Welcome to our Women in Tech series! Today, we’re shining a spotlight on Maria Halasz, the driving force behind Stride Equity. As the CEO, Maria has seamlessly blended her diverse experience in investment banking, venture capital, and tech leadership to steer the course of the company.
Maria’s journey is a masterclass in resilience and innovation. From navigating the intricate realms of global tech commercialization to championing equity in venture funding, her trail is paved with lessons and inspirations.
Join us as Maria delves into her multifaceted career, her insights on the challenges female tech founders face, her take on work-life balance, and her impassioned plea for greater gender representation in senior corporate roles in STEAM fields.
Hi Maria, thanks for joining us today. Your career has spanned various sectors, including investment banking, venture capital, and now as CEO of Stride Equity. Could you share how your diverse background has influenced your approach to leading in the tech industry?
When it comes to identifying and funding great technologies, it is helpful to have broad industry exposure. Having been on all sides of technology companies, including funding and operating them, I have a better overview on what works and what doesn’t. I have been involved with successes and failures in the past, which makes me acutely aware of the obstacles technology companies might face as they grow and scale. Finally, nothing beats experience when it comes to riding out the inevitable uncertain periods.
Your bio highlights your extensive experience in commercialising technology both in Australia and overseas. How do you navigate the global tech landscape and build enduring business relationships in such a fast-paced and ever-evolving industry?
Technology commercialisation, especially when it comes to areas such as biotech, is global. There is a finite number of credible players in specific areas of research and development. I have been involved in commercialising technology in the life sciences space, including health tech, for many years and have personal contacts that have become friends over the years.
This way, keeping on top of a specific field is not so difficult. However, keeping on top of the industry generally is more difficult. Especially as innovation is moving at such an amazing speed right now, and AI driven drug discovery has outpaced any expectation.
For this reason it is important to attend industry conferences and meetings where you see what others are doing. It is also valuable to monitor the R&D pipelines of large companies, who are planning their products years ahead and investing hundreds of millions into new technologies. Finally, I monitor both the NASDAQ and the ASX, where most of the technology companies are listed and make their development announcements.
As the CEO of Stride Equity, the first venture-backed equity crowdfunding platform in Australia, what opportunities and challenges do you see for female-founded startups in accessing venture funding, and how can we address these disparities?
Data indeed suggests that indeed female founders have proportionally less VC funding, and it is unlikely to change in the short term. There are many reasons for this disparity; some come from the way we are socialised and others are plain unfair.
Female founders may not have the same type of network as men, and even if they do have business networks, they are less likely to utilise these to access funding. Furthermore, until the majority of funding decision makers are male, it will be difficult to get away from the unconscious bias they invariably suffer from.
Finally, we need more funds dedicated to female founders. This should start with the superfunds that invest the majority of venture money in the ecosystem through VC managers. When they allocate capital, they need to ensure that funds comply with diversity standards, and that includes allocated proportionate capital to female founded businesses by VC funds that employ female decision makers in investment roles.
Having said that, female founders tend to bootstrap their business longer, reducing the failure rate of these businesses. There is definitely opportunity to highlight the better performance metrics when raising funding for female founded businesses.
Work-life balance is a common concern for professionals, particularly for women in demanding tech roles. How have you managed to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and what advice would you give to women who are striving to achieve this equilibrium?
It is difficult to have a healthy work life balance, and I am not even sure that it is something we should strive for. I found over the years that priorities change and sometimes you have to dedicate 110% to your business or career and other times family must be your priority.
When my daughter was born, I returned to work within a few weeks. I must say, it was tough and I underestimated the demands of motherhood. She turned out fine, but I would probably stay home with her longer if I had my time again.
It also helps if you have a supportive partner. Warren Buffett said that the most important financial decision you make is picking your life partner. I completely agree with that and often quote him when I talk to young people about their careers.
You are a vocal supporter of increasing the number of women in senior corporate roles, particularly in STEAM fields. What initiatives or strategies do you believe are most effective in promoting gender diversity and inclusion in the tech industry?
Firstly, we have to keep talking about it until things get to a more balanced situation. I use every opportunity to highlight the amazing benefits of working in science, technology, engineering etc. The issue is not really that we don’t train enough women in these areas. The problem is that they don’t advance to the senior roles in their field that men do.
Splitting caregiving duties more evenly in households would go some way to stop the mid-career stalling for women. As a society, we also have to make it easier for female executives to remain at work by more accessible childcare and flexible working conditions.
Finally, quotas do work when they are applied specifically and in a way that supports the entire tech ecosystem. We saw this with female directors in the top 100 ASX listed companies where quotas, together with better training, mentoring and sponsorships, the numbers grow significantly.
Lastly, as an accomplished leader in the tech industry, what message or call to action would you like to share with the broader community to foster greater diversity, inclusion, and support for women in tech?
Firstly, I want to encourage young women to only study engineering, science and maths, but build networks early that can facilitate their progression through their careers. I want to encourage men to include women in their business networks, that makes for a richer world all around.
And finally, as a society, we need to remove the obstacles from women that might stop them from progressing to senior roles in technical fields. Better childcare, sharing the load at home and quotas are options we need to pursue if we are serious about improving the landscape.