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Applications Open for New Zealand’s First ‘Female-Founder’ Accelerator Programme


Applications are officially open for Lightning Lab XX, New Zealand’s first ever female-founder business accelerator, which will kick off on International Women’s Day (March 8th 2016).

Lightning Lab is New Zealand’s premier business accelerator, with its programmes to date helping 45 ventures accelerate their business and attract over $8M in seed capital. Lightning Lab XX will discover, invest in and accelerate exceptional women and the companies they run.

With far fewer women in startups than men and extensive data pointing to diverse teams performing better and generating higher returns, the programme aims to provide the right environment for female founders to thrive through the challenge of starting a company, while being supported by a diverse lineup of world-class role models, coaches and mentors.

The female-founder vertical will take up to 10 startups that have at least one female co-founder in each team. The programme will harness Lightning Lab’s proven track record to boost the historically low number of females in startups in order to foster a more diverse and productive entrepreneurial ecosystem within New Zealand.

While there is currently little New Zealand specific data available on females in startups, the 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking Report stated that a “lack of gender equality is common across all startup ecosystems. No ecosystem comes close to an equal share of male and female founders.” According to the report, 18% of the top 20 startups worldwide have a female founder amongst their team this year.

Data from various studies also suggest that diverse teams perform better and generate higher returns. Silicon Valley venture capital firm, First Round Capital this year looked at 300 of its portfolio companies and almost 600 founders, and found “that teams with at least one female founder did 63% better than the all-male founder teams.”

Programme Director Laura Reitel says that the accelerator is an important foothold in improving these figures. “Anyone working within the startup world knows that females are not well represented in technical or founder roles. With Lightning Lab XX we hope to take a solid step towards changing the ratio of women in business in New Zealand.”

Anna Guenther, CEO/Chief Bubble Blower of NZ crowdfunding platform Pledgeme, is a big advocate of the female founder programme. “I support anything that shines the light on female entrepreneurs, because in order to be it you have to see it”, says Guenther. “I love that the conversation around who and how companies are founded is changing, and that more and more diversity is supported in the startup space.”

Guenther noted that through Pledgeme she has seen women who are great at activating support but “sometimes need someone to shoulder tap them to lead. And that’s what Lightning Lab XX is doing, shoulder tapping the next generation of female founders.”

Criteria for the Lightning Lab XX programme include:

FEMALE LED: The programme has a ‘female led’ focus, rather than being female exclusive. Startups must have at least one female serving in an executive role to apply.

COMPANY STAGE: Startups at all stages will be considered, however those that haven’t previously raised investment beyond family/friends or seed funding will have the most to gain from the programme.

TRACTION: The application process will favour startups that have achieved some degree of traction – revenue, contracts, strategic partnership, etc.

HIGH GROWTH: Participating startups must have a scalable business model and be able to illustrate high growth potential.

INDUSTRY AGNOSTIC: Startups within any industry will be considered, and product and services businesses alike welcome to enter the programme.

X FACTOR: The programme will be seeking out extraordinary founders leading startups tied to their deep and personal passions.

Applications for the programme close December 18th 2015. For more info or to apply, visit


Lightning Lab is run by Creative HQ, a unit of the recently formed Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA), and supported by Callaghan Innovation, Microsoft Ventures and Spark.

The Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency has been formed to combine and amplify the activities of Grow Wellington, Positively Wellington Tourism, Positively Wellington Venues, Creative HQ and the Major Events unit of Wellington City Council. The plan for integrating the team into one unit is currently under development.

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