‘You can’t be what you can’t see’
“Inspiring Rare Birds is a global organisation of women entrepreneurs and those people that support women entrepreneurs, women in business and business leaders,” its founder Jo Burston (pictured) — the 2018 Businesswoman of the Year at the Optus My Business Awards — explained.
Founded in 2013, the social enterprise came about when, while accepting a technology industry award for her already established business, she looked out at a sea of male faces and decided that she would do something to bring about change.
“So I took a film crew to my old high school in Sydney... and I filmed about 30 young women between the ages of about eight and seven up... I wanted to understand what their perception of entrepreneurship was,” Ms Burston said.
“And when I asked them what an entrepreneur was, all of them said to me that it was a man that had a business or a man that did something in business.”
Today, Inspiring Rare Birds offers a range of scholarships, mentoring programs and other support services aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship among women and breaking down gender barriers, with the goal of seeing one million more female entrepreneurs by 2020.
“With 50 per cent of the population being female, unless all people are mobilised to have those opportunities, then it does actually affect GDP in Australia, it affects social impact and it also affects our social systems,” she said.
Ms Burston, who late last year backed the federal government’s decision to invest $3.6 million to create a Future Female Entrepreneurs Fund, also authored a book, titled Australia’s 50 Influential Women Entrepreneurs, to create new role models for other women to look up to.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” she said.
Five Aussies make international women entrepreneurs accelerator program
To coincide with International Women’s Day, global tax and advisory firm Ernst & Young (EY) announced the successful entrants to its annual Entrepreneurial Winning Woman Asia-Pacific program, with five Australian businesswomen making the cut in 2019.
The accelerator program, which brings together high-achieving female entrepreneurs from across the Asia-Pacific region who are looking to scale their established businesses into global markets, will see these founders join a total of 21 women:
- Julie Stevanja, Stylerunner: An online women’s activewear and athleisure-wear destination platform
- Corinne Bot, Polyglot Group: A Sydney-headquartered global growth partner
- Renece Brewster, Visual Domain: A video production company
- Victoria Kluth, Araza (Australia): A technology systems integrator. Ms Kluth was previously crowned Business Leader of the Year at the 2017 Optus My Business Awards
- Shelena Serrano, Vekta Automation: A manufacturer of automated equipment in the timber truss and frame industry
Collectively, the businesses owned and operated by these 21 women generated revenues of $US1.8 billion (approx. $AUD2.55 billion) last year, and employ more than 12,000 people.
Entry requirements are strict, with the founder or co-founder required to still own a majority stake in the business, that the business has operated and grown for at least five years, as well as the provision of a detailed demonstration of their growth ambitions internationally.
“Only a handful of organisations around the world are focused on supporting the growth of woman-led businesses and female entrepreneurs. I am immensely proud that EY is one of them,” EY Oceania growth markets leader Rob Dalton said in announcing this year’s entrants.
“By providing the right tools, resources and network, the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women program is able to help female entrepreneurs satisfy their ambitions and assist them scale their business in a competitive market.”
Last year, Boston Consulting Group found that businesses run by women tend to generate higher profits than those run by men, despite the bulk of investment dollars going to male-led businesses.
A local hero
But we needn’t look so far away to find women in business doing great things.
Tracie Davis Nieass, the operator of a small beauty and hair salon in Townsville, last month made headlines around Australia and the world for her generosity during the Far North Queensland city’s unprecedented flood crisis.
Spending more than 24 hours straight at the salon, she comforted those displaced by the flooding, offering them food and shelter, and drying their clothes and belongings.
“I’m laying in bed writing this at 3am while you’re still out there giving all you can,” her daughter wrote on Facebook, adding “not all super hero’s [sic] wear capes”.
Pregnancy no barrier to business
Plenty of misconceptions still exist today about pregnancy and work. But as FLAYR co-founder Subhaga Amarasekara showed last year, they are simply that: misconceptions.
Ms Amarasekara successfully made a pitch for half a million dollars in capital investment — a daunting task for any and every entrepreneur — while 7.5 months’ pregnant.
“Pitching to a room full of investors is always a somewhat daunting experience. Doing this while heavily pregnant, and having just dealt with my toddler’s meltdown an hour before, made this especially challenging!” she said back in October.
“I know investors want founders who are 100 per cent focused on the business. I also knew it was clear to everyone in the room that I would soon have a pretty large extra commitment in my life — as if running a start-up wasn’t hard enough.”