They’re the movers and shakers, the disrupters and the innovators. These women are entrepreneurs who have built their own business and along the way have had a lasting impact on business in Australia. On the eve of International Women’s Day we’ve put together this list of the most influential female entrepreneurs in Australia. They run businesses that range from small startups to huge multinationals. Each woman on the list is, in their own way, changing the way Australia does business.
The women were each nominated by one of our panellists: Small Business Minister and Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer , incoming Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia Peter Strong and the founder of the Grace Papers, Prue Gilbert.
1. Jessica May, founder of Enabled Employment
Canberra entrepreneur Jessica May founded Enabled Employment in 2014 after having trouble finding suitable employment when – following the birth of her first child – she was diagnosed with a panic disorder.
“[My employer] made assumptions about what I needed to manage that anxiety and that was to take all my work away which was really the worst outcome,” May says.
Enabled Employment works with employers to find job opportunities for skilled people with a disability. The online and for-profit labour hire service has grown quickly and now employs six staff. It has already turned over $500,000 this financial year and is on track for a revenue of $2 million.
“We’ve gone from strength to strength since winning the [Australian startup award at the] Telstra Business Womens Awards,” May says. “It helped get the message out there to the big corporates and we are getting more and more clients.”
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Biggest influences: “My mum was a bit of a trailblazer in her day and studied electronic engineering in the ’80s and was one of the first females in that field. My other big influence is my values and that forms a huge component of why I started this business. We are here to help people and it just so happens that it is profitable.”
How to influence others: “We have the mantra of ‘kill them with kindness’. That’s our whole principle and what our staff do. If we go into a meeting and they are not really on the game in terms of inclusion rates, we are as helpful as we can be. Then often in about six months time they call us and say ‘yes we could do with help’. We try and help them rather than call them out on being discriminatory.”
2. Emma Welsh, co-founder Emma & Tom’s
After working in the corporate world for a number of years, Emma Welsh and childhood friend Tom Griffith decided to start their own business. They spotted demand for super-premium, super-tasting juices with nothing added apart from the goodness and Emma & Tom’s was born.
Emma & Tom’s juices are now stocked at more than 3000 stores around the world and the business turns over more than $10 million a year with big plans for further growth.
“We’ve really been focusing on the cafe markets which we are good at,” Welsh says. “But we see a lot more opportunity to sell more into the major supermarkets and international markets. At the moment we are focusing on the Middle East and China.”
There is no silver bullet, nobody gives you the whole picture in one hit but everyone you speak to gives you another piece of the puzzle.
Biggest influences: “I try and talk to lots of different people. There is no silver bullet, nobody gives you the whole picture in one hit but everyone you speak to gives you another piece of the puzzle. I’m part of an entrepreneurs group, which is really useful.
How to influence others: “In business the relationships you develop are really important and treating people fairly and with respect is the way to have good business relationships. We try to have great people working with us and treat them really well. The same goes for customers. Because they see us as being genuine, they trust the product.”
3. Leanne Faulkner, founder of Billie Goat Soap and mental health advocate
Skincare entrepreneur Leanne Faulkner made milk from her goat herd to soothe her son’s sensitive skin. What started out as a kitchen table business became Billie Goat Soap, which at its peak turned over $2.4 million annually. But the stress of being a small business owner took its toll on Faulkner who suffered from a breakdown and ended up selling Billie Goat Soap for an undisclosed amount.
Faulkner’s experiences led her to start a consultancy called Fortitude at Work and she advocates for greater resources for small business owners. Faulkner is currently working on a project with Beyond Blue and the Council of Small Business Australia called Heads Up for Small Business. “There is not a lot out there for small business owners who go through tough times, there’s a lot for employees but not small businesses.”
Biggest influences: “I think failure has been my greatest success. If I hadn’t really had that breakdown, which my husband calls a break through, I wouldn’t be advocating for mental health for small business owners.
How to influence others: “Be brave and tell your story honestly. I realised the best way I could help people was to get up and tell people and share my story. A lot of sole operators are already working alone and if you are struggling with your mental health that can be even more isolating.”
4. Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice
Juice bar queen Janine Allis also stars as one of the “sharks” on TEN’s reality show Shark Tank. She opened her first juice bar in Adelaide in 2000 and her business empire now includes Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill, Cibo Espresso and Hatch as well as Boost Juice, with the BRW rich list putting her personal fortune at $66 million.
“I’m still working out what I want to do when I grow up,” Allis says. “The most exciting thing with Boost is our overseas growth, we’re opening a new store every 1.5 weeks somewhere in the world.”
Allis says her role on Shark Tank enables her to mentor other entrepreneurs and learn from them at the same time.
“We saw over 100 business in a three week [filming] period and the innovation that is coming out of Australia is really inspiring,” she says. “One of the things I love about it is how I can learn about other ways of doing business.”
Biggest influences: “Businesses are never something with a start, middle and an end. They are a moving organism that has to change every year. I think there are new problems all the time and that influences me. It’s that continual journey of creating.”
How to influence others: “I have a decent following on LinkedIn and I publish there regularly and I’ve just updated my book. I try to share my lessons and say, ‘Hey don’t make the same mistakes I did’.”
5. Kathryn Bordonaro, co-founder of AllBiz Finance Brokers
After working in the finance industry for more than 20 years Kathryn Bordonaro says she “finally” made the decision to start her own business a specialist equipment finance brokerage.
