad, founder of the group photo streaming app Photell, was one of the first entrepreneurs to gain assistance from ELEVACAO, Sydney. Sera took part in the workshop program and went on to pitch. She is now in advanced discussions for the initial round closing November 30, and seeking $500k investment.

HCF has expressed interest in two health tech business ideas being pitched by ELEVACAO women, and a parenting app - which puts parents in touch with others in their neighbourhood to secure safe babysitting - is another project causing a buzz among investors.

In May this year Westpac held a hackathon to find blockchain solutions across five categories of finance, government, healthcare, agriculture and property. A report in the Australian Financial Review noted that, “the competition was won by Full Profile, which has been investigating how blockchain could help solve entrenched agricultural industry issues such as counterparty or credit risk, stock reconciliations and reporting and traceability from source to consumer”.

In September Chloe Blattmann of RagTagd closed on her initial round of $400k. The investor is agribusiness executive and Full Profile’s CEO Emma Weston, whom Chloe met after pitching at ELEVACAO’s Sydney Launch. Emma is also a start-up mentor.

RagTagd uses Smart Tags on school items. Parents receive an automated SMS notification if an item they have tagged is placed in lost property.

ELEVACAO has global ambitions. Local chapters will tailor programs to suit individual market requirements and manage the day-to-day operations. Funding is through sponsorship and government grants and, in 2017, ELEVACAO Foundation will open in Melbourne and a third country.

ELEVACAO Foundation’s next pitch event is on October 18, 2016. Register here.

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