In the lead-up to Women's Entrepreneurship Day, UQ Ventures' Ruby Wallace spoke with three UQ female founders to discuss their successes and share their advice on how to break into the entrepreneurship space.
Holly is Founder and CEO of Women in Digital, a purpose-driven organisation that supports women working in technology – a typically male-dominated industry. What began as a mentoring program is now a 13,000-strong community, which runs events around the world. Earlier this year, Holly won the UQ Distinguished Young Alumni Award in recognition of her outstanding leadership. She holds a Bachelor of Business Management (2010) from UQ and is currently undertaking her MBA, also at UQ.
Holly presenting at the 2020 Women in Digital Awards
Why did you create Women in Digital?
I wanted to start Women in Digital when I realised that a number of young women consistently undersold themselves. These women were capable of so much yet didn’t feel confident telling the world about their value. After seeing and experiencing the impact mentoring and coaching can make on someone's confidence and career trajectory, I knew that starting a Women in Digital network would be the best way to connect, educate and empower women in their careers.
There’s nothing more valuable than a network of peers going through highs and lows alongside you.
Can you tell us about any challenges you have overcome on your journey to career success?
There have been plenty of challenges along the way and there will be plenty ahead. As a bootstrapped business, growing without a large pool of money to back us has been a tough call, but ultimately the best one. It has allowed me to keep control of the business roadmap and my vision.
What advice would you give to women wanting to launch their own venture?
Go for it! You don’t need to ‘boil the ocean’ and you don’t need to have all the answers. It’s an impossible expectation to put on yourself. Simply start small and start chipping away one task at a time. You could start with a side hustle, but just start something!
Rachael is UQ's first female Chief Student Entrepreneur.
She co-founded PlateWaste AI – a company that seeks to solve issues of malnutrition in aged care homes – and won the 2019 Young Women Leaders in AI competition, NextGen Startup competition, and placed second at the UQ Weekend of Startups. Rachael is also a mentor for UQ Ventures' LeadHers program.
What does it mean to be the first female Chief Student Entrepreneur?
I'm so proud to be in a position where I can create change, whether that is through action or simply through other women seeing me and thinking, "if she could do it, I could do it". Equally, I would love for the day when gender gets taken out of the equation. Gender equality in leadership positions should be the norm and not the exception. My success is derived from my hard work, not as a result of my gender.
How did you go from studying health science to becoming an entrepreneur?
Being a scientist, I've always been curious and questioned why things are the way they are. When you are abundantly curious, you see opportunity and new ways to do something. I learnt early on in my degree that I wanted to start my own thing that I was responsible for. That's when I started my cooking business, which opened my eyes to how rewarding it is being your own boss, and it kept going.
What makes a successful founder?
It's a myth that you need to have a technical background to be a successful founder. Innovation is needed across all industries, which means we need people from all disciplines. There is no problem too big or small. It can be as simple as seeking a solution to a little problem in your home, or as ambitious as trying to solve a global issue.
A successful founder has the drive, passion and resilience – not simply an ability to code. If you have a fire in your belly and a problem worth solving, give it a go!
This year, she won the Create Change Award at the 7NEWS Young Achiever Awards. In addition to running a social enterprise, Sabrina is a current UQ PhD candidate looking into the drivers and barriers to fostering zero packaging food systems.
What is the Brisbane Tool Library?
It works the same as a regular library, but instead of borrowing books, you can borrow tools and other equipment. The tools in our inventory have been donated and were unused or going to landfill, but we used them to build a circular economy, one where everyone can use and access tools they need. The library was my practical response to the social and ecological crisis that we are facing. I started it to create resilient communities that can share resources and reduce our environmental footprint.
What barriers have you faced as a woman in entrepreneurship?
When I launched the library, I was 25 years old. I experienced a lot of judgement as a young woman starting a project around tools use and tool sharing. As I continued to grow the library, I found people and media asking us why women were so interested in our services and workshops. My answer has always been, "why not?".
Just because women have been excluded for centuries in many sectors, it doesn't mean that we never wanted to participate.
What advice would you give to those wanting to launch a social enterprise?
Just give it a go and keep the long-term goal in mind. Any social enterprise needs to fit a bigger picture. If you focus on the long-term mission of creating a better society, then you will find the strength to overcome any challenge.
Celebrate Women's Entrepreneurship Day
19 November 2020
Hear more from our incredible female founders Holly, Rachael and Sabrina at UQ Women's Entrepreneurship Day event, 'Mind the gap: Breaking down gender barriers in entrepreneurship'. This online event is open to the public and free to attend.
Date: 19 November | Time: 4-5pm (AEST) | Location: Zoom