“We like to think we are assisting other businesses to grow,” Bordanaro says. AllBiz Finance Brokers now turns over $1 million and Bordanaro is also a long time executive member of CAFBA (Commercial Asset Finance Brokers Association of Australia) where she focuses on access to finance for small business.
“I particularly advocate for small businesses in regional Australia and the particular challenges we face, for example I have to stand in a certain spot to get mobile phone coverage,” she says.
Biggest influences: “My clients. Working with them when they are making a big, bold decision in their business and being part of a team gives me the confidence to be bold in my business. Also my wonderful husband, who has never once said no, instead he says ‘how do we make this happen?’.”
How to influence others: “You can work and you can achieve whatever it is you want to achieve but it is about teamwork and partnerships.”
6. Michelle Melbourne, co-founder of Intelledox
Intelledox turns over $10 million a year, employs 45 staff with offices worldwide yet it’s a company most people haven’t heard of.
“We’re a Canberra-headquartered Australian software company and we are taking on the world,” co-founder Michelle Melbourne says. “We’ve been in business for over 20 years and being in the tech industry we’ve had to reinvent ourselves every year so we are highly adaptive and innovative, that’s in our DNA.”
Melbourne describes Intelledox’s core business as disrupting the software build paradigm so solutions don’t have to be coded from scratch. She says Intelledox’s growth is on a hockey stick up with turnover expected to triple in the next 12 months.
Biggest influences: “By my very nature I am fascinated by people and technology so we have always taken great care to collaborate with good people. Good people means people focused on achieving outcomes and investing in innovation. One of my favourite founding fathers of technology excellence is Jim Collins. He says for any great company to be created you have to preserve the core and move it forward at all times. We live and die by that philosophy.”
How to influence others: “I’m a psychologist by degree. Technology is all about people so if you can understand peoples strengths, differences and weaknesses and celebrate everything around that you set them up for success not failure. Doing good business with good people is quite an addictive but simple formula.”
7. Emma Isaacs, founder of Business Chicks
It’s a big move for a woman who started her first business at the age of 18 when she “didn’t know what it meant to be an entrepreneur”.
“I was riddled with naivete, youthful optimism and a curiosity that buoyed me through those first few years,” Isaacs says.
Now Business Chicks is a multi-million dollar company, putting on regular events around Australia and the United States as well as publishing a magazine and running an online forum for members.
Biggest influences: “People who were self-made influenced me [in the early days]. I’d pore over personal development books, attend every seminar I could, and hunt down every successful person I could to try learn from their experiences. I suppose I started to believe what I was learning: that if you worked hard and were kind to people, and networked vigorously, then success could be yours. I’m still fascinated with people who have created something out of nothing – that tenacity and determination influences and inspires me every single day.”
How to influence others: “I hope I influence others just by being me. I try and be a role model whenever I can, even when my energy is low, or things are tough. I’m always trying to think ‘how can I be in service to others?’ It might just be smiling at someone at the airport or helping someone cross the street or sponsoring someone in their fundraising efforts. I’ve built a business by serving others and have created a powerful community in Business Chicks, in Australia and now in the US, from following those principles.”
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8. Monica Meldrum, co-founder of Whole Kids
The organic healthy food snacks brand now turns over $6 million a year.
Biggest influences: “In early 2000, while travelling in Indonesia to deliver an aid program to children living in poverty, I vowed to make a difference to children’s health. On returning to Australia and witnessing food related illnesses amongst children and an abundance of over processed, heavily marketed children’s foods, I decided to do something about it and created Whole Kids. Growing up in a very big family also meant I had to learn from a very young age to get along with others and to fend for myself. Without knowing it we were a pretty entrepreneurial family.”
How to influence others: “One of the keys to our success has been the ability to really listen to our customers and to continually engage in conversations with them about what is important to them as I develop our products and our business. I think it also helps to be honest and to be real.”
9. Jo Burston, founder of Job Capital and Inspiring Rare Birds
Serial entrepreneur Jo Burston is the founder of Job Capital, but more recently she has turned her energies to Inspiring Rare Birds, which aims to to see a global community of 1 million women entrepreneurs by 2020.
Burston says influence is a “tangible currency” to her as an entrepreneur.
“It sits alongside other entrepreneurial currencies like creativity, charisma, curiosity, communication and vision,” she says. These all result in positive economic and social outcomes from a business, and personal perspective. It’s bigger than networks and meetings. Influence can have a global ripple effect and its about activating change and making change occur.”
Biggest influences: “My mentor of the past 10 years, who helped me shape myself as a successful female entrepreneur that now has a global company inspiring millions of other women to see entrepreneurship as a career choice and a way to empower themselves financially and socially to reach a life they truly want to live. I am totally fascinated by globally successful entrepreneurs and know that by emulating how they created their journey’s I can craft my own. In particular now I am watching Elon Musk and via our first title Australia’s 50 Influential Women Entrepreneurs, I really felt influenced and inspired by Net-a-Porter Co-Founder Megan Quinn and the 50 incredible women we profiled.”
How to influence others: “By sharing my vision of 1 million women entrepreneurs in our community globally by 2020 and our mission of giving every women globally the opportunity to become and entrepreneur by choice.”