Listening and observing is the best way to truly understand a community, eco-system and your customers.
I began immersing myself in the Australian startup community in mid 2015 and have attended and ran events in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Through this, I’ve meet many incredible women at various stages of their entrepreneurial journey.
There are many names you’ll hear repeatedly in the media and some new ones coming through. There’s also a huge number of women working incredibly hard and making significant contributions to the startup community who are probably less known.
So here’s my list of “unsung heroes” that you should be watching in 2017. Women who make it their business to support, nurture and grow other people’s businesses as well as the startup community. These are not the “unicorns” and may never sell their businesses for over $100 million, but without them our community would not be where it is now and will not continue to grow and inspire others to start.
After working as a coordinator in a young entrepreneurs’ program, Sam recognised that two of the most fundamental factors that determine the success of a business are 1) networks, and 2) access to resources and capital. Observing the blossoming sharing economy, with its focus on community, she got to work on setting up an entrepreneurs’ collective that leverages the value of authentic and trusted relationships, skills and talents, and the power of reciprocity to create opportunities for shared prosperity.
Her first year in GiveGet was a steep learning curve, and now onto its third iteration, Sam continues to seek out inventive and resourceful ways to help entrepreneurs have meaningful livelihoods and fulfil their passions. “It’s truly a labour of love. I don’t do it for the money; it’s not even about me”, she says. Taking cues from co-operative models, the collaborative movement, the concept of the ‘Commons’ as well as embedding herself in the startup eco-system Sam says, “GiveGet is all about reframing the economy and what we value. For us, that’s people first and profit in so far as it benefits those who generate it together.”
Sam Kurikawa, Founder GiveGet
Founder, The Soar Collective
Soar Collective connects and supports Australia’s regional businesswomen of calibre. Jess’s focus is on building an engaged and supportive community of businesswomen who, by sharing their successes and failures, can learn from and empower each other.
In May 2014, Jess saw the need to create a comfortable, open environment where women could be brutally honest with each other as well as identifying collaborative opportunities. “I'd had enough of attending events where guests seemed to be competing for a prize for who was the busiest,” says Jess. “I realised there was something lacking in the regional businesswomen's networking market and was frustrated at the current offer not quite resonating with me and I had a hunch that other women felt the same.”
The first Soar Collective event was held in Mornington, Victoria and has grown to 3 locations with 6 more launching in 2017. Jess’s goal is to be in 20 regional locations Australia-wide with 10,000 members by the end of 2020.
“There’s been a 46% increase in the number of women business operators over the past two decades. And whilst the reason to go into business is different for each woman, we still crave that connection and opportunity to work with others, even if we’ve made that big decision to go solo. I think people just need to know they’re not alone in their struggles and that they have like-minded women to count on for support as well as to learn from. There are so many groups, events and communities out there now to support women in business, it’s awesome. And it’s a fantastic time to be a female entrepreneur. However, there are still some challenges women in non-metropolitan areas face, so that’s why we’re doing what we do.” added Jess.
Jess Jones, Founder The Soar Collective
Co-Founder & CEO, Startup Muster
Startup Muster is the largest survey of the Australian startup ecosystem showcasing its progress, challenges and opportunities.
Mon became captivated by the startup community after visiting a friend at their coworking space and has been actively contributing to the ecosystem ever since.
Mon recognised that there was a lack of insights and statistics about the Australian startup ecosystem, and set out to provide robust, reliable and relevant statistics that would inform and demonstrate the impact of this ecosystem.
She’s well qualified to do this with Finance and Economic degrees up her sleeve and work experience at Macquarie University and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
“Startup Muster statistics have become a vital resource for demonstrating and accelerating the impact of the startup ecosystem,” says Mon. She’s a keen advocate for the development and sustainability of the startup community and the factors which allow it to thrive.
Mon Wulff, Founder Startup Muster
Founder, Sparrowly Group & Sparrows United
Giovanna Lever is a business solutions and marketing specialist and founder of Sparrowly Group. She believes in empowering teams, getting them on the road to success and leaving them with the tools to make things happen. She is a big believer in real diversity in business and life.
“We should learn by sharing our collective smarts”, Giovanna says.
In her quest to share her smarts and empower others to do so and connect with heart, she founded the global movement Sparrows United.
Giovanna believes, “If you open your mind to sharing your smarts without a what’s in it for me attitude, the much wider door of opportunity will open”.
Giovanna, Founder The Sparrowly Group
Founder, One Roof Coworking Space
Sheree Rubinstein is a corporate lawyer turned social entrepreneur. Sheree found herself struggling to determine what success looks like for a woman in the corporate world. Through this experience she found her voice for gender equality and her passion for supporting women to thrive. Sheree found the courage to leave her safe and stable job to go and pursue her passions.
Sheree immersed herself in the entrepreneurial space to fully understand what holds women back in business and entrepreneurship. She ran events, focus groups and spoke to hundreds of women. Based on the insights gleamed from her research, Sheree and her business partner came up with the idea of a co-working space dedicated to women. She named it “One Roof” to embody the notion of providing everything a female entrepreneur needs to thrive all under One Roof.
She tested the idea as a one week pop up in an Airbnb home in St Kilda. For one week the bedrooms were turned into meeting rooms, the lounge room into hot-desks and the kitchen into a workshop space. In one week 400 people came through the doors and engaged with the One Roof offering.
Deemed a success, Sheree and her business partner set out to grow One Roof. They converted unique and under-utilised properties into thriving hubs dedicated to women. In just two years they have established a presence in Melbourne, Sydney, Los Angeles and New York City, engaged and supported nearly 10,000 women and hosted 500+ educational workshops. In Melbourne, One Roof is home to nearly 70 women-led businesses across many industries including tech, gaming, education, health, digital marketing and social media.
“One Roof is so much more than a co-working space. It supports its members through highly curated networking events, expert sessions with lawyers, accountants, sales strategists, marketing gurus, meditation workshops, business coaching and an accelerator program for early stage female founders. Through One Roof we’ve built a strong global community and represent an entire ecosystem dedicated to supporting women build successful business ventures,” says Sheree. “I’ll always remember how hard it was to leave my corporate legal career. But I’ve never looked back!”
Sheree Rubenstein, Founder One Roof
Founder, Skilld; Co-Founder, Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine
OK, so you’ve probably heard of Gen, but I’ve included her on this list for her contribution to female entrepreneurs via a Facebook group called Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine which she co-founded with Jane Lu.
This group started in October 2015 as a way for female founders to catch up and support each other. Fast forward to January 2017 and there are over 28,000 women from all over the world in the group. The group has grown so big that Gen and Jane have created a website where women can more easily share and connect.
It’s more than an online community. Events are held every month around the world where women meet, talk, share and of course drink wine!
Gen George, Founder Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine
The startup community is alive and kicking in Australia (both in metro areas and regionally) and it takes many people from different backgrounds with various service offerings to make it thrive. So here’s a big thank to the vision and passion of the many “unsung heroes”.
Author-Melissa Pye is the Founder of The LightBulb Lounge, a platform supporting women 35+ years on their business journey through coaching events, community and accessible education.
Melissa Pye, Startup Coach
Melissa is the Founder of The LightBulb Lounge and is an active member of Australia's startup community. She runs events and coaches teens and adults on how to get their ideas out of their head and pitch them.