Female entrepreneurs

Australia’s top 10 female start-up entrepreneurs

By Oliver Milman
Thursday, 03 November 2011

When it comes to women in business, Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world. Still.


According to figures released today by the World Economic Forum, Australia ranks just 23rd in the world when it comes to female presence in the boardroom and key industry positions.


A separate survey today of 134 Australian businesswomen, conducted by Telstra, found strong support for an attitude change in the workplace to gender, with 65% claiming that flexible working conditions would improve matters.


Kate McKenzie, group managing director Telstra Innovation, Products & Marketing, says: “While family friendly workplaces and tax deductible childcare remain issues of high importance, it is clear too that for some women greater self-awareness of their abilities is necessary for them to reach the senior levels in management.”


Of course, there is one way to avoid the unfair hurdles faced by women attempting to climb the corporate ladder – start a business yourself.


With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 up-and-coming female entrepreneurs who are currently making the biggest waves in the start-up world.


Rebekah Campbell1. Rebekah Campbell


Business: Posse


It’s been quite a year for Rebekah Campbell. In the space of 12 months, she’s launched her business, Posse, launched international versions of the site and even managed to secure Google Maps creator Lars Rasmussen as an advisor and board member.


Posse allows bands to reward fans that boost their profile via social media. Campbell came up with the idea through her frustration in shifting tickets as a band manager.


She now heads one of Australia’s leading tech businesses, as we discovered when we chatted to her in September.


In Rasmussen’s own words, Posse is set to become a “worldwide big deal”.


Larissa Robertson2. Larissa Robertson


Business: SCO Recruitment


However many times you hear Larissa Robertson’s start-up story, it doesn’t fail to amaze. And it’s a story that plenty of people have now heard, after she was placed second in this year’s StartupSmart Awards and topped the recent SmartCompany Smart50.


Robertson was working as financial controller for recruitment, landscape, property maintenance and training group SES when she put a proposal to the board to split the company in two.


When her idea was rejected, Robertson pressed ahead anyway, nabbing staff and clients of the recruitment division, buying SES's physical assets, and starting SCO Recruitment, as well as a not-for-profit property management business. It now commands more than $8 million in revenue.


Maree Smith3. Professor Maree Smith


While there’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of Maree Smith, you would be thankful for a number of her innovations that have received heavy backing from investors recently.


As the head of the Pain Research Group at the University of Queensland, Smith has developed a number of products that have had real commercial value.


Aided by the university’s commercialisation arm Uniquest, Smith’s biotech start-up Spinifex got $6.3 million in funding from a group of investors in September. This follows the sharemarket listing of QRxPharma, which Smith co-founded, in 2007. The business debuted with a market cap of $150 million - a record for an Australian biotech company.



Nicole Kersh4. Nicole Kersh


Company: 4Cabling


While she admits that being a young female in a traditionally male-dominated industry has sometimes raised eyebrows, Nicole Kersh hasn’t let that stop her.


Inspired to start 4Cabling while working at her parent's electrical cabling company, Kersh set about to supply voice, data, fibre, electrical and server rack equipment to customers – without the hassles associated with pricier and more established players.


With Kersh building the business from the ground up from 2006, 4Cabling is bringing in more than $3 million in revenue a year.


Nikki Durkin5. Nikki Durkin


Business: 99dresses


One of our recent Future Makers, Nikki Durkin is a serial entrepreneur at the tender age of 20.


She started her first business selling t-shirts via eBay when she was 15. But it wasn’t until her third attempt that she struck gold.


99dresses is a site where users upload their unwanted clothes to sell for a virtual currency called buttons, which they can then spend on other users’ unwanted clothes. Durkin was taken on by sought-after incubator Pollenizer and is tipped for big things.

Catherine Prosser6. Catherine Prosser


Business: StageBitz


Looking for ways to broaden the appeal of her theatre software company Production Genie, Catherine Prosser devised StageBitz.


The innovation is a web-based system designed to simplify prop management for production professionals, allowing them to manage the lifecycle of prop sourcing, maintenance and tracking.


The business, which was recognised at this year’s Tech23 event, is on course to have four million props running through the system by 2014.


Shelli Trung7. Shelli Trung


Business: 3six5dates


While a “reality dating blog” may not sound like much of a money-spinner, Shelli Trung is making good headway with her business, 3six5dates.

She co-ordinates a staff of 25 people to produce a site that follows four women, in four separate international cities, taking on 365 dates between them within the period of one year.


By the end of the year Trung, who previously started up in the property and marketing sectors, plans for the concept to be rolled out across TV, books and a movie.


Magda Walczak8. Magda Walczak


Business: Atlassian


As director of demand generation at software success story Atlassian, Magda Walczak has good claim to be one of the leading female figures in Australia’s tech start-up space.


Aside from behind a driving force behind the onward march of Atlassian, Walczak is also a key figure in promoting the interests of women in the sector, leading a marketing campaign to increase the female presence in tech.


“If you go to a networking event for entrepreneurs or a conference it feels like out of a random 100 people probably only five or so are female,” she told us in July.


“The more we hear about stories of women in tech the more other women will be encouraged to enter the tech industry.”


Marita Cheng9. Marita Cheng


Business: Robogals Global


Cairns-born Marita Cheng moved to Melbourne to study at university in 2007, sparking her own start-up journey.


She initially started a tech company called Nudge, which provided timely reminders to people who often forget to take their medication.


When this business closed last year, Cheng was undaunted. She subsequently launched Robogals Global, a worldwide organisation that introduces young women to engineering and technology, building an impressive media presence as an advocate for a greater female presence in tech.


Carla di Marco10. Carla di Marco


Business: Students4Hire


While many of the women on this list have already kicked plenty of goals in business, Carla di Marco is just starting out on her entrepreneurial endeavours.


However, we predict a bright future for her business, Students4Hire. The start-up matches students looking for work with people who need various jobs handled.


Judges at the StartupSmart Awards earlier this year liked the concept so much that they awarded di Marco the Best Start-up Idea award.


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Wow, what an amazing honour to be included in this list. Thanks Oliver for putting this together, and connecting me to the amazing women featured here. Hopefully we will be able to make an impact on the start-up landscape for other women.
shelllitrung , November 16, 2011
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