India is backing women-owned firms to grow their GDP, why isn’t Australia?

Written by: F5 Collective

F5 Collective CEO Tracey Warren attends Startup 20 Shikhar part of the G20 2023 India Summit.

When I landed in India at the Startup20 Summit in July, two things were immediately evident;  The wisdom in turning F5 Collective’s focus toward Asia: as global south economies continue to expand in power and influence, and the critical role that strategic investments in women will play in driving that growth. Part of my goal in going to India was to set up partnerships. The only way we’re going to help scale Australian startups into this region is through on-the-ground, people-to-people relationships in each country because Asia is so nuanced. That was my main goal, and it was easy. The female mandate was already on everybody’s lips.

Startup20 is a first-of-its-kind engagement group initiated under the Indian presidency of the G20 in 2023. The platform intends to represent the global startup ecosystem to raise the macroeconomic concerns and challenges faced by entrepreneurs with G20 leaders. Startup20 operates through Task Forces, empowered to develop key priorities and bring forward topics in a specific focus area from which recommendations are formulated to support the startup ecosystems globally. Those recommendations are consolidated and shared as a communique to the G20 India presidency and will be taken up during the G20 Summit 2023.

It’s no surprise that the Indian government have earmarked startups as a focus area for the G20. India is well on the way to establishing itself as a “startup powerhouse,” and startups are quickly rewriting the nation’s economic story. By 2025 India is projected to have as many as 200,000 startups, with 250 Unicorns among them. The start-up sector is expected to bring in up to 200 billion dollars of investment in the period from 2021-25, which could see India overtaking China as the biggest startup ecosystem outside the United States. 

This growth is being driven by a highly educated workforce, improved access to VC funds and strong government support. Startups have created over 4 million jobs in India over the last 5 years and are seen as critical to the nation’s journey toward becoming a 3 Trillion Dollar economy. 

Nor should it be a surprise that Gender and Diversity initiatives are key priorities with direct support from Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. Estimates suggest that accelerating women’s entrepreneurship in India could create more than 30 million women-owned enterprises, potentially creating up to 170 million jobs and driving up GDP. Globally women’s incomes are estimated to grow from $13 trillion to $18 trillion over the next five years. Indian women-owned firms are expected to be one of the major sources of that growth. So the social and economic returns are undeniable, as is the opportunity for investors. A big focus for the summit was ‘activation’, which I love because a lot of these events can be just pageantry. That in itself sets this forum apart. They kept saying, if we activate this many women, it translates to this in GDP, so they’re already putting a monetary value to it and framing it in terms of opportunity. That is a powerful perspective shift which we need to adopt in Australia.

I went to Startup20 with F5 Collective Founder Shivani Gopal. Shivani is a CEO, Founder and passionate advocate for equality. That advocacy saw her invited to represent Australia as a member of the Startup20 Task Force on Inclusion & Sustainability. Shivani who also spoke at the summit, was keen to draw attention to the potential and impact of small to medium enterprises, “While we often focus on the success stories of unicorns, lets not lose sight of enabling an equitable path to get there for all founders, and while we’re at it, let’s enable, support and celebrate the many minicorns, and the contribution they make to both the economy and employment.”    

The Task force set out to expand the pool of startups and promote innovation by and for underserved communities in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Their five aims were; the promotion of women-led startups and those working to make communities more inclusive, to enable funders to responsibly invest in startups focussed on sustainability, to encourage mentoring across the ecosystem and to offer particular support for startups working on SDGs in areas of global interest.  

Australian lawyer and entrepreneur Etta Watts-Russell was Co-chair of the task force. She shared this about their aims in drafting their white paper. “We’re really trying to show an alignment with GDP and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. So rather than just calling out the current situation, we’re really showing that positive opportunity with those two key alignments. We wanted to put some cold, hard figures out there in terms of what we were trying to achieve.”

Their report was combined with outputs from two other task forces, which covered ‘Finances’ and ‘Foundation and Alliances’ in ‘The Startup20 Communiqué 2023,’ published on 3 July. The communique is a joint statement that outlines recommendations formulated to support startup ecosystems globally. It represents a consensus position after meetings with over 500 delegates over many months, beginning in January 2023 and a period when the document was open for comments from startups and stakeholders across the ecosystem. 

The ‘Enabling the Global Startup Ecosystem: Recommendations and Policy Directives’ address five key themes; laying a strong foundation, forming global alliances, unlocking startup finance, building for inclusion, and scaling for sustainability. Each theme is supported by detailed recommendations and proposals for shared actions. One of the strongest was a call for G20 leaders to raise their nation’s joint investment in the global startup ecosystem to $1 trillion USD per year by 2030. 

Saudi Arabia was quick to pledge support for the new funding milestone, with Prince Fahad bin Mansour Al-Saud, the chair of the Saudi Entrepreneurship Board, stating that “We are ready to work on it starting today and hopefully become the first to commit.”  Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in moving its economy away from dependence on oil as part of its Vision 2030 platform. They see startups as a key avenue to stimulate private sector growth and encourage small to medium enterprises to diversify their economy. The parallels with Australia are clear. 

So what are the key insights for Australian funders?Australia is at risk of being left behind. We’re behind the eight ball on multiple levels, from startup funding to the female mandate. There’s leading-edge thinking happening in emerging economies across the global south. They want to dominate the startup scene globally, and investing in women is a key part of that strategy. The time for Australian funders to act on this emerging trend is now. 

Brazil, will host the G20 in 2024 and have already confirmed the continuation of Startup20 during their presidency. A strong indicator that the focus on global markets will continue. We need more of a global perspective. I say this to startups as well, whenever I speak to founders. Your competition isn’t sitting here, it is overseas. We cannot afford to suffer from island syndrome. Being part of Startup20 has emphasised the opportunity for those Australian startups with the right global lens. Brilliant, woman-led businesses are poised to thrive in an expanding global market. 

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