Trailblazers: The 3 Female Entrepreneurs Making a Difference in 2021 (and beyond)

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Whether in politics, science, activism, technology, humanitarian efforts or the arts, women have driven society forward throughout history. We look to women within our families, our communities and in business to shatter glass ceilings and do what has never been done before. In a man’s world, women continue to support and stand on each other’s shoulders to lay the foundations to create a remarkable legacy for the generations that follow.

With Women’s Agenda reporting that just one of the 23 CEO appointments at Australia’s largest 300 listed organisations went to a woman during the 2021 reporting season. Just one. And on the ASX 200, that figure was a dismal 0. Furthermore, more than a third of ASX 300 companies still do not have a woman in an executive team line role, meaning it is impossible to see how there is an opportunity for women to be appointed as CEOs.

There aren’t just glass ceilings, there are concrete boxes that continue to try to box us in, but alas, there is a new breed of woman among us. They want to call them #girlbosses but we in reality know that this term is mostly used by those scared of a women’s power, while the term in effect appears to raise women up and carve a space for us in the working world – we have earned more. We deserve that space in the boardroom without the pink wash and glittery terms because we have catapulted civilisation forward with both paid and unpaid labour.

The women below have gone on to become inspiring examples of women who are addressing the dismal numbers of the ASX boardrooms by creating their own inspiring businesses which are changing the landscape of Australian businesses forever.

As a female-founded business, Stella’s mission is to disrupt the male-dominated industry of insurance with messaging that speaks to women while giving the women the tools through our network of Stella Experts to make financial and business decisions to further impact the rise of women who are asking for equality and as you’ll see – we are in good company.

First up is Ronni Kahn the founder of OzHarvest whose mission in her own words is to ‘Nourish Australia’.

Born in South Africa, Kahn moved to Israel where she lived on a kibbutz for many years before emigrating to Australia in 1998 and starting an events management business, it was there that she saw the amount of food that was being wasted night after night and decided that it was time to do something about it.

It was then that OzHarvest was born, an innovative platform that aims to shift and end the man-made problem of hunger. While OzHarvest is known for rescuing food (and for their distinctive yellow and black branding) they are also educating vulnerable Australians about nutrition and healthy eating which provides valuable life skills and healthier alternatives to disadvantaged communities. The first year in business saw Ronni overcome a major hurdle, Australian legislation didn’t allow the charity to collect good quality food and redistribute it to those who desperately needed a warm meal – but instead of packing up shop and leaving her dream – she worked with pro bono lawyers who also believed in her dream and lobbied for the legislation to be changed – and in 2005 it was. OzHarvest delivers the equivalent of 25 million meals a year that would otherwise end up in landfills.

We all need to look to OzHarvest and Ronni on how we too can live a more sustainable life.

Want to get involved or know more? Head to the OzHarvest website

Next up is Melanie Perkins, who is the CEO and founder of the game-changing graphic design tool Canva.

Originally known as a tool for amateur designers or small businesses, Canva’s freemium software is used by more than 60 million monthly users. But more than 500,000 paying teams now use Canva, too, including companies like American Airlines, CBRE, Intel, Kimberly-Clark and Zoom, for everything from social media assets to sales and human resources presentations, or, in the case of Live Nation, assets for upcoming rock concerts.

You might have recently seen Melanie on your newsfeed as Canva has just recently been valued at a whopping $54 billion dollars and in turn, earned the bragging rights of being more valuable than the Australian telco Telstra. WOAH.

But it isn’t just the huge valuation that excites us, it’s the heart-warming story of how Melanie at just 34, started the tech-start-up with her long-term partner Cliff 11 years ago from the lounge room of their Perth home. Being Australia’s wealthiest woman under 40 would usually come with all the bells and whistles, yet internally at Canva it is well known that Melanie still chooses to fly economy rather than spending cash on business or first class. And maybe our favourite part of the self-made billionaire story is that Perkins, along with the other two co-founders have just pledged to give away 30% of their stakes to the Canva Foundation which would be given directly to charitable causes. Perkins recently told Forbes magazine “If the whole thing was about building wealth that would be the most uninspiring thing I could possibly imagine” 

With a women like Melanie at the helm, we are super excited to see where Canva heads next.

Last but certainly not least is our Aussie beauty queen Kate Morris, CEO of Adore beauty.

From its inception in Kate’s garage in 1999, Adore beauty is now Australia’s leading beauty e-tailer, winning multiple awards (including winning the Telstra Business Women’s Awards – twice!), Adore beauty also now boasts being the top beauty podcast in the country. In October last year Adore beauty was listed on the ASX, setting an Aussie record for the largest IPO with a female founder and CEO EVER. When covid hit Morris pivoted quickly, and though it wasn’t “business as usual” – Morris saw sales of bath products, candles and face masks in particular, and skincare in general, soar. It revealed intimate details about Australia’s lockdown rituals. She reported in the Fin review “It reinforced my belief that beauty is about self-care and not about appearances as such”. In 1999 the site offered customers just two brands, fast forward 20 years and the company has an inventory of 15,000 products and services more than a million transactions a year. Kate is now looking beyond business and has recently co-founded the successful SAAS start-up Foundation, and mentors up-and-coming startup founders via the Startmate accelerator program. One thing Kate does want to see is more women startup founders making the switch to funders, given that startups co-founded by women received just 27 per cent of venture capital funding in Australia for the first half of this year.

“One thing we definitely do need to see is more women making investment decisions”. “Historically the investor base is always skewed very white male and I think that’s one of the opportunities for growth in the Australian ecosystem, to see more women founders becoming successful and then being able to add more diversity to the investor base.”

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