Behind the success of South Australia’s female founders


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By Melissa Keogh

From life-changing IVF technology to rocket science – South Australia is home to a community of female entrepreneurs with global ambitions.

The spotlight will be on a handful of the state’s brightest and boldest female founders at this year’s Entrepreneurs Week, which kicks off on Monday, July 9.

The Celebrating SA’s Female Founders session – part of the opening event – will bring together some of the state’s most inspiring female entrepreneurs to share their stories and encourage other women to take similar pathways.

In Australia women represent only 34% of entrepreneurs, but the number of female entrepreneurs is growing at a faster rate than men.

Facilitated by Chooks SA founder and director Moira Deslandes, the female founders panel includes internationally renowned health expert Dr Michelle Perugini, rocket scientist Flavia Tata Nardini, Sarah Gun of GOGO Events and GOGO Labour Hire and Louise Nobes of KIK Innovation.

Brand SA News caught up with some of the panellists to discover their secrets to success.

Fleet Space Technologies CEO and I Choose SA ambassador Flavia Tata Nardini.

Female Founder #1
Flavia Tata Nardini, co-founder and CEO of Fleet Space Technologies

Flavia Tata Nardini is an Italian rocket scientist who came to Adelaide for love after meeting her engineer husband Stefani Landi, who is from SA. She is one of the faces behind the push for the state to become the nation’s space technology hub. Flavia founded Fleet Space Technologies alongside space entrepreneur Matthew Pearson in 2015.

1. How did you get to where you are?
“The world is becoming more connected by the day. I noticed this back in 2015, and along with my co-founders, I saw there was an opportunity to create an industry to help connect the billions of devices that are set to come online.

“Together, we saw the value that a nanosatellite-based network could change the way that businesses in major industries operate. So we set off.

“In 2018, Fleet Space Technologies began selling The Portal — our flagship product that enables businesses to connect hundreds of devices to private, secure and Low Power Wide Area Networks anywhere around the world, at a fraction of the cost of traditional satellite systems, making it far more efficient and worthwhile for remote enterprises to run IoT networks.

“The Portal is set to transform billion-dollar industries, from precision agriculture on isolated rural farms in Africa, lone worker safety applications in remote Canada, to maritime monitoring in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

“Later this year, the first of Fleet Space Technologies’ nanosatellites will be launched aboard Indian Space Agency and SpaceX rockets.”

2. Why is it important to showcase the success of SA’s female founders and to encourage other entrepreneurial women to follow similar pathways?

“South Australia is making positive movements toward creating a STEM industry that is conducive to women’s success.

“It is so important to spark young women’s imaginations and interest in STEM at an early age, and I’ve been really pleased with the increase in STEM programs for females in schools in our state.

“The government recognises that increasing opportunities for women STEM is essential for the economy, for gender equality and for maximising innovation, creativity, and competitiveness in the workforce.”

Life Whisperer co-founder and I Choose SA ambassador Dr Michelle Perugini.

Female Founder #2
Dr Michelle Perugini, co-founder of Life Whisperer

Dr Michelle Perugini is a stem cell biologist-turned-entrepreneur whose Adelaide-based start-up has helped develop cutting edge technology that will improve IVF couples’ chances at having children.

Life Whisperer was launched in February 2017 by Dr Perugini, her husband Dr Don Perugini and business partner Dr Jonathan Hall.

1. How did you get to where you are?

“Blood, sweat, and tears. I started off as a stem cell biologist for 10 years and then founded my first AI business with my husband Don.

“This business, ISD Analytics, was in predictive analytics and behavioural modelling and we developed a global AI product that was sold into six industry sectors in multiple international markets including the US and Europe.

“ISD Analytics was acquired by Ernst and Young in 2015 and we remained there following the acquisition for just over a year.

“After the acquisition we wanted to give back to the start up community and started mentoring in accelerators and commercialisation programs including the Adelaide University eChallenge.

“That’s where I met Dr Jonathan Hall, a physics PhD who was working with the fertility group at the uni and conceived the idea of being able to non-invasively image IVF embryos to help pick the most viable ones to transfer to patients, with the intent of improving IVF success rates and helping infertile couples have children.

“I was immediately drawn to the idea and it was very well matched with our respective skill sets and technical and commercial experience so we founded Life Whisperer to solve this problem.

“We conducted a clinical study with Monash IVF to test the concept and showed a 30% accuracy improvement of our approach when compared to world-leading experts.

“We are now conducting trials in USA, Malaysia, and soon in UK, UAE, and Canada. The product is expected to be out to market later this year.”

2. Why is it important to showcase the success of SA’s female founders and to encourage other entrepreneurial women to follow similar pathways?

“There are many outstanding entrepreneurs in SA female and male alike who deserve recognition and support.

“There are however, a significant number of female entrepreneurs coming to the fore that bring a different dimensionality and value proposition to the start up ecosystem.”

Sarah Gun of GOGO Events and GOGO Labour Hire.

Female Founder #3
Sarah Gun, founder and social enterprise director of GOGO Events and GOGO Labour Hire

Sarah built her career in SA, becoming a much sought after event stylist for corporate, government and non-profit organisations.

Her business GOGO Events allows people experiencing homelessness to access paid work by producing decor items, and event materials, providing hospitality and packing down events.

The social enterprise has worked with a range of high profile clients including the South Australian Museum, Toyota Australia, Australian Hotels Association, CARA and Food SA.

In 2016 Sarah and GOGO won an award in Austin, Texas, for the Most Innovative Social Enterprise at the South by South West Interactive Festival.

1. How did you get to where you are?

GOGO Events started in 2000 as a normal for-profit business which I turned into a purpose-driven business in 2012. This meant that I made a conscious decision to value the business’ social impact over its profit making capability.

I think business can be a way to reach equality in society. In the last five-and-a-half years we have created 650 client experiences for our staff.

It’s not just about the work, but it’s about allowing our team to re-identify with something other than homelessness. It lifts their self esteem and the feedback we get is that it makes them feel worthwhile. We all want play a part in the world in which we live.

2. Why is it important to showcase the success of SA’s female founders and to encourage other entrepreneurial women to follow similar pathways?

I think that overwhelmingly, female-led businesses here are still somewhat invisible. I think individual women are celebrated but businesses as a whole, not so much.

We have to have a strong ecosystem but there aren’t enough women in that space yet, particularly in investment areas. However, we are very good at collaborating.

We need to celebrate and recognise the success, and build a community of women. Also, many women have social enterprises – opposed to mainstream enterprises – and that’s something that needs to shift.

Entrepreneurs Week 2018 Key Partners
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