I am a life member of Feminism, but I avoid the women-focussed entrepreneur sites and I have avoided some of the Angel investment groups and hubs set up for women. My experience of some of these are that women are welcome only as long as they're heterosexual and involved in "acceptable" enterprises.
My business is focussed on health, safety and pleasure for women. I have been an artisan design and manufacture business, of sexual health products, based in Australia, for over 20 years.
It is only recently that the means for mass production of our medical-grade silicone products has become available. While there are many big brands in the market which manufacture products for our market with the "healthy silicone" tag, most only use a silicone skin over a plastic base. Our manufacturing requirements are for the full effects of the variety of textures and transmission of vibration that silicone offers, but our products are typically solid silicone and that makes them expensive and tricky to mass produce.
To make this story less about the product and more about being a woman entrepreneur, my natural fit for investor funding and mentoring is, surprisingly for me, with engineers.
Most of these folks are men, but they "Get it" with what I am trying to achieve. The ones who can look at the engineering of the product rather than be distracted by the product are wonderful to work with.
Thanks to the GFC in 2008, our opportunity to get back to the market with a sustainable growth model, has changed everything. We were approached by a local company whose manufacturing of medical products were an ideal fit for us, but until the GFC they didn't need and didn't want to manufacture our products. Since then, they have been a great support and resource for the development of our best sellers for mechanised production.
Finding investment funding has been the hardest thing of all.
Our local and national government grants and exporters' assistance programmes are run by bureaucrats, who have killed off my applications consistently.
Even after getting approval form the Ministers office, my application for support was rejected. Having said that, I take responsibility for any failure to communicate in a way that works for these folks. I didn't give up, I wanted to know if it was "just me" or something else.
I meet all of the criteria that successive Ministers have made Public statements about wanting to support, but I have been unable to secure any Public support.
There aren't many women in manufacturing for export, in Australia. We are so rare, in fact, that most women looking to manufacture (often for the next baby bottle innovation), go to China for their manufacturing and wouldn't know how to make the product if their lives depended on it.
I can't say that the Mummy entrepreneurs have been gatekeepers in the women-focussed entrepreneur and accelerator groups, but I can say that I haven't ever been welcomed into one of those groups.
It's partly me, partly what I do.
I am OK with it - I have had to do every aspect of my business alone or with one or two like-minded people to support the work. I have been export focussed because only the women-focussed boutique stores around the world wanted the product we were making. It's expensive to make quality.
In a market that remains un-regulated for safety, it is only the stores that educate their customer base that are to thank for the range of safe product available for women's sexual health accoutrements available today.
As one niche manufacturer, I am so close to being ready to launch our mass market product, and I could not be happier that I have come this far and still viable enough to garner Angel investment from a smart and discerning group of people who understand what I'm doing and can see where it will probably lead, by scaling up.
As a Feminist, I can say that when the time comes to be on the investor side of the funding search, I have a wealth of experience that will serve me well. It has been a hard road and there's a lot of mileage still to do, but at least i can see the path clearly and see the steps to bringing my enterprise to its place in the market.
Once this one is complete, I get to move on to the other five major business projects I have been waiting 20 years to develop.