After being misdirected by staff at Melbourne Airport and missing my flight this morning, I found myself far from Adelaide and the International Rural Women’s Conference at which I was supposed to be presenting. Hey, I’m a resourceful rural woman! Plan B was immediately put into action only to come to another grinding halt. Is it just me or is it ironic that there was no internet available at the conference venue for a presentation on technology? OK. Plan C it is and hence this blog. I hope you enjoy.
When I first thought about what I could share at this conference I came up with this catchy little title / equation WOMEN + TECHNOLOGY + ENTREPRENEURISM but what does it equal? Unfortunately a woman with technology does not automatically make an entrepreneur but wow what if you put all three together! How great that would be for a healthy community.
What is an entrepreneur you may be wondering?
It could be someone with a passion for shoes (Jodie Fox, Shoes of Prey), a 17 year old computer geek in a spot of trouble with the law (Bill Gates) or a rural mother having trouble sourcing clothes for her children (Andrea Harrison from Birchip).
When I was last in the United States I had the opportunity to meet with Jeff Hoffman, the founder of Priceline.com, and he described himself as a serial entrepreneur. I have to say this made me feel very uncomfortable probably because we usually associate serial with killer or rapist. However, Jeff did provide to me the best description of an entrepreneur that I have ever heard. He said that entrepreneurs are problem solvers. They see a problem and they find a way to solve it.
In another recent conversation with Jordan Knight, a young app designer originally from Bendigo, he explained to me that entrepreneurs are disruptors. Right from a school age he was always in trouble from rigging calculators for math exams to hacking into the school data base. Very criminal he admits but lucky he was underage at the time. He assures me that he now treads the straight and narrow for good not evil. Being disruptive to him means looking for new ways to do things which translates into new products and services to introduce to the market.
It’s not necessarily what the customer wants, it is what they need.
Women are also great problem solvers and disruptors so why aren’t we taking our fair share of the credit? How many businesses are a partnership between a husband and wife yet it is the male who most often takes the lead? Do we have a confidence issue?
Even in the final of the food orientated new Australian series Recipe to Riches the men outnumbered the women and the overall winner was Michael King from Queensland with his sausages. I’m sure they are very nice and certainly don’t mean any disrespect.
However, there are still lots of positives. To have television programs making business more inspiring to the wider public, and lots of fabulous female role models like Naomi Simson, Janine Allis and Carolyn Creswell is just fantastic because they are just the tip of the iceberg.
The 2012 Australian Census revealed that women are starting small businesses at twice the rate of men. Similar statistics from the U.S.A. are also showing us that females 30 years plus are the fastest growing sector in start-up business.
Why? I suspect it is because they value the flexibility of being their own boss when raising a family. And women with education degrees may be sick of hitting brick walls in their corporate career paths as well. And there is so much more technology available to help us work from home or in new, even remote places.
The other good news is that Gen Z (1995-2009) are 20% more likely to start a business than Gen Y (1980-1995) so that is also heartening.
Why is Technology important?
At the 2012 International Rural Women’s Conference in Cairns I talked about the top three predictions for 2030 – Driverless Cars, Printable Houses and Teacherless Education – which raised a few eyebrows. In just a few years they have fast become a reality and are commonly talked about in mainstream media.
3D Printers are also in businesses and schools here in Australia. At last year’s Bendigo Inventor Awards we were able to offer entrants the opportunity to print a prototype of their invention. At a womenize event in Bendigo last week the door prize was a 3D model printed of yourself. Now that would really scare the kids!
Five years ago a clip entitled Are You Ready for the Future? was launched to be shown to students in every school across the United States. I remember sitting at the launch in Cincinnati and thinking wow! It was a real wakeup call about how we are in midst of a crazy technological revolution and we need to open our minds to new things that we’ve never imagined. (see below for link)
Yes, I’m still coming to terms with apps and Fitbits and lots of strange terminology but they all serve a purpose to someone somewhere.
Don’t think for a moment that women aren’t capable when it comes to technology.
Hedy Lamarr’s invention of a secret communications system during World War II for radio-controlling torpedoes, employing “frequency hopping” technology, laid the technological foundations for everything from Wi-Fi to GPS. She also happened to be a world-famous film star.
And women are also great problem solvers. It will come as no surprise that women invented the dishwasher, the electric refrigerator, the paper bag, and building fire escapes, just to name a few.
I still remember the horror I felt when it was suggested that we buy a computer for the office in the early 1980’s – I said no!
And yet 35 years on, my daughter’s 2 year old sorts through photographs and plays video on my smart phone which I happily confess is much smarter than me. Obviously the 2 year old is as well.
