10 top gender barrier-breaking female entrepreneurs


feature-iwd-thumbAustralian women make great entrepreneurs. That’s not just an idle opinion – recent research revealed that Aussie women are second only to their American counterparts when it comes to starting businesses. 


But while plenty of women are launching their own businesses, there are some areas that are still deemed off-limits.


Go to any gathering of tech, finance or manufacturing businesses, and you’ll do well to spot a female founder.


Orsi Parkanyi, founder of networking group Women as Entrepreneurs, says: “Being a woman is not easy. Being a woman in a man’s world is not easy either.”


“But the most challenging of all is staying a woman in the men’s world. I’d like to hope that women are not required to take on stereotypical male attributes in order to be successful, however, this is something I have been noticing we tend to do.”


“Women who focus on their strengths and utilise traditional female traits such as strong interpersonal skills, networking skills and empathy to their advantage will have a good chance to stand out, be noticed and succeed.”


“Finding mentors and seeking out influential social networks also a great way to get the support and encouragement women need from time to time.”


Here, to mark International Women’s Day, are 10 of the best Aussie entrepreneurs who have overcome the gender hurdle.



1. Cathy Edwards – Chomp



Cathy Edwards is the co-founder of app search start-up Chomp, which was recently acquired by Apple for around $US50 million.


Prior to Chomp, Edwards led mobile product development at Friendster, and launched a converged SMS-IM mobile messaging product while at 3jam. She has also worked for Telstra.


“When building your start-up, it is important to focus your limited resources on components where you can add a significant amount of value,” Edwards told Women 2.0.


“Work out what technology will be core to your business, and find existing or outsourced solutions for everything else.”


“From your very first hire, learn to hire engineers you trust and respect… You’ll be a lot less stressed out than if you’re the bottleneck for everything.”



2. Nicole Kersh – 4Cabling


Like many start-ups, 4Cabling was spawned from frustration with the status quo. While working at her parents’ electrical cabling company, Nicole Kersh found that getting prices from suppliers was a long and inefficient process.


Realising that there was a lack of online cabling providers, Kersh took the plunge and started 4Cabling in 2006. The business has since boomed, pulling in more than $3 million revenue last year.


However, Kersh has had to deal with outdated attitudes over both her age and gender, in what is traditionally a male-only sector.


She says: “When I first started, none of my suppliers would take me seriously, it was very discouraging. But it made me realise the importance of building solid relationships.”


“Customers still look at me sometimes and say, ‘I want the boss.’ I just go and find the oldest male employee. It’s a very male dominated industry and people can’t comprehend I’m the boss.”


“If they like the product, the notion of who runs the business doesn’t bother me.”



3. Cherie Barber – Renovating For Profit


After completing her first house renovation, Cherie Barber decided to ditch her career as a marketing executive to throw herself into the construction industry.


In the first year of her renovating career, Barber achieved a profit of $1.15 million after buying, overhauling and selling six properties worth a combined $6.3 million.


Her status as a rare female entrepreneur in a male-dominated sector has seen her courted by the media as a renovation expert.


In 2009, Berber launched Renovating For Profit, which sells workshops and courses to Australians looking to revamp their own homes.


Despite her success, gender-related challenges linger for Barber, as she explains: “Tradesmen try to give me ridiculously high quotes. I say that I know what things cost and if they’re going to give me a ridiculous price, not to waste my time.”


“I ask for their opinion, throw out open-ended questions and do my research that way. If you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’ll get charged more.”



4. Sonja Bernhardt – Thoughtware



In addition to being the founder and chief executive of software company Thoughtware, Sonja Bernhardt also founded Women in Technology and Australian Women in IT and Science.


Last year, she was honoured for her contribution to the industry with a Medal of the Order of Australia, and has been inducted into the Women in Technology Hall of Fame in Silicon Valley.


Bernhardt believes most challenges can be overcome regardless of gender through rational thinking, having a healthy ego, and determination to “keep getting up and moving on”.


“Technology is a career where your ideas and creations may end up creating a wave of change around the world or having a vast impact on a small community,” she says.


“[However,] it takes you, your ideas and passion to make it happen. In any career, it is important to be involved in areas that [speak] to who you are, your style, your interests, your philosophy.”