Less than 5 per cent of the world's venture capital funding goes to female-led businesses, and even less for women of colour.
Those are figures that Theresa Gattung found hard to swallow, and inspired her to set out to bring about change.
Fast forward three years, and Gattung's women-backing-women initiative SheEO, which she brought to New Zealand in 2017, has raised over $900,000 through 700 activators (investors) and helped 15 women-led ventures get a head start in the world of business.
Each year SheEO seeks $1100 from investors - $100 goes into running the organisation and $1000 into the fund. The money, plus funds repaid from loans from previous years, is divided up and given to five selected ventures, effectively an interest-free loan for five years.
This year, it had 216 activators and the ventures received around $70,000 each of $335,000 raised. Fifty-five ventures applied for this round, and eligible firms had to be generating revenue of between $50,000 and $2 million, at least 51 per cent woman-owned and women-led, scalable and strive to create "a better world in some way".
Businesswoman and investor Gattung, former chief executive of Telecom and co-founder of My Food Bag, said she believed the funding initiative had already brought about change in New Zealand and made it easier for women to access capital.
Gattung is hopeful that eventually, although "in the very far future", there will no longer be a need for women-specific initiatives.
"I believe that I am, and SheEO is, part of a pathway now emerging for female entrepreneurs in New Zealand. Female leadership actually does translate into business results, so the more people that get on board with that the easier this is going to be," she said.
"Women have been so disadvantaged in the world of money, so terribly disadvantaged, and the stats are irrefutable. Less than 5 per cent of the world's venture capital funding goes to female-led businesses, and it's even worse if you are women of colour."
SheEO was started in 2015 in Canada by entrepreneur Vicki Saunders and has also been rolled out to the United States, Britain and Australia. Gattung launched it in New Zealand in October 2017.
When New Zealand went into lockdown in March, SheEO already had 100 activators for the cycle. Gattung said Covid-19 had not stopped people from getting behind the cause.
This year, AWWA, a company that makes sustainable alternatives to menstrual products, skincare firm Goodbye Sandfly and Goodbye Ouch, job marketplace Jobloads, Māori fashion brand Kiri Nathan Ltd and organic cotton underwear label Nisa received backing.
As well as funding, the ventures receive mentorship and support from activators and Russel McVeagh has donated three hours pro bono legal support.
Gattung said SheEO had picked up momentum in recent years and was fast becoming the biggest network for female entrepreneurs and women's leadership in the world. The founder has fielded requests from 70 countries to introduce the concept into new territories.
Gattung spends a large portion of her time working on SheEO, along with her professional directorship duties. She is chair of insurance company AIA in New Zealand and Australia, chair and co-founder of My Food Bag, chair of Cecilia Robinson's primary healthcare start-up Tend and director and co-founder of beauty firm The Six Senses Group. She also does a lot of other work within the not-for-profit sector.
"My passions are about supporting women, and I love the intersection of business and doing something good for the world. I believe that intersection is going to be transformative in the next decade - and companies that are without a purpose are going to suffer."
Elisha Watson, founder of Wellington-based organic cotton underwear label Nisa, is one of the ventures to receive funding through SheEO.
The business, which employs women from refugee backgrounds, had applied for the funding in the last round last year and was unsuccessful. Watson said she thought she would reapply this year as was delighted to be named as one of this year's selected ventures.
Watson said Nisa would spend half of the $70,000 funding on operations, fabrics and materials and half on marketing. "That will hopefully set us up really well to expand and grow and reach the next level of existence," she told the Herald.
"Because all of our fabrics are made for us we have to buy them in huge quantities and we have a few big invoices due so it will definitely help us with that - it couldn't have been better timing."
The concept for Nisa, which means women in Arabic, came about when Watson was working as a lawyer in the Wellington Community Law Centre and with the resettlement team at the Red Cross and noticed that people who had recently arrived in New Zealand were struggling to find work.
Nisa currently employs women from Iran, Somalia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka and is now gearing up to expand into swimwear and active wear. It hopes to have employed 100 staff with refugee backgrounds within 10 years.