Case Study: Fair Dinkum Dog Coats
My family lives in Central Victoria which is about 100ks from Melbourne. Last weekend my daughter Elise was busy promoting her business Fair Dinkum Dog Coats at a huge Pet Expo in Melbourne. In this almost cashless and in-the-moment society you have to be able to take payment electronically no matter where you are so she has this little device that pairs with her phone to do just that!
Normally her business is usually totally online as with two little ones she doesn’t have time to traipse around every expo or market.
In fact, originally the business was wholesale and one of the first decisions she made after buying it at the age of 19 was to develop a website for marketing and online sales which was a great move.
Then Elise started doing the maths and decided that she didn’t want to be slaving away for all these pet stores across Australia producing massive numbers of coats that they then sold on at 100% profit.
She decided that she would rather keep that profit in her own pocket and informed all her wholesale customers that she would no longer be supplying them. I have to admit that I was seriously worried that she was burning her bridges but it turned out to be the best thing that she could have done.
The following year she had increased her profit for only a quarter of the work. Even though she sold less coats, by selling direct to the public online she got maximum return. Smart move!
Yes, Elise still produces those coats individually in a tin shed on our family property, but technology is the means to reach her customers right across Australia and overseas.
Often people ask me the difference between a business person and an entrepreneur. I classify Elise as an entrepreneur because she has reinvented an existing business and the way it operates but there is also another reason. Remember that problem solving attribute? She realised that a standard dog coat design did not suit greyhounds and whippets so she has designed the only water proof coat available to that breed. It has turned out to be a very profitable niche market since she introduced that new line.
Case Study: Simply Rose Petals
On 5 March Sarah Sammon from Swan Hill received the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award for young female entrepreneur under 40. Other finalists included Jodie Fox of Shoes of Prey and Emma Isaacs of Business Chicks so she was in some serious company.
I was delighted because I first met Sarah when she did the Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program in 2006 and have followed her journey since.
Simply Rose Petals evolved because Sarah couldn’t get a job when she moved back to her home town of Swan Hill. A science degree just wasn’t useful to an employer at that point in time. What was useful, however, was a family property with 1,000 rose trees. Sarah saw it as an opportunity and with her mother started a new business called Simply Roses.
Add highly technical machines and some more trees – they now have 6,000 – and you can freeze dry and ship your product to 15 countries around the world.
Through a Nuffield Scholarship Sarah has recently been exploring further uses for rose petals including the food market. She is determined to stay one step ahead of her competitors that quickly jump on board her ideas.
Sarah is the master of using technology to market and sell her product online. She says “People thought we were crazy to start such a niche business, but we were very fortunate that e-commerce has really given us the ability to market to the world.”
There are lots of excellent women are in business but not all are entrepreneurial like Elise and Sarah. They are relatively rare qualities and they need to be recognised, nurtured and encouraged.
Call to Action
So what do I mean when I say that Women plus Technology plus Entrepreneurism equals a much better world? Perhaps my call to action will help explain.
- Don’t stereo type
Pull those barbie dolls apart and see how they’re made. Better still get out in the workshop and tinker with those machines.
Talk up science and technology when it comes to career paths. Skills are for everyone to practice and learn according to their interest, NOT their gender.
- Keep an open mind
With 70% of future jobs not yet invented I for one don’t want to be a career adviser.
What has happened in the past is not necessarily the way of the future with modern technology. Just look at the mobile phone as an example. Who would have thought that it would also become a camera, calculator, GPS and essentially a mini computer?
What surprised me most in a 2013 survey of 1,000 secondary school students in rural Victoria was the lack of understanding of how technology is overcoming geographic barriers.
Yes we still want to encourage young people to travel the world and experience the city as a student but we also need to understand that technology is opening up new careers in rural areas as well.
- Encourage entrepreneurs
With youth unemployment a worldwide issue, why aren’t we flagging self-employment as an option?
Schools need to be inviting business leaders into the class room to share their stories. Teachers need to embrace technology to better engage students in business studies.
Most important of all – Get over this tall poppy syndrome! Accept the failures as part of the learning process and celebrate the successes. Business is good for us all. We need business to grow and prosper or where will our welfare system be.
Encouraging entrepreneurism is integral to the future of many rural towns across the world and I’ve been very lucky that Community Leadership Loddon Murray has supported me in my quest to share this knowledge. You may find some useful resources for your community or school or family on their website listed below.
While there is no doubt in my mind that future generations are going to be facing a tougher economy but adversity has also proven to be a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs.
Rural women are great problem solvers and great disruptors because we have to be. With so many new technologies available to us, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
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Are you ready for the Future?