When Jo Burston stood up on the podium to accept the Pearcey Entrepreneurship Award for her contribution to ICT in 2012, she was struck by one thing: looking out across the crowd she noticed only a handful of women at the event. As founder and managing director of Job Capital, and as someone who “needs to change things I see wrong with the world”, Burston could not shake her “a-ha!” moment and recently set up Inspiring Rare Birds, a movement aimed at encouraging women to be entrepreneurs. She has set a target of creating one million more female entrepreneurs by 2020, but how that would be quantified is not known. One of the first things she did was visit a number of schools and talk to young women about what they thought about being an entrepreneur. She found many didn’t know what the word was, and those who did mostly identified entrepreneurs who were men. It made her even more determined to change things. The initial project for Inspiring Rare Birds is a book that profiles successful Australian female entrepreneurs and the launch of a website as a platform to showcase their successes. Burston is hoping to launch both in August. It’s not far from Burston’s own profile, with her business turning over $500,000 in its first financial year and growing rapidly in three years to have a turnover of $3.7 million. After six years, the business had reached $38 million and had gone from two staff members to 13. Over the course of her career she has founded seven startups, “some of them great successes and some of them great failures”. Burston stresses she doesn’t want Inspiring Rare Birds to be seen as a feminist movement. In fact, its Facebook page points to a story with a disclaimer that IRP is “feminist neutral.” “Women are only the first port of call because at the moment that is where the problem is,” Burston says. “Women only make up 12% of entrepreneurs. In some cities that is as little as 4%.” She says she preferred for the movement to be identified with entrepreneurship, which is her passion.
Google Australia held its first Google for Entrepreneurs Women’s Meet-up on Wednesday night to encourage more women to step up and take risks as part of Australia’s growing entrepreneurial culture. According to a Google blog post, the event was launched to address the “disproportionately low number of women starting their own tech businesses in Australia”. Held in Sydney, the event featured entrepreneurs Jo Burston of Job Capital and Naomi Simson (pictured above) of RedBalloon, as well as Google leaders Kendalle Bennett, Sally-Ann Williams and Claire Hatton. A spokesperson for Google says around 70 women attended and they plan to hold the meet-ups every three months. The panel discussed how small businesses can become more creative and innovative digital marketing campaigns to help grow tech start-ups. Simson and Burston told StartupSmart they were excited to see so many female entrepreneurs, but wish gender wasn’t still an issue. “I want to stop talking about gender,” Simson says. “But right now, we need to. But I don’t believe it’s a gendered reason that’s holding us back.” “As far as opportunity goes, I think it’s a level playing field,” Burston says. “Australia is an incredibly fortunate place to start a business, and I’d like to think our start-ups have an attitude of opportunity rather than entitlement.” According to Burston and Simson, growth was the main topic discussed at the meet-up. “Are we dreaming and planning big enough?” Simson says. “You’ve got to want to grow, it sounds really obvious but some people get so busy working in the business that they’re not focused on growth.” Burston says the key to growth is constantly articulating your vision and accepting you won’t have the same team at every stage. “You need to have the right people in the business at the right time. The team that starts the business with you is not necessarily the team that goes through all levels of growth,” Burston says. She says for the first four years of her business, Job Capital, she had almost no staff turnover, but after a period of strong growth she now has created a completely new team. “Either individuals want to take that journey to the moon with you, they want to learn how to, or they don’t want to and that’s okay,” Burston says. Simson says fear is the other factor holding women entrepreneurs back, but it doesn’t need to. “What’s the worst thing that can happen? That your business will get so big it’s out of control, or that you’ll have to give up total control?” says Simson. “You have to get the people who have the skills you don’t, so you can give up your fear because you can trust them to get the bits you can’t do.” She adds that processes may seem boring, but they are critical to scaling and will set business owners free when they’re done right. Burston agrees fear is a powerful obstacle for women entrepreneurs. “It’s in your gut. If you’re one of those fighters who will never give up, the fear dissipates pretty quickly,” says Burston. “The thirst for success is much stronger than the fear of failure. And you don’t know how resilient you are until you face a challenge. How you react to a situation versus what the situation is important.” Both said having a clear vision was one of the most powerful things an entrepreneurs of either gender could have. “No one goes into business wanting to stay small, but maybe they stop asking themselves what they need to do to grow the business,” says Simson. Research released by Google and industry peak body startupAUS this year found the tech start-up sector had the potential to contribute $109 billion to the Australian economy, and create 540,000 jobs by 2033 with support from entrepreneurs, educators, government and corporate Australia.
They're lean. They're hard working. And they're growing like wildfire. The Smart50 of 2012 were born in the GFC and have never known anything other than the patchwork economic conditions we've seen in the last few years. But in an average of just five years they've formed a new generation of fast-growth SMEs that have exploited a unique mix of technology, people and innovation.
Figures released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics illustrate what many budding entrepreneurs have long suspected – conditions aren’t all rosy for new businesses.
Job Capital, a $9 million revenue company that manages the financial affairs of contractors, has landed the Officeworks Fastest Growing Start-up award at the 2011 StartupSmart Awards.