For a long time the tech sector has been dominated by white men. Manels (male only panels) were commonplace at conferences, more male-led startups received venture capital funding and there were a lot more visible male success stories. But when it comes to blockchain, an emerging group of female entrepreneurs are leading the way, not just in Australia, but globally.
While cryptocurrency may still have a skew towards males, if you think about a successful Australian blockchain startup, the chances are it has a female co-founder.
Last month Queenslander Leanne Kemp’s blockchain startup Everledger, was named by the World Economic Forum as one of the 61 most promising technology pioneers of 2018.
Kemp, a serial entrepreneur with multiple exits under her belt, founded the business in April 2015 as a way to track the provenance of diamonds, identify diamonds and follow their ownership history.
Having moved to London in 2014 to explore the use of bitcoin and blockchain, she tells The Australian Financial Review she’d been surprised to find large financial institutions already employing cryptographers and working with blockchain around transactions.
Kemp knew blockchain could be applied to provenance and now Everledger has 2.2 million diamonds on its blockchain which have been tracked from the mine to the retailer. She has also expanded into other products, adding other gem stones to the blockchain, as well as things like art, wine, watches, jewellery and even resources such as cobalt and lithium.
“There’s an important role to be had in re-innovating existing products in markets to bring transparency and provenance and then also the tracking of their second lives. You can find out where something goes after it’s retired and what happens to the core components, which is so important when there is a war on waste,” she says.
“We have a responsibility as next generation technologists to underpin how this technology will form and inform all of us in our roles as citizens of the planet.”
In March Everledger closed a $US10.4 million funding round, led by the Canadian arm of Fidelity Investments and GMP Securities. It also had participation from Vickers Ventures Partners, Graphene Venture Capital, and previous investors Rakuten, FPV, Fenbushi, and Bloomberg Beta.
The funding provided Everledger with expansion capital, helping it open an office in mumbai, India. It also has offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Singapore and the US.
The startup now has 60 staff and while the average percentage of women working in a technology company in Australia is usually between 28-31 per cent, Everledger has 44 per cent women in both leadership and technical roles in the company.
“Culturally as an organisation we consider diversity as part of our DNA,” Kemp says.
“While blockchain might be a newly-named technology, the reality is it’s a combination of existing technical competencies. We need people that are great data scientists, who understand governance, who are cryptographers… and AI experts. When you combine this together in a novel way, it becomes enlivened.”
Kemp is just one of many Australian women kicking goals in the blockchain industry.
In February Square Peg Capital invested $5.5 million into supply chain finance blockchain start-up AgriDigital, co-founded and led by entrepreneur Emma Weston, while blockchain energy trading pioneer Power Ledger raised $34 million in its initial coin offering last year and is co-founded and chaired by Dr Jemma Green.
Ruth Hatherley’s blockchain startup Moneycatcha also scored a deal with HSBC last year to trial its two products – Homechain, a home loan processing platform, and Regchain, a regulatory compliance tool.
Katrina Donaghy’s public sector blockchain start-up Civic Ledger was also named last month as the emerging fintech organisation of the year at the annual fintech industry awards.
Ms Donaghy, who began her career working in government before shifting to water utilities and then the not-for-profit sector, says she discovered blockchain in October 2015 and scored a deal with the Queensland government prior to launching Civic Ledger, which uses smart contract and blockchain technology to build tools for people to engage with government.
She says the majority of successful blockchain startups in Australia, which have real products and solutions, have been co-founded by women.
“If you just look at the companies that have done ICOs, there are very few women, but if you look at the ones that have been built based on customer validation and actually have sales, well most of the good blockchain companies that are still around were co-founded by women in the early days,” Ms Donaghy said.
“I set up Brisbane Women in Blockchain in 2017 and I have nearly 430 people in my meet-up. We get told all the time that we [as women] don’t exist in the sector, but we get tired of that. We’re building really powerful businesses and we work on problems that are suitable for blockchain technology and that’s why we’re successful.”
Ms Donaghy, whose company is currently working with IP Australia to digitise the IP registry and have it built on the blockchain, said there were also many women involved in the blockchain community from other backgrounds such as Hannah Glass at King & Wood Mallesons, Claire Wivell Plater from The Fold Legal, Dr Philippa Ryan at the University of Technology Sydney and Dr Lucy Cameron from Data61, as well as Miss Blockchain Akasha Indream.
Despite the strong representation of women in blockchain, this is not mirrored in cryptocurrency. Globally, women make up just 8.5 per cent of cryptocurrency traders, according to data from Bitcoin.com. But this may change as the sector matures, as the data revealed there was no gender split in bitcoin traders.
Equally, at global blockchain or cryptocurrency conferences there is often still a lack of diversity, both in terms of gender and race.
In 2015 a blockchain summit at Richard Branson’s Necker Island featured just one woman out of 37 participants.
But this is changing. There are now Women in Blockchain global conference and recognisable female leaders in the sector internationally.
In February New Yorker Amber Baldet quit her role as the blockchain program lead at JPMorgan Chase to start her own venture Clovyr, and even the blockchain division at major tech giant IBM is led by two women – Bridget van Kralingen and Marie Wieck.
In 2014 Grace Wong co-founded dining rewards app Liven with her brother William, which this year expanded into blockchain by creating a token called LivenCoin. It will be able to be used to pay for food and beverages at popular restaurants around Australia by December this year and already has the support of renowned chains like Gelato Messina. Last year Ms Wong spent months travelling to different international blockchain events late last year before making a play in the sector.
She said she was often one of only a few women at the events, but this made her stand out and she was able to use it to her advantage.
“I get noticed by so many people and then they become interested in our project… but I am seeing more women start to come up in the space,” she said.
“This is something females can be passionate about and interested in. It’s all about a trustless, secure system and traceability. This kind of concept where no one can interfere and there’s no middlemen, resonates with females more than the internet era did.”