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Fostering Australian female entrepreneurs

Jo Scard

I was at the Canberra Farmers Market at Epic last weekend and purchased some cheese from a new cheesemaker, Maureen House from The Cheese Project, who set up her venture a few years ago after leaving the public service.

While Maureen isn’t a tech-entrepreneur and she’s not going to be hot-housed by an incubator and whisked away to Silicon Valley, she is one of dozens of women who set up their own business so they can create a working environment that works for them around a vision that drives them. Women are creating new small businesses and start-ups at much higher rate than men – there are now close to 500,000 women small business owners across Australia.

For some women small business allows them to juggle family commitments and participate in the economy on their terms. When I set up my agency six years ago I did it to allow me to do school drop-offs and pick-ups which I still do 95% of the time. I’m a mobile worker and travel with a laptop, Wi-Fi and chargers.

When I started it was me, a laptop and my kitchen table with no business plan and now I employ 12 women across Australia and we all work from where we live. I’ve had six years of freedom to work on the projects I want to, and do what I want. No wonder women choose that road.

Australia was ranked as the second best place in the world to be a female entrepreneur according to international rankings released at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network conference in the US in 2014. Australia was just behind the US as countries which encourage female entrepreneurship, ahead of Germany, France and the UK. The rankings were calculated on three things: the entrepreneurial environment in the country, the entrepreneurial ecosystem and entrepreneurial aspirations.

This gets back to my point – and it’s precisely why the number of women led businesses is increasing. The corporate world forces women out and they then start their own businesses to create work that works for their personal situation.

Interestingly, just 5% of technology entrepreneurs in Australia are women, mainly because of a lack of access to funding and investment and an absence of female role models. There’s now a federal minister for innovations who is 25 years old – Wyatt Roy. He’s said recently that to foster more women becoming entrepreneurs we need to demonstrate entrepreneurial skills in school. Hopefully we’ll see some extra initiatives at federal budget time or in what’s delivered post this year’s election.

We know that women need to gain access to networks for finance. We need to try and stop women heading overseas for either finance or inspiration and make sure we nurture those businesses here. It’s really important that women business founders – whether tech or home-based, small or large – feel that they can communicate with the government and explain the issues they are facing.

It comes back to education really, which is where it all starts. Women need mentors, and they need to feel that they can mentor others. That way more women will launch a start-up business, and some of those will be tech based. In turn that will see women developing new technologies.

We need to remember that women are the most powerful consumers who drive 70-80% of all consumer decisions. The most successful technologies and innovations will be those which appeal to both men and women. It’d be good to hear from all the parties in this election year just how they might achieve it.

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Jo Scard

With over 20 years’ experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is one of Australia’s leading advisers to corporates, Not-For-Profits, organisations and government. Managing Director of communications agency, Fifty Acres which is HQ’d in Canberra, Jo is a respected former political journalist in the UK and Australia working with ITV, Associated Press, Seven Network, SBS, ABC and Fairfax. A former senior adviser to the Rudd and Gillard governments and a trained lawyer she is on the Boards of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Hockey ACT and a Member of the NSW Council of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. Jo is an Ambassador for the global entrepreneur magazine Renegade Collective and a member of the Registered Consultancies Group of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. She has spent over a decade advising corporates and Not-For-Profits at CEO and board level across strategic communications, government relations and public relations and co-authored the best-selling book The Working Mother’s Survival Guide with Seven’s Melissa Doyle.